Policy on Conflict of Interest and Commitment

Policy Number: 400

Human Resources

The permanent link for this policy is: https://policies.northeastern.edu/policy400/

I. Purpose and Scope

 

A.  All members of the Northeastern University community are expected to conduct the affairs of the university in a manner consistent with their commitments to the university, and the performance of their professional responsibilities must be free from real or apparent bias motivated by self-interest and in accordance with established policies.

B.  In general, activities with a potential for conflict of interest or commitment fall into three general categories:

1.  Activities that are permissible because they do not compromise or appear to compromise the judgment of employees, the integrity of faculty and student interactions, the objectivity of research results, or other interests of the university, the sponsor, or the public.

2.  Activities that may be permissible following full disclosure and that can be managed in accordance with appropriate university policies, to promote institutional integrity, academic standards, and intellectual value.

3.  Activities that are prohibited because they are in conflict with university policy or the law.

C.  While specific expectations may vary by unit given the nature of the individual’s position or role, this policy sets standards relating to conflicts and potential conflicts of interest for all faculty and staff.

D.  This policy contains separate requirements from that of the Policy on Financial Conflicts of Interest Related to Research and the International Engagements Review Policy. Faculty and Staff with sponsored research will abide by the requirements of the Policy on Financial Conflicts of Interest Related to Research and the International Engagements Review Policy in addition to those outlined in this policy.

II. Definitions

 

A.   Conflict of Interest: refers to a divergence between an individual’s private interests and his or her professional obligations to Northeastern such that an independent observer might reasonably question whether the individual’s professional actions or decisions are determined by considerations of personal gain, financial or otherwise. A conflict of interest depends on the situation, and not on the character or actions of the individual.

B.  Conflict of Commitment: means a situation where the individual employee’s outside activity interferes with or compromises, or appears to compromise, the employee’s ability to fulfill her or his obligations to the university.

C.  Family: refers to an employee’s spouse, domestic partners, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, parents-in-law, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law or member of one’s household.

D.   Full-time Employee: Refers to an employee who is considered a full-time employee by Northeastern University’s Human Resources Department.

E.   Gift: means anything of value, whether an item, product, service, financial interest or discount.

1.  It includes but is not limited to cash; coupons and vouchers; meals, tickets, and other entertainment expenses; honoraria; payment of hotels, transportation, and other travel expenses; stock, equity, and other ownership interests. 

2.  It does not include merit-based awards or recognition, nor examination copies of textbooks and similar materials given to faculty, however individuals may not solicit examination copies of textbooks and other materials for the purpose of selling them.

F.  University Officer: refers to a member of the Northeastern University President’s Cabinet with a position of senior vice president or equivalent (i.e. Provost and Chancellor). This role may also be referred to as a Senior Leadership Team (SLT) member.

G.  Significant Financial Interest (SFI):

1.  With regard to any publicly traded entity, a significant financial interest exists if the value of any remuneration received from the entity in the twelve months preceding the disclosure and the value of any equity interest in the entity as of the date of disclosure, when aggregated, exceeds $5,000. For the purposes of this definition, remuneration includes salary and any payment for services not otherwise identified as salary (e.g., consulting fees, honoraria, paid authorship); equity interest includes any stock, stock option, or other ownership interest, as determined through reference to public prices or other reasonable measures of fair market value;

2.  With regard to any non-publicly traded entity, a significant financial interest exists if the value of any remuneration received from the entity in the twelve months preceding the disclosure, when aggregated, exceeds $5,000, or when the Investigator (or the Investigator’s spouse or dependent children) holds any equity interest (e.g., stock, stock option, or other ownership interest); or

3.  Intellectual property rights and interests (e.g., patents, copyrights), upon receipt of incoming related to such rights and interests.

4.  The term significant financial interest does not include the following types of financial interests:

a.  Salary royalties, or other remuneration paid by the Institution to an investigator if the investigator is currently employed or otherwise appointed by the Institution, including intellectual property rights assigned to the Institution and agreements to share in royalties related to such rights;

b.   Any ownership interest in the Institution held by the investigator, if the Institution is a commercial or for-profit organization;

c.   Income from investment vehicles, such as mutual funds and retirement accounts, as long as the Investigator does not directly control the investment decisions made in these vehicles;

d.  Income from seminars, lectures, or teaching engagements sponsored by a Federal, state, or local government agency, an Institution of higher education as defined at 20 U.S.C. 1001(a), an academic teaching hospital, a medical center, or a research institute that is affiliated with an Institution of higher education; or

e.  Income from service on advisory committees or review panels for a Federal, state, or local government agency, an Institution of higher education as defined at 20 U.S.C. 1001(a), an academic teaching hospital, a medical center, or a research institute that is affiliated with an Institution of higher education.

III. Policy

 

A. Responsibility to Avoid Conflicts

 

1. Employees are expected to:

a.  Abide by the Conflict of Interest and Commitment Policy and standards set forth in this policy including any procedures adopted by, pursuant to or in furtherance of this policy;

b.  Fully and continually disclose professional and relevant personal activities and relationships that create a conflict of interest or commitment or have the appearance of creating a conflict of interest or commitment as required by the University;

c.  Remedy conflicts of interest or commitment or comply with any management or monitoring plan prescribed by the university;

d.  Remain aware of the potential for conflicts of interest and commitment; and

e.  Take initiative to manage, disclose, or resolve conflicts of interest or commitment as appropriate.

2.  All senior administrators have the responsibility to understand and implement this policy, including, as necessary, the adoption of specific procedures for their respective colleges and departments in furtherance of and in accordance with this policy.

3.  An employee may be considered to have a conflict of interest when he or she or any member of that person’s family possesses a significant financial interest in an activity that involves the employee’s university responsibilities, such as having an interest in a company and then purchasing goods or services from that company on behalf of the university.

4.  Full-time employees have a primary work commitment to Northeastern University. Activities that interfere with that primary commitment must not be undertaken.

5.  In all outside activities unrelated to the individual’s Northeastern University employment, the employee functions without the university’s sponsorship and the university assumes no responsibility for such activities.

B. Areas of Potential Conflict

 

All employees are required to avoid actions or engagements that are in conflict with their position within and/or responsibilities to Northeastern. Employees should refrain from activities that may give the appearance of impropriety in the performance of their duties or the perception that they may be using their positions or knowledge gained from their employment to inappropriately influence decisions to their advantage, or to the advantage of their family and friends.

Employees must exercise the utmost good faith in the fulfillment of their duties and avoid conflicts between personal interests and the interests of the university. Conflicts of interest involve situations in which financial or other personal considerations directly and significantly affect, or have the appearance of directly and significantly affecting, an employee’s professional judgment in carrying out university duties and responsibilities.

The following contains examples of prohibited conduct but is not exhaustive. Employees are encouraged to consult with University Compliance Department should there be questions of whether an actual or a perceived conflict of interest exists.

 

1. Business Relationships Conflicts of Interest

Employees must not participate in a university business transaction with themselves or a related third party without the prior disclosure to and documented approval of the senior vice president responsible for the department/division in accordance with this policy.

 

2. Gifts and Entertainment

Business courtesies and gifts are a regular part of ongoing business relationships, but such courtesies and gifts have the potential to create the appearance of a conflict. As such, there are limits on what an employee may receive from a current or prospective vendor, service provider, or student.

a.  Gifts of promotional items without significant value that are routinely distributed by suppliers to clients, and courtesy copies of professional printed matter, may generally be accepted.

b.  The potential for conflict of interest typically occurs when a third party offers an employee something of value or when an employee receives something of value from the third party who is seeking some benefit from the university.

        • Employees who receive, within a calendar year, a single gift or multiple gifts with a cumulative value in excess of $100 from a current or prospective vendor, service provider or student, must notify their unit head.
        • Gifts with a cumulative value in excess of $500 from a single source within a calendar year require the approval of the area senior vice president or the president.

3.  Use and Appropriation of University Assets

a.  Employees will not allow third parties access to university property for personal use or gain.

b.  Employees must not divulge confidential university data or information, including confidential information submitted to the university by outside entities. (See the Policy on Confidentiality of University Records and Information).

4.  Research

a.  General conflicts of interest in research involve situations in which financial, professional, or other personal considerations may compromise, or have the appearance of compromising an individual’s judgment in the design, conduct, or reporting of research.

b.  Faculty must receive approval from Research Compliance and their college dean to enter into a contract, grant, clinical trials or other research collaboration pertaining to the University and a business or intellectual property in which the individual or a spouse and dependent children have a Significant Financial Interest.  When permitted by the university, such collaborations may move forward, but the individual may not administratively or financially control the contract, grant, clinical trial, or other research collaboration.

5.  Activities Related to Family Members

Individuals may not participate in the hiring process or any employment-related decisions pertaining to their Family Members. Likewise, they may not be in a position to supervise a Family Member as an employee of the University or otherwise review or participate in reviewing a Family Member’s work as an employee of the university.

6.  Activities Related to Students

a.  Students should not be permitted to participate in consulting activities if the terms and conditions of those activities would prevent the students or trainees from meeting applicable university degree or training requirements.

b.  Faculty should not utilize students and postdoctoral fellows in situations involving conflicts of interest without an approved Conflict of Interest Management Avoidance Plan (CMAP). Students and postdoctoral fellows involved in any conflict of interest situation should be informed that the conflict of interest situation exists; and that their concerns, if any, can be discussed with the appropriate University official(s).

7.  Supplemental Employment/Activities

a.  Full-time employees must not work for a competitor if such work is similar or related to the employee’s current position at the university without the prior disclosure to and documented approval of the senior vice president responsible for the department/division in accordance with this policy. Allowable or authorized activities/collaborations with other educational institutions will not usually be viewed as working for a competitor.

b.  Full-time, non-faculty employees are generally prohibited from earning additional compensation from the university for work performed during regular working hours. With written approval from the area vice president or dean. However:

          • Qualified exempt administrative and professional staff may be permitted to teach up to one Northeastern course per academic term during working hours, if their supervisor determines such teaching will not disrupt or adversely affect the employee’s job responsibilities.  Conference hours, class preparation and other ancillary activities cannot be performed during regularly scheduled work hours. Other teaching assignments must not conflict with the employee’s regular work schedule.
          • Supplemental employment performed outside the university, that does not require the use of university resources and that is performed outside regular working hours, does not require university approval, provided such employment does not compromise or conflict with the employee’s commitment to the university.

c.  Benefits-eligible employees may not engage in secondary employment within the university without first obtaining the written approval of their area vice president, regardless of when and where the secondary assignment is performed. Applicable laws and regulations regarding compensation, benefits, overtime, etc., must be properly adhered to.

d.  Faculty members are subject to the policy on Faculty Outside Professional Activities contained in the Faculty Handbook, as amended from time to time, which provides that such activities should not conflict or interfere with the faculty member’s schedule of assignments and responsibilities at the university.

e.  Employees are generally prohibited from earning additional compensation from any external source for work performed during their regular working hours. Faculty members, however, may conduct research and scholarship or write in their areas of expertise or interest for purposes of promoting knowledge in their respective fields, even if the effort results in a commercially published work.

f.  Employees may not use university property or facilities for any business or professional purpose not related to their position at the university, without the written approval of the Provost, Chancellor or the senior vice president responsible for the department/division.

C. Reporting Requirements

 

1.  Annual Disclosure

All full-time employees are required to report annually the Conflict of Interest and Commitment disclosure form when instructed to by the University Compliance Department.  Part time employees may also be asked to complete this report depending on the nature of their duties at Northeastern.

2.  New Hire Disclosure

Full time university employees may be asked to submit a conflict-of-interest disclosure at the time of hire, disclosing any potential conflicts of commitment, conflicts of interest, significant financial interests and/or external relationships as defined in this policy, or attesting to the absence of any.

3.  Ad-Hoc or As Needed Disclosure

The burden is on the employee to keep their disclosure up to date and accurate, and resolve all questions before engaging in any activity that represents or has the potential to represent a conflict of interest or commitment.

a.  Employees are required to promptly complete a conflict-of-interest disclosure form when the employee or a member of the employee’s family:

          • Has an existing or potential significant financial interest or other material interest that impairs or might appear to an independent observer to impair the employee’s independence and objectivity in the discharge of the employee’s responsibilities to the university.
          • The employee or a member of the employee’s family may receive a financial or other material benefit from information confidential to the university.
          • The employee or a member of the employee’s family involved in a business venture as owner, operator, consultant or major investor seeks to or is conducting business with the university.
          • The employee or a member of the employee’s family receive, within a calendar year, a single gift or multiple gifts with a cumulative value in excess of $100 from a current or prospective vendor or service provider.

b.  Full-Time employees will complete a conflict-of-interest disclosure form when the employee seeks to work for a competitor if such work is similar or related to the employee’s current position at the university.

D.  Roles and Responsibilities in the Collection, Review and Management of Disclosures and Potential Conflicts of Interest and/or Commitment

 

1.  University Compliance Department

The University Compliance Department is the entity responsible for the administration of the university’s centralized conflict of interest and commitment disclosure function. In this capacity, the University Compliance Department has the responsibility to:

a.  Collect, on behalf of the deans and administrative department heads, all disclosures required by this policy;

b.  Monitor compliance with the requirements of this policy;

c.  Report incidents of non-compliance with the requirements of this policy;

d.  Develop, in conjunction with the Office of the Provost and the Human Resources Department, any procedures and training documents related to this policy; and

e.  Facilitate with the appropriate dean or administrative department head and other stakeholders, the development and approval of conflict management avoidance plans (CMAPs) to address identified conflicts of interest and/or commitment.

2.  Dean or Department Head

a.  Deans and administrative department heads are empowered and obligated to review all conflict-of-interest disclosures submitted by their subordinates as they become available to them and review them in the context of other academic outside activities reports made to the college and ensure all disclosures are aligned.

b.  Deans and administrative department heads are empowered and obligated to manage conflicts within their organizational structure. The decision to approve or deny deviations from this policy shall be documented in the discloser’s conflict of interest disclosure.

c.  Deans and administrative department heads will work with the University Compliance Department, NU-RES Research Compliance, if applicable, and other university stakeholders as needed to develop conflict management and avoidance plans where appropriate. Deans and administrative department heads will be responsible for monitoring compliance with approved plans.

3. University Officers (SLT Members)

a.  Responsible for ensuring that all faculty and staff within the purview of the university officers (SLT members) area have completed an annual disclosure.

b.  Responsible for resolving disputes related to potential conflicts within their areas.

IV. Additional Information

 

A.  Completion of Disclosures Required

 

Failure to complete or accurately complete the required disclosure statements may subject the employee to disciplinary action up to and including immediate termination. A disclosure is not considered complete until the disclosure has been submitted and any additional information sought by a university compliance official regarding the disclosure has been provided.

 

B.   Applicability of Related Policies

 

Faculty and staff with externally funded activity may be subject to additional related policies and separate disclosures, including but not limited, to the disclosures required in by the Faculty Handbook sections on Outside Professional Activities, and Conflict of Commitment and Interest, for policies directly applicable to their academic and professional activities as well the Policy on Financial Conflicts of Interest Related to Research.

 

C.  Completion of Disclosures by University Leadership

 

University officers and members of the Board of Trustees complete required disclosures in accordance applicable laws and policies promulgated by the Board of Trustees.

    V. Contact Information

     

    Subject Contact Telephone Email/Web Address
    Policy Clarification and Interpretation University Compliance Department (617) 373-5893 compliance@northeastern.edu
    Federal and State Laws and Regulations on Financial Conflicts of Interest NU-RES Research Compliance (617) 373-5600 researchcompliance@northeastern.edu
    Reporting Suspected Conflicts of Others

    University Compliance Department

    Audit and Advisory Services

    EthicsPoint (Confidential Reporting)

    (617) 373-5893

    (617) 373-3191

     

    1 (855) 350-9390

    compliance@northeastern.edu

    audit@northeastern.edu

     

    northeastern.ethicspoint.com

     

    Version History

    Last Revision Date: January 24, 2023

    Issued: January 2002