University of Washington Policy Directory

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*Formerly part of the University Handbook
Presidential Orders

Executive Order

No. 54

Employee–Student Romantic Relationships and Conflicts of Interest

1. Principles
  Romantic relationships between University of Washington employees and students can lead to a conflict of interest that is detrimental to the functioning of the University because, if present, the professional authority under which employees' decisions are made may be called into question. The following are examples of why the University's responsibilities to the public and to individual members of the University community may be compromised if employees do not avoid such conflicts of interest:
  • The possibility of allegations of sexual harassment may arise when an employee in a position of authority over a student has a romantic relationship or makes romantic advances toward that student and if the employee's immediate power to influence the student's access to educational programs and services, academics or professional progress, and/or work experience or opportunities brings into question the ability of the student to consent to the relationship;

  • The possibility of a hostile or offensive academic or work environment may arise if the employee's romantic interests or advances are or become unwelcome by a student and the employee fails to separate personal interests from his or her professional decision-making;

  • The possibility of impeding a student's access to educational programs and services, academics or professional progress, and/or work experience or opportunities may also arise if the employee is already in a position of decision-making authority with respect to the student or may be so in the future, since the employee must then abstain from participation in such decisions, thereby denying the student access to the employee's professional assessment and/or decision-making authority; and

  • Romantic relationships between employees and students may also infringe on the rights of other students or colleagues because there may be actual or perceived bias, partiality, or influence.
This policy does not restrict employees' legal rights as citizens, including those of association and expression and protection from discrimination based on marital status. However, when the exercise of those freedoms conflicts with the institutional necessity of impartiality in academic and employment decisions, and a relationship creates a conflict of interest that cannot be effectively managed through an acceptable plan, the University may take corrective action in accordance with the terms and conditions of employment governing the employee's employment relationship with the University.

2. Policy
  All University employees or appointees, including faculty and other academic personnel, staff (e.g. coaches and academic advisors), temporary staff, Academic Student Employees, and student employees (e.g. Resident Advisors) are prohibited from:
  • Engaging in a romantic relationship with a student that creates an actual conflict of interest or could be perceived to create conflict of interest; or

  • Exercising authority over a student with whom the employee has or has had a romantic relationship that creates an actual conflict of interest or could be perceived to create conflict of interest.
The above are prohibited unless they can be effectively managed through an acceptable plan. This policy is in addition to Executive Order No. 32, Employee Responsibilities and Employee Conflict of Interest.

3. Definitions
  A. Conflict of Interest

A conflict of interest arises when an employee’s objectivity and decision-making in his or her professional role relating to students is or has the potential to be compromised because of a romantic relationship the employee has with a student. This professional role encompasses decisions or recommendations that may affect the student’s access to educational programs and services; academics or professional progress; and/or work experience or opportunities. The role also includes voting on actions that involve the student, contributing to or evaluating scholarly work, evaluating academic status or progress, providing career recommendations or references, making hiring or termination decisions or otherwise making decisions that substantially affect academic status or employment.

  B. Romantic Relationship

A romantic relationship includes intimate, sexual, dating, and/or any other type of amorous encounter or relationship, even when consensual, whether or not casual or serious, short-term or long-term.



A student under this policy includes, but is not limited to, any individual enrolled in any course, whether matriculated or nonmatriculated, in any University program of study.

4. Complaint Reporting
  Those who have concerns about potential violations of this policy may report them to their supervisor, department chair or director, dean or chancellor, administrative head, and/or Human Resources Consultant or Academic Human Resources Consultant. Reports will be evaluated in order to determine an appropriate institutional response.

5. Conflict of Interest and Sexual Harassment
  Upon receiving a report of a potential conflict of interest arising from an employee–student romantic relationship, in addition to any other investigatory or corrective action that is taken, the University may be obligated to evaluate whether there is or has been a violation of Executive Order No. 31, Nondiscrimination and Affirmative Action. The matter may be referred to the University Complaint Investigation and Resolution Office (UCIRO) for investigation in accordance with Administrative Policy Statement 46.3, Resolution of Complaints Against University Employees and/or the Faculty Code.

6. Consequences of Violation of Policy
  University employees who violate this policy may be subject to corrective or disciplinary action, including, but not limited to, termination of employment. The particular corrective or disciplinary action to be imposed will be consistent with the applicable policies and processes for the particular employee at issue.

7. Disclosure of Conflict
  Employees who suspect that their romantic relationship with a student may create an actual or perceived conflict of interest must notify their supervisor, department chair or director, dean or chancellor, or administrative head. The purpose of this notification is to evaluate whether a plan can be created that will avoid the conflict or potential impact on the student or others. Supervisors, department chairs or directors, and administrative heads should consult with their human resources consultant, dean's or chancellor's office, the Office of Student Life, or other appropriate office in evaluating the plan. Whether the University is able to create an acceptable plan is within the discretion of the relevant University administrative authority.

Disclosure of a potential conflict does not preclude the University from taking appropriate measures to address any behavior that may have occurred before or after the disclosure that is in violation of University policy.

8. Retaliation Prohibited
  This policy prohibits taking adverse action against any individual who reports (or is perceived to have reported) concerns under this policy or who cooperates with or participates in any investigation related to this policy.

9. Additional Information
  For additional information about this policy, contact the following:
May 12, 2017

For related information, see:

  • Executive Order No. 31, "Nondiscrimination and Affirmative Action"
  • Executive Order No. 32, "Employee Responsibilities and Employee Conflict of Interest"
  • Faculty Code and Governance, Chapter 24, Section 24-50, "Conflict of Interest Regarding Appointment, Employment, and Academic Decisions
  • Administrative Policy Statement 46.3, "Resolution of Complaints Against University Employees"