General Principles for Conference Attendance
- Refrain from accepting benefits that might influence your decision-making on behalf of the university (and thus create a conflict of interest), and consider refusing benefits that appear to influence your decision-making.
- If you should know that an entity has an interest in your university-related decisions, then the total amount you and all members of your household can receive from that entity is $50 in total, in any calendar year.
- Consider: if they buy you and your partner (and only you and your partner) dinner at $30 each, that exceeds the gift limit.
- Consider: if they send you a gift basket valued at $20, three times a year, ($20 x 3 = $60) that exceeds the gift limit.
- You may bring a partner or other member of your household if there is no additional cost to the university.
- You may add personal travel to your trip if there is no additional cost to the university.
Consider the Purpose of the Conference
Is it for UO-related work, for yourself, or for some other reason? Generally, if UO pays and it’s on work time, then you are subject to state ethics rules that likely:
- Prohibit you from personally accepting or keeping unauthorized prizes awarded during the conference
- Allow you to seek reimbursement for certain expenses from the university
- Allow you to accept benefits that are specified in your official compensation package
- Allow you to accept certain awards for professional achievement
- Restrict any gifts you receive from those interested in your university-related decisions
- Allow you to bring a partner, other member of your household, or other guest, as long as the university is not paying for that person
If you attend on your own time and on your own dime, you can personally accept awards or prizes as long as you don’t use your official position at UO to obtain them.
Who is Offering What?
If a company is offering you a financial benefit because of your official position at UO, then it’s probably prohibited altogether, as accepting it would be the use of official position for private financial gain.
Example: Discount on Business Services
A local business sets up a table at a conference and offers UO employees a 25% discount on business services. The discount is only for UO employees and you have to show your DuckID to get the discount. Accepting the discount is probably prohibited.
As a general matter, UO employees (and their relatives or household members) may not ask for or accept gifts if the total value received from one source in one year is more than $50, if the source of the gift has a “legislative or administrative interest” in the decisions the recipient (UO employee) makes. A gift is something for free or heavily discounted, given to you or your relatives or household members, where the same offer is not provided to others. For example, something of value, provided for free, offered to your department and no one else, is a gift.
A legislative or administrative interest means an economic interest, distinct from that of the general public, in any matter subject to a decision by the UO employee.
Example: Accepting Gifts from a Vendor
You serve on a committee that will vote on the university’s next timekeeping system. A timekeeping vendor that is being considered would like to give you a voucher for a free night in a hotel in Hawaii.
The vendor clearly has an administrative interest in your decision and you cannot accept the voucher if it’s worth more than $50. If it’s worth less than $50, it may count as a gift that you can accept if you haven’t accepted anything else of value from that vendor this year.
Isn’t this also a prohibited use of official position?
State ethics laws say the use of “official position” prohibition does not apply to things that count as “gifts,” as long as they stay within the gift limits.
But, the conflict of interest rule continues to apply, and the person’s role on the committee may raise an issue if they get to make decisions that impact a vendor who provided benefits to the person.
Example: Winning Prizes at a Conference
UO pays for you to go to a conference, and you win a prize while at the conference.
Use of Official Position Violation? Yes. But for the fact that you attended the conference as an employee of the university, you would not have been in a position to win the prize. You would probably be prohibited by state ethics laws from keeping the prize for personal use. (See 1998 OGEC Staff Opinion)
What if I go to a conference, that’s open to anyone interested in archeology. I go on my own time and on my own dime. At the conference, I win a $200 gift card to the restaurant of my choice.
Is it a gift? It depends. There are two questions here. 1. Is it something of economic value ($200) given without valuable consideration? Yes. There is no indication that you gave something worth $200 in order to get the prize. 2.Does the source of the gift have a legislative or economic interest in actions that you can take as a UO employee? For example, if you are currently deciding to select a vendor to support your next archeology trip on behalf of UO, and the company that’s giving you the prize is in the running for the vendor spot, the company likely has a legislative or economic interest in your actions. In that case, it is a gift and is subject to the $50 per year gift limit.
Even if it’s not a gift, it may constitute the prohibited use of official position for personal financial gain. For example, if UO sent you to the conference (for example, UO pays for you to go to the conference), then you probably cannot accept any prize anyway. If you were not a university employee, you would not have been at the conference where the prize was made available to you. In that case, you have to either give it to the university (if it’s something that the university can use, such as a computer), or reject the prize altogether (if it’s not something that the university can use, such as a cruise).
UO can reimburse you for reasonable expenses for UO related travel. Other approved sources can pay your travel expenses (such as a government agency or non-profit, paying the reasonable costs to have you come speak at an event). There are other sources that are not allowed to pay for your expenses (such as any company that’s interested in the decisions that you make on behalf of the university, if the value of what you get is more than $50).
Keep in mind that inappropriate conduct at conferences may be subject to university or other oversight as well. For example, Title IX requires UO to take appropriate action in response to sexual misconduct that occurs within its education programs or activities. More information about UO policies and procedures addressing harassment is located here. Additionally, the National Science Foundation (NSF) requires certain UO employees named on NSF awards to maintain a level of professional conduct, “including during the performance of award activities conducted outside the organization, such as at field sites or facilities, or during conferences and workshops.” NSF requires the university to report findings and other administrative action related to harassment, including sexual harassment and/or sexual assault, to NSF. NIH and NASA have taken steps in a similar direction.
The university does not tolerate harassment of its employees. Nor does it tolerate such behavior by UO employees regardless of whether the target of the harassment is affiliated with the university.