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Ethics Scenarios

Scenario #1: Honorariums - Prohibited Sources

As a representative of the University of Illinois, you have been asked to present at a conference being hosted by an educational organization. The organization has offered you a $150 honorarium in exchange for your time. Can you accept this "gift"?

If you are attending the event as a representative of the University, or if the University has paid for any aspect related to the trip (i.e., travel, lodging, etc.), then you cannot accept the gift, as you are a representative of the University of Illinois. This would be a direct violation of the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act (Ethics Act) and University policy. Please reference the Gift Ban section of the Ethics Act for additional details on "prohibited sources" and exceptions. You can attend and speak at the conference, but are not allowed to accept the $150 gift, as the exception to the Gift Ban section of the Ethics Act only allows employees to accept gifts with a cumulative total value of less than $100 per calendar year.

However, if you are presenting based on your expertise in the field and are not being reimbursed by the University of Illinois or attending because of your status at the University, you may accept the honorarium.

If you are not sure, please contact the University Ethics Office on our toll-free Ethics Help Line at: 866-758-2146 or via e-mail at: ethicsofficer@uillinois.edu.

Scenario #2: Gifts - Prohibited Sources

You recently attended a "brown bag" lunch within your department that was hosted by a University vendor. At the beginning of the meeting, you placed your business card in a drawing for a prize. You won a DVD player valued at $130. What can you do to comply with the Gift Ban section of the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act?

You have 3 options: 1) you can donate the gift to a not-for-profit 501(c) 3 organization (examples would include, but not be limited to the University of Illinois Alumni Association and Foundation); 2) you can donate an amount equal to the value of the prize to a 501(c) 3 organization; or 3) you can return the gift to the vendor, explaining you are not permitted to accept it due to the law.

Scenario #3: Personal Use of University Resources (e-mail)

You have recently started selling cooking products in the evenings for additional income. You really want individuals to be aware of your new business and plan on using your University e-mail account and telephone to organize parties and communicate with party hosts regarding supplies needed, orders, and other related details. In addition, you plan to place your University e-mail address and telephone number on the personal business cards you will distribute. Are you allowed to use your University e-mail account and telephone line for this purpose?

No. University policy does not allow employees to use University resources for personal matters. Please refer to the University's Acceptable Use Policy (Section 19.5 - Information Security Policy of the Business and Financial Policies and Procedures Manual). In addition, you cannot and should not publish this information on a business card, regardless of when you will address the e-mail and phone calls related to your secondary, outside employment. For instance, even if you plan to address e-mail related to your cooking product sales in the evenings, after work is over, it is still not permissible.

Scenario #4: Revolving Door Prohibition

Jack is the Director of Purchasing for the University of Illinois and was involved in the decision to contract with AB Company for an office expansion project. The value of the contract was $35,000 and it was signed in January of 2010. It is now December of 2010, the work is completed, and Jack has been offered a position with AB Company. Can he accept this position?

It is unlikely. Per Article 5 (Revolving Door Prohibition (5 ILCS 430/5-45)) of the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act and based on his authority and involvement in the award of the contract, he cannot accept the position. However, Jack may seek authorization from the Executive Inspector General, whereby he may be granted a determination allowing him to accept the job. For additional information, please contact the University Ethics Office at: 866-758-2146 or see the Inspector General's web site at: http://www2.illinois.gov/oeig/Pages/RevolvingDoorInstructions.aspx.

Scenario #5: Prohibited Political Activity

You are a University employee and your neighbor is running for county clerk. You really want your neighbor to win, so you have offered to help with his campaign. You have decided to print flyers to post on campus during your lunch hour on the departmental copy machine. Is this allowed?

No. As defined in the definitions section of the General Provisions (5 ILCS 430/1-5) of the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act, the use of state/university property for the campaigning of a political candidate is considered a "prohibited political activity." Additionally, using the copier in this manner is considered a theft of University resources and is a violation of University policy. 

Scenario #6: Gifts - Travel Reimbursement

You are involved in the selection of a vendor to supply the College of Medicine with new x-ray equipment. The vendor RFP's have been submitted and one of your finalists has invited you and other members of the group involved in the selection to go on a site visit. The vendor candidate would like to pay for all travel and lodging fees associated with the trip to their facility, which is located in New Jersey. Can you and your team accept this invitation with related expenses being covered by the vendor candidate?

Yes. There is an exception to the Gift Ban section of the State Officals and Employees Ethics Act, known as the Educational Materials and Missions exception, which allows for travel expenses related to state/university business to be covered. As such, you and your team may make the trip and have your related travel expenses covered by the prospective vendor. However, Ethics Officer approval must be received. Please note: the travel arrangements and accommodations should by "typical" University travel accommodations. Flying first class and staying at a resort would not be acceptable.

For additional details related to the Educational Materials and Missions exception, please see Rule 1620.700 located under the Statutes and Rules section of the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission's Web Site at: http://www.ilga.gov/commission/jcar/admincode/002/002016200G07000R.html.

Scenario #7: Gifts - Meals and Refreshments

You and several members from your department are at a conference where a vendor the University does business with is also in attendance. The vendor takes your group to dinner at a steak house where you each have a nice meal, including appetizers, desert, and alcoholic beverages. The total is easily over $75 per person and the vendor wants to pick up the tab. What do you do?

You cannot allow the vendor to pay for more than $75 per employee in meals and refreshments for the day. As such, you must either all pay your own way or cover the difference in excess of $75.

It is important to note that if a spouse is invited to attend with the employee, and the spouse themselves is not an employee, the combined value for both meals must not exceed the $75 daily allowance.

Scenario #8: Whistle-blower

Jane works as a maid in one of the campus hotels. A few weeks ago, she discovered her supervisor was taking cleaning supplies from work to use while cleaning her home. Since the individual violating the policy was her supervisor, Jane reported this matter to the hotel manager. The supervisor was reprimanded and since that time, Jane has been receiving reduced hours on the schedule even though she has the highest seniority and has not had any reports of misconduct. Jane feels she is being unfairly mistreated due to her reporting of wrongdoing. What should Jane do?

Jane may be experiencing retaliation and should contact the University Ethics Office at 866-758-2146 or ethicsofficer@uillinois.edu to discuss her concerns. A whistle-blower is defined as someone who does one of the following:

  • Discloses or threatens to disclose to a supervisor or any public body an act or omission that they reasonably believe to be a violation of law, rule or regulation by another University employee or vendor;
  • Provides information to or testifies before any public body conducting an investigation hearing or inquiry into a violation of law, rule, or regulations; or
  • Assists or participates in a proceeding to enforce the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act.

Scenario #9: Suspected Fraud

You work in the ticket office and notice your co-worker is charging adult prices ($12 per ticket) to the buyer, but is entering a student price ($8 per ticket) into the register. When he accepts the payment for an adult ticket, he puts the $8 for the student ticket into the register and the remaining $4 into his pocket. When he sees you watching him, he says he had his own money out on the counter and was putting it back in his pocket - he denies any wrongdoing. What should you do?

You should report this behavior by contacting the University Ethics Office at 866-758-2146, notifying your supervisor of the situation, or contacting the Inspector General. The Ethics Office or your supervisor will review the allegation in accordance with University policy. Please review the University's policy Reporting Fraud and Misconduct, Whistleblower Protection, and Investigations to better understand your responsibility for identifying and reporting fraud.

Scenario #10: Recording of Time, Vacation, and Sick Leave

You are an administrative assistant and are responsible for the web time entry in your unit. You notice one employee has documented a full day of work on a day you recall them having left early with the flu. Since the individual was not feeling well, they had not completed a "Request for Time Off" form, but you know there should be some sick leave charged. What should you do?

You have a few options. You can first ask the individual whether there is an error on the time card. However, if you prefer not to contact the individual directly, or if they deny your assertion, you can bring the discrepancy to the attention of your supervisor. The State Officials and Employees Ethics Act (5 ILCS 430/5-5) requires that procedures be in place requiring time reporting. Additionally, all employees are expected to comply with The University Reporting Policy for The State Officials and Employees Ethics Act (SOEEA)(Academic Professional and Civil Service Employees Only).

In the event an employee intentionally falsifies information on their time report, this should be treated as fraud and the University Ethics Office should be contacted at 866-758-2146 or ethicsofficer@uillinois.edu, or employees may contact the Inspector General to report their concerns. Please refer to Section 9.5-9.6 Reporting Fraud and Misconduct, Whistleblower Protection, and Investigations in the Business and Financial Policies and Procedures for additional details.

Scenario #11: Surplus Goods

Michelle works at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts (KCPA) and recently found a costume from an old event that she wanted to wear as a Halloween costume. Since the item was surplus anyway, she took the item home to wear for the party. Is this allowed?

No. The KCPA rents out used costumes for a fee and also holds Central Management Services (CMS) approved public sales of costumes. The money raised is used to support the upkeep of those items, their storage, and the building where they are housed. As such, the only way Michelle can have the costume is to go through the rental process or attend a sale and purchase the costume there.

The Division of Intercollegiate Athletics (DIA) also holds their own CMS approved sale of used equipment and athletic apparel. For all University surplus items, such as old office furniture, lamps, computers, chairs, etc. the basic process is as follows: Any surplus goods are reported to University Property Accounting and Reporting. If the item can be used elsewhere on University campuses, it is redistributed. Any items without a campus use are sent to CMS Surplus Property. Periodically, CMS holds auctions where such items are auctioned to the public. This process and additional details related to it can be found in Section 12: Property Accounting in the Business and Financial Policies and Procedures.

Additionally, Article 5, Section 3 "Private Use of University Property Forbidden," of the General Rules established by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees forbids this type of activity as follows: "No one connected with the University in any capacity shall use for any personal purpose any University property or whatever description, and no one shall be permitted to remove from the buildings or grounds any property belonging to the University, even though it may seem to be of no value, unless it be temporarily removed pursuant to some well-established regulation, or with the approval of the appropriate chancellor or the vice president/chief financial officer in the instance of University-level property." 

Scenario #12: Software Piracy Policy

Jenny uses Adobe Photoshop to develop the cover page of a handbook that is produced and distributed by her unit to the campus community. She is the only individual licensed to use the software. Recently, a co-worker has begun working with her on the publication, but does not have a license to use Photoshop. Can Jenny just let her co-worker install the program on her machine since they are both using the software for the same publication?

No. If Jenny is the only individual licensed to use the software, she should not allow someone else to install that material/software on their machine. The license will either need to be transferred (which means Jenny will no longer be able to use it), or the co-worker will also have to obtain a license. For additional detail related to software use, please see Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research (Policy on Software Piracy).

Jenny should also refer to her campus appropriate use policy regarding any additional restrictions on her use of the software:

Scenario #13: Conflict of Interest

John has a significant interest in Company 77. He is an Academic Professional employee and works as a Principal Investigator (PI) on several grants at the University of Illinois. Recently, he has been asked to begin working on a grant funded by Company 77. Is this allowed?

This has to be disclosed on the Report of Non-university Activities (RNUA) and reviewed by the applicable Dean, Director or Department Head. Additional reviews, approvals, and possibly a conflict management plan may be required to allow for John to continue serving as a PI and/or other beneficiary of the grant. John's conflict may be denied if appropriate independence cannot be established. Additional information can be reviewed in the Policy on Conflicts of Commitment and Interest (www.vpaa.uillinois.edu/Policies/conflict_toc.cfm).

Though there is no designated disclosure form for Civil Service employees (such as the RNUA form for Academic Professionals), written disclosure of all actual or potential conflicts of commitment and interest must be provided to unit head for approval per Policy 16, "Conduct and Discipline" in the Policies and Rules for Civil Service Staff at: https://nessie.uihr.uillinois.edu/pdf/policy/rules/Pr16r01.PDF.

Scenario #14: Gifts - Departmental Gifts

You are a Department Head. For the Holiday Party, you would like to take some of the unrestricted gift money you have and buy all of your employees $10 gift cards to the local record store to show your appreciation for their hard work over the past year. Is this allowable?

Yes. Since the gift is being given as recognition at a recognition event, it is allowable. There are approval and payment requirements for gifts designated in Section 8.13 - Allowability and Funding of Certain Expenditures in the Business and Financial Policies and Procedures. If departments want to give employees gift cards in other situations, a justification for the exception must be reviewed and approved by the Executive Director of University Payables. There are tax implications for such gifts that may be covered by the department, as described in Section 4: Payroll, of the Business and Financial Policies and Procedures. Please note: the University P-Card cannot be used to purchase the gift cards. See Section 8.13 - Allowability and Funding of Certain Expenditures in the Business and Financial Policies and Procedures for additional detail. The State Officials and Employees Ethics Act does not restrict gifts between University employees (i.e. intragovernmental and intergovernmental gifts).

Scenario #15: Filing a False Claim with the Office of Executive Inspector General

An outraged employee contacted the Office of Executive Inspector General and falsely claimed her supervisor had violated the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act . What consequences will she face?

This individual could be deemed guilty of a Class A misdemeanor and could face any penalties associated with this charge. For more information, see the Penalties section (5 ILCS 430/50-5) of the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act.

Scenario #16: Inappropriate Purchasing Card (P-Card) Use

Max was buying a new suit from a department store and accidentally charged the items on his University P-Card, instead of his personal Master Card (the two cards look nearly identical). University policy prohibits the use of a P-Card for personal purchases in Section 7.6 The University P-Card of the Business and Financial Policies and Procedures. What should he do to correct this error?

Max should notify his supervisor immediately and make an exact reimbursement to the University, providing adequate documentation of the event. In addition, he should develop a plan to avoid making the same error in the future.

Please note that when a mistake is made, the best mechanism to resolve the situation is to immediately notify the necessary parties of the event and make proper restitution.

Scenario #17: Inappropriate Use of University Resources (Theft)

You are a dining services employee and at the end of the day, there is enough excess food to feed your entire family. Your child has a sports event that evening so you know you will be short on time. Since the food will be disposed of that evening anyway, can you just take some of the leftovers home for your family?

No. This is considered theft and is not be permissible per both University policy and state law. You must pay the fair price for the food (just as if you were purchasing the food as a customer). Any theft should be reported immediately to the University Police or Campus Security.

Scenario #18: Inappropriate Use of University Resources (Theft)

You are a doctor at the College of Veterinary Medicine . You have been called to handle a medical emergency for one of the clients from your private practice. Due to the circumstances, you do not have time to gather supplies from your personal business. Instead, you take the supplies you need from the College of Veterinary Medicine and plan to replace them with supplies from your own practice at a later date. Is this allowable?

No. Even though you plan to replace the supplies in full, this is an inappropriate and unintended use of University property. You must arrange to use your own supplies when performing non-University business. See Section 9.5 -9.6 Reporting Fraud and Misconduct, Whistleblower Protection, and Investigations in the Business and Financial Policies and Procedures.

Scenario #19: Annual Ethics Training

Dr. Camp has a 20% appointment with the University of Illinois and then has her own private practice as well. Does she need to complete the annual ethics training and if so, what are the consequences for noncompliance?

Yes. All employees who are compensated in any amount by the University of Illinois must complete annual ethics training. Failure to complete the training is considered a violation of the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act and will result in the statutorily required reporting of your name to the Executive Inspector General. The penalties of noncompliance will be determined by the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission, based on authority granted within the law, and can include administrative fines up to $5,000.

Scenario #20: Prohibited Sources - Outings and Events

A current or prospective vendor invites you, a University employee, to a professional baseball game in the company's box seats. There will be food and refreshments provided in the box. Is this allowable?

No. Typically box seat pricing would also include food and beverage ($75 limit) and the value would likely exceed the $100 exception to the Gift Ban section of the Ethics Act . If you were invited to a game in regular seats, you would likely not exceed the under $100 maximum and would be allowed to attend (provided your attendance would not cause that vendor to exceed the $99.99 allowable limit per person, per year). If you really want to attend this event, you do have a couple of options: 1) you can pay your own way to the game, or 2) you can refuse the offer.

University employees should always keep in mind the role public perception plays in a situation. It is a likely public perception that box seats would exceed the allowable $99.99 per person limit. In addition, it is a fair assumption that there would be food and beverage, to which the $75 meal allowance would apply. This information should be kept in mind when determining the appropriateness of an action. If you need advice, please call the University Ethics Office at: 866-758-2146 or send an e-mail to: ethicsofficer@uillinois.edu.

Another popular outing/event that should be noted is golf outings. Golf outings may be equal to or exceed the $100 per vendor maximum and if such, would not be allowed.

Scenario #21: Inappropriate Use of University Resources (Theft)

An employee in the College of Medicine walks out through the laundry area and grabs a few sheets and blankets to take home. An individual who works in the area witnesses this event. What should they do?

The witness should contact the employee's supervisor, University Police or call the Ethics Office at: 866-758-2146 to report the incident. Employees also have the option of reporting this concern to the Inspector General. The bedding is University property and should not be removed from the premises. See Section 9.5-9.6 Reporting Fraud and Misconduct, Whistleblower Protection, and Investigations in the Business and Financial Policies and Procedures.

Scenario #22: Gifts - Prohibited Sources

It is National Pharmacy Week and one of the pharmaceutical vendors has sent a large basket worth at least $75 to Dr. Thomson, the Head of Pharmacy. The administrative assistant recalls that just five months prior, this vendor also sent another basket, similar in size (worth around $75) to Dr. Thomson to celebrate National Poison Prevention Week. Can this gift be accepted?

The Head of Pharmacy may not accept the second basket, as the total amount in gifts would exceed the allowable $99.99 per year limit. As such, Dr. Thomson can do one of the following: 1) return the gift to the vendor; 2) donate the gift to a 501(c)3 charitable organization; 3) make a cash donation to a charitable 501(c)3 organization that is equal to the amount of the gift. For additional details, see the Gift Ban section of the Ethics Act.

Scenario #23: Gifts - Prohibited Sources

You have worked with the same vendor for over ten years. Now the vendor contact you work with has decided to retire. You and several other employees attend the retirement party. At the party, all of the guests are entered into a drawing for three prizes: a set of golf clubs, a Waterford crystal vase, and a Rolex watch. All of the prizes are provided by the vendor. The drawing takes place and all three recipients are University of Illinois employees from your unit. What should you do?

Since the vendor is a prohibited source and the prizes are greater than or equal to $100 in value, your employees have three options: 1) return the gift to the vendor; 2) donate the gift to a 501(c)3 charitable organization; 3) make a cash donation to a charitable 501(c)3 organization that is equal to the amount of the gift. For additional details, see the Gift Ban section of the Ethics Act.

Scenario #24: Prohibited Political Activity

 As a University employee, you would like to support a candidate in a local election.  Is this allowable?

Yes.  University employees are free to engage in political activity during time that is not compensated by the state.  Although you are free to engage in political activity during time that is not compensated by the state, you must be careful not to misappropriate any state property or resources for a political purpose or to make any political contributions while on state property.  As a University employee, you should take care that the support of the candidate is interpreted as individual support and not as support of the University.

Scenario #25: Gifts - Solicitation

You are on a committee that is organizing and planning an employee appreciation event. You and a few others have been assigned the task of promoting attendance at this event. In the past, you have contacted local vendors to solicit donations to give as door prizes, which has proven to be quite successful. When you suggest this idea to the committee, one member speaks-up and states this would be a violation of the Ethics Act. Is it? Why or why not?

The Gift Ban section of the Ethics Act places restrictions on employee acceptance of gifts. Though the Ethics Act does not place an absolute prohibition on soliciting gifts, since in some instances solicitation may be appropriate (i.e. development activities with donors), solicitation of gifts from vendors for personal benefit is strongly discouraged. As a result, you and your team may want to direct your energy toward purchasing gifts with the appropriate University funds or developing other motivational tactics.