UW Directories | Calendar | Map | MyUW
UW logo
Skip to Main
Office of Research (OR)

State Ethics Act of 2005 - FAQs

FAQs about UW Policies and the Ethics Act

Section 1 – Background

Section 2 – Faculty Outside Work Approval

Section 3 – Professional and Classified Staff Outside Work Approval

Section 4 – Use of UW Facilities and Resources for Approved Outside Work

Section 5 – Common Outside Work Situations

Section 1 – Background

Is it true that in 2005 the Washington legislature enacted significant changes to the Ethics Act that affect the UW?
Yes.
How did these changes come about?
In 2004, the Washington Technology Alliance established a committee composed of a number of prominent Washington political and business leaders to study unintended consequences of the Ethics Act that were negatively impacting the transfer of technology developed at state research institutions. In February 2005, the committee released its report recommending that the State Ethics Act be amended in a number of significant ways to address this problem. (http://www.technology-alliance.com/documents/ethics_law.pdf)
Were these changes supported by the Governor and other political leaders as well?
Yes. During her 2004 gubernatorial campaign, Governor Gregoire pledged to work towards modifying the ethics act.  The 2005 bill that changed the Ethics Act was specifically requested by the Governor, and it passed unanimously.
What are the major features of the new law?
The law creates a new category of state employee referred to as a “University Research Employee” and allows the UW to adopt policies and procedures that serve as an alternate system for compliance with the Ethics Act by University Research Employees. The law also requires that the Governor approve these alternative compliance policies and procedures.
Which UW policies and procedures are affected by the change in the law?
  • Outside Professional Work Policy (University Handbook, Vol. 4, Part 5, Chapter 6)
  • Personal Use of University Facilities, Computers, and Equipment by University Employees (APS 47.2)
  • Outside Consulting Activities and Part-time Employment by Professional or Classified Staff Employees (APS 47.3)
  • Significant Financial Interest Disclosure Policy (GIM-10)
Has the UW actually revised these policies and have they been approved by the Governor?
Yes. Soon after the enactment of the new law, the UW began preparing and reviewing changes to the policies and worked closely with the Governor’s office to ensure the changes would be appropriate and consistent with the law. Work on those changes was completed and approved by the Governor in early 2007.

Section 2 – Faculty Outside Work Approval

What changes were made to the Ethics Act that affect faculty?
Probably the change of the greatest practical importance is that faculty who are “University Research Employees” may make de minimis use of UW facilities to carry out approved outside work. (See Section 4 below on use of UW facilities.)
Has the faculty outside work approval policy, part of the University Handbook, been extensively changed?
No. In general, the policy is very similar to what existed previously. Faculty are still required to obtain advance approval for almost all paid outside work activities and full-time faculty are limited to a maximum of one day per week of outside work.
Which faculty are considered University Research Employees?
All faculty in the professorial ranks (full, associate, and assistant professors, including research appointments) and any other faculty to the extent engaged in research and technology transfer.
What are some important limitations on use of UW resources to carry out outside work?
There must be little or no cost to the UW and the activity should not involve the support or assistance from any other UW employee (unless that employee is also approved to engage in the outside work activity). The amount of time should be reasonable, which means it should not exceed what has been approved and cannot constitute the operation of a private business (other than a consulting business pertinent to one’s research or tech transfer endeavors).
What happens if the outside work has not been approved by the UW?
Any use of UW facilities or resources for outside work would be prohibited, and as a result, would also be considered a violation of the Ethics Act. The State Ethics Board retains authority to pursue violators.
What other changes have there been that would affect outside work requests?
Prior to the change in the law, certain outside work activities that might facilitate technology transfer could be seen as nevertheless violating the Ethics Act. For example, working with a company on a license or research agreement might be seen as at least a technical violation of the law. Under the current law, if the UW has approved the activity, it is not likely to be seen as a violation of the law.
As a practical matter, what should faculty do when preparing an outside work request form?
In view of these changes and the ability of the UW to grant approvals for certain activities, it is important that the outside work request be filled out completely and that it contain an accurate description of the outside work activity. This does not mean that the description needs to be lengthy, but it should clearly describe the work to be done.

Section 3 – Professional and Classified Staff Outside Work Approval

Does the 2005 change in the Ethics Act apply to professional and classified staff at the UW as well?
Yes, but only to those UW employees who are University Research Employees.
Which professional and classified staff are considered University Research Employees?
Unlike faculty, relatively few professional and classified staff are considered University Research Employees. They are limited to those employees who are specifically assigned to sponsored research projects and whose work contributes to the design or conduct of research or to the analysis or reporting of results, or those employees who have been granted the right to apply for sponsored research projects by the Provost or by their respective schools, colleges, or campuses.
Is the procedure for obtaining approval for professional or classified staff to pursue outside work the same as that for faculty?
No. Unlike faculty, UW rules only require that professional or classified staff obtain written approval where there is a potential conflict between their UW job and the outside work.
Does the change in the law apply to me if I am not a University Research Employee?
In general, the new law and the revised UW policies will have little or no effect on those persons who are not University Research Employees.

Section 4 – Use of UW Facilities and Resources for Approved Outside Work

Has the UW policy on use of University facilities changed?
Yes. University Research Employees are permitted certain additional de minimis uses of UW facilities and resources for research, scholarship and tech transfer in connection with approved outside work activities.
What constitutes de minimis use for University Research Employees?
In general, de minimis means that there is little or no cost to the UW, the activity is reasonable in frequency and duration, there is no interference with employees, and the activity is not disruptive.
What are some examples of acceptable de minimis uses by University Research Employees who are engaged in approved outside work?
Use of the University Research Employee’s assigned UW office, telephone, computer, email, and use of all UW library facilities.
What are some examples of what is not allowed?
Using UW-purchased consumables to conduct outside work, obtaining assistance from other UW employees or students, transfer or use of UW-owned intellectual property as part of an outside work assignment.
Do the revised policies allow use of University facilities by the private sector in collaboration with University Research Employees?
While such uses have been enabled by the new law, the UW has not implemented specific rules and procedures, which would also require approval of the Governor. At present, such uses would need to occur through established mechanisms such as sponsored research and service agreements. The process for reimbursing the UW will require further effort to ensure that UW costs are fully recovered.
Was the purpose of the law changed to help me run a personal business out of my UW space?
No. The purpose of the law was to facilitate technology transfer and dissemination of knowledge in an ethical and appropriate manner rather than as income enhancement for employees.
What does this mean in terms of the kinds of activities that I can engage in?
The law still limits “University Research Employees” to employees who are engaged in research, technology transfer, or approved activities related to research and technology transfer. This means that employees who are engaged in outside work that does not fit this definition may not make de minimis uses in such situations.
Will acceptable de minimis uses be actively policed or monitored?
In general, they will not. As with a number of matters falling within the Ethics Act, all University employees are expected to understand and abide by the law. They should be aware that violations of the ethics act are subject to being reported by other employees and investigated.

Section 5 – Common Outside Work Situations

I am approved to engage in outside consulting for a biotech company for up to two days per month. I would like to set up outside meetings and answer technical questions from company representatives using my UW e-mail. Is that allowed?
Yes, as long as the amount of time is reasonable.
I am a faculty member in the School of Engineering with approval to receive outside compensation as an Assistant Coach for my daughter’s basketball team, which is not related to my regular faculty activities. Can I use my UW office to meet with the other coaches?
No.  This activity does not involve research related to your normal duties.
My administrative assistant normally handles all of my e-mail and phone calls. Can I use my assistant’s services for arranging meetings that involve outside work?
No. Permitted de minimis uses expressly exclude involving other UW employees in outside work activities.
I would like to take electronic photos of samples provided by a company with whom I consult using an instrument in my laboratory that was funded by a federal grant. In addition, the company has asked me to train one of its employees to use this instrument. Are these activities allowed?
No. Unless the equipment has been personally assigned to you and is located in your office, it would not be a permitted de minimis use.
My graduate student and I are both engaged in paid consulting on the same project for a company. Are we both allowed to meet with a company representative in my faculty office to discuss this outside effort?
Yes, providing the outside work activity has been approved, the activity is consistent with the de minimis use rules, and the student’s involvement is personal and not occurring as part of the student’s academic program. You should be aware that interacting with students in connection with your outside work is a sensitive area.
Am I allowed to print documents involved in my outside work effort using my UW printer?
No. This would involve use of UW consumables (paper and toner/ink) and would not be allowed. If you supplied your own consumables it would be allowed.
I would like to host an all-day meeting with two company representatives in my faculty office. This is within my approved outside work time for the month and I have been approved to consult for the company. Is this allowed?
This would be allowed providing the activity would not be contrary to any of the other de minimis rules. In particular, the activity must not disrupt or distract from normal UW business, must not involve other UW employees, and must not compromise UW security.