Integrity

Trust, Service

& Accountability

Behaving Ethically

Scenario 1 - Does Elizabeth have a conflict?

Elizabeth was a member of a selection panel for a software systems engineer. 

Judy was one of the unsuccessful applicants.  Her application was considered to be pretty strong but the role was offered to Michael.

Shortly after, Joel, who chaired the selection panel, discovered that Elizabeth is living with Judy’s ex-husband, Warren, and things are decidedly cool between Elizabeth and Judy. 

At work the next day, Joel spoke with Elizabeth, expressing his concerns about the appropriateness of her serving on the selection panel. Among other things, Joel asked Elizabeth why she had not told him about her relationship with Warren. Elizabeth replied that there was, in fact, no problem, and that the views she expressed during the selection process had been based solely on the merits of each applicant’s case. There was, she said, no “conflict of interests”, and so nothing to tell Joel about.  As a matter of fact, she continued, it was her own private business, and had nothing to do with the matter at hand. It would have been inappropriate – and unprofessional – of her to have said anything about it.

What do you make of Elizabeth’s claims?

  1. If it could be shown that her vote and her role in the discussion were not biased, then she is correct that there was no conflict of interests.
  2. Given that it was the panel and not Elizabeth alone that decided the matter not in Judy’s favour, then she must be correct in her claims.
  3. Like anyone else, Elizabeth is entitled to her privacy; what she thinks about Judy is her own business and is therefore irrelevant to her competence to be on a selection panel.
  4. Elizabeth is wrong. She had a conflict of interests.


About the possible answers

Re: a.

Whether or not her decision is biased, Elizabeth definitely has interests that are in conflict:  her interest in serving as a competent, impartial panel member, and her personal interest in disliking Judy.  She does indeed have a conflict of interests, whether or not her judgment was adversely affected by it.

Re: b.

Whether or not her opinion about the merits of Judy’s application coincided with that of the other members of the panel, Elizabeth could be perceived as having an interest in Judy’s not getting the job:  Elizabeth doesn’t like her, and has an unpleasant personal acquaintance with her.  Whether or not her personal interest had an effect on her judgment, her personal interest is likely to be seen by others as at odds with her interest in serving as an impartial member on a selection panel.

Re: c. 

This is simply wrong.  Conflicts of interests almost always involve a private interest that is in conflict with the interest one has in performing one’s role in an agency.  While it is true that Elizabeth is entitled to her privacy, she is not entitled to bring those private interests, which may conflict with the interests of her role, into her professional role without at least notifying appropriate parties of their existence.  In this case, Elizabeth should have notified the chair of the selection panel.  Although there is no one universal way to handle a conflict of interests – sometimes notification (including notification of other panel members) is sufficient – in this case, unless there were some extraordinary reason to the contrary, Elizabeth should have been ruled ineligible to serve on the panel, because of her conflict of interests.

Re: d.

THE BEST ANSWER FOR YOUR WORKPLACE?

Yes.  Despite Elizabeth’s protestations, she did, in fact, have a conflict of interests.  Conflicts of interests almost always involve a private interest that is in conflict with the interest one has in performing one’s professional role in an agency.  While it is true that Elizabeth is entitled to her privacy, she is not entitled to conceal private interests, which may conflict with the interests of her professional role without at least notifying appropriate parties of their existence.  In this case, Elizabeth should have notified the chair of the selection panel.  Although there is no one universal way to handle a conflict of interests – sometimes notification (including notification of other panel members) is sufficient – in this case, unless there was some extraordinary reason to the contrary, Elizabeth should not have served on the panel, because of her conflict of interests.



Government Sector Employment Act 2013

Ethical Framework

Integrity

(a) Consider people equally without prejudice or favour.

(b) Act professionally with honesty, consistency and impartiality.

(c) Place the public interest over personal interest.

Accountability

(a) Recruit and promote staff on merit.

(c) Provide transparency to enable public scrutiny.