Principles of Professionalism, Ethics, and Compliance

Integrity, Accountability, Transparency, and Respect should guide each of us in all actions and decisions.

The University at Albany is committed to responsible and ethical conduct in the classroom, the workplace and the laboratory. This commitment is reflected in the University’s policies and procedures. It is important for all members of the University community to be aware of these policies and procedures and for individuals and organizations outside of the University community to know about the University’s dedication to responsible and ethical practices and conduct. This document serves as a guide to the expectations and standards of behavior and provides basic principles to assist the University Community to always “do the right thing.”

In addition, as employees of the State of New York, University employees must also comply with the requirements of New York State Public Officers Law Sections 73 and 74, which collectively govern business or professional activities by state officers and employees, prohibit certain conduct in business and professional activities that is a conflict of interest with state employment, and set forth the Code of Ethics for state employees.

More comprehensive information is available in the University library of Policies and Procedures which is accessible on-line at https://www.albany.edu/risk-management/policies or by request from the Office of Risk Management and Compliance at https://www.albany.edu/risk-management

Individual Responsibility and Accountability

All members of the University community (employees, faculty, students, vendors, contractors, and volunteers) are expected to exercise responsibility appropriate to their positions and delegated authorities. They are responsible to each other, to the University and to the public for their actions and decisions. Each person is expected to conduct themselves and their business using sound judgment that serves the best interests of the University community.

The guiding principle of “Do the Right Thing” is simple to write and say, but it is sometimes difficult to determine what the Right Thing is in real-life situations. If you are faced with a tough ethical decision, ask yourself four questions:

  • Is it legal? Will you be violating a University or SUNY rule or institutional policy or federal or state laws or regulations? If so, don’t do it.  If you are not sure, ask.
  • Is it within my legal authority to do it? If not, then do not do it.  If you are not sure, ask first.
  • Is it fair, honest and balanced? Will all parties be treated fairly?  You should avoid unfair, one-sided decisions. Would your decision still feel right if you were in the other person’s shoes?
  • How will I feel when it is done? Does the decision go against your own innate sense of what’s right?  If your actions were published in the newspaper, would you feel good about it?  Is the action or decision ethical in both fact and how it appears to others?

The above four questions constitute a quick and simple “ethics check.” The legal question focuses on existing standards; the authority question helps keep you from exceeding your authority and helps protect your indemnification by the state; the balance question activates your sense of fairness and rationality; and the last question focuses on your own standards of morality.  If an action you are considering taking or a decision you are about to make fails the ethics check, don’t do it. If you are unsure, seek guidance from your supervisor, Human Resources or the Office of Enterprise Risk Management and Compliance before you act.

Management’s Responsibility: While everyone is responsible for conducting themselves in an ethical manner, those in management roles have a special responsibility to create a culture that promotes the highest standards of ethics and compliance. This culture must encourage everyone in the department to raise concerns when they are noticed.  And the manager must lead by example when it comes to ethics and compliance.

Compliance with Laws, Regulations, and Standards

Because academic institutions are subject to many laws, policies, and regulations, all University employees are expected to become familiar with the laws, policies, and regulations related to their areas of responsibility. Failure to comply with these laws, policies, and regulations can have serious consequences both for the individual and for the University, affecting reputation, finances, or the health and safety of employees, students and others.

Scientific Integrity

At the core of the University’s research program is a strong commitment to research integrity and ethical scientific methodologies. As members of an academic community that values truth and the pursuit of knowledge, scientific misconduct or fraudulent activities are unacceptable.  Examples of misconduct/fraud in research are fabrication, falsification, plagiarism or other practices that materially deviate from the standards commonly accepted within the academic community for the conduct and reporting of research.

Safe and Healthy Workplace

The University strives to create a safe and healthy environment for employees, students and visitors.  It is our policy to comply with all environmental laws and regulations pertaining to our operations. We will act to preserve our natural resources, comply with all environmental laws and operate each of our facilities with the necessary permits, approvals, and controls.  Safety practices are in place to reduce the likelihood of accidents and to minimize exposure to hazardous or infectious material.

All employees should become familiar with and understand how these safety policies and practices apply to their specific job responsibilities and seek advice from their supervisor or the Office of Environmental Health and Safety whenever there is a question or concern.

Employees must immediately report workplace injury or unsafe or unhealthy working conditions to their supervisors or to the appropriate oversight office.

Respect for Others

We should make an effort to understand the perspectives of others and take those perspectives into account. Courtesy, understanding and respect for others should guide our actions and decisions.

University policy and state and federal laws prohibit discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, age, color, creed, national or ethnic origin, disability, marital status, genetic information, criminal conviction, domestic violence victim status, veteran status and/or military status in employment or the administration of its policies, programs, or activities. This applies to all terms, conditions, and privileges of employment and access for students, faculty, and staff. The University’s nondiscrimination policy affects all employment practices including, but not limited to, recruiting, hiring, transfers, promotions, benefits, compensation, training, educational opportunities, and terminations. Educational programs and activities covered include, but are not limited to, admission, recruitment, financial aid, treatment and services, counseling and guidance, classroom assignment, grading, vocational education, recreation, physical education, athletics, housing, sanctions, discipline and employment as well as any other activity, opportunity or program. Also, no one shall be subject to retaliation for initiating or participating in a complaint process.

The educational and working environment of the University should be free from inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual misconduct and sexual harassment, which includes sexual advances or requests for sexual favors, is prohibited. Verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that interferes with work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment will not be tolerated.  Additionally, romantic or sexual relationships between faculty and students or between supervisors and their direct reports are strictly governed by SUNY and University policy so please be aware of these restrictions and be sure to abide by them.

Responsible Use of Resources

It is the responsibility of each University employee to preserve the institution’s assets including time, materials, supplies, equipment, and information. Institutional assets are to be used for University business related purposes only. As a general rule, the personal use of any University asset without prior supervisory approval is prohibited. The occasional use of items such as telephones, fax machines, or email, provided the use complies with University policies and does not result in additional cost to University, is permissible.

Any use of University resources for personal financial gain unrelated to the institution’s business is strictly prohibited.

Avoiding Conflicts of Interest and Conflicts of Commitment

The primary responsibility as employees of the University is the accomplishment of the duties and responsibilities assigned to us.

A conflict of interest occurs when an individual is involved in multiple interests, any of which might compromise objectivity or professional judgment. Conflicts of interest can arise in the contexts of business relationships, purchasing decisions, use and appropriation of University assets, or academic and research activities. The existence of a conflict of interest can create a real or perceived impropriety that can undermine confidence in the individual or the institution.

It is common to assume that we would readily recognize activities or interests that would be in conflict with our institutional duties or would impair our judgement.  However, conflicts of interests and commitment have the potential to influence our thinking and decision making both consciously and unconsciously, thus impairing our judgement. Even if an outside activity does not actually impact our ability to act in the best interest of the University, it may appear to the public that independence of judgment is compromised. 

All actual and potential conflicts of interest must be reported and evaluated so that, when necessary, steps can be taken to reduce, manage, or eliminate the conflict.

The University has policies and procedures related to Conflicts of Interest, Conflicts of Commitment and Outside Employment/Activities. 

In addition, NYS Public Officers Law Section 73 governs business or professional activities by state officers and employees and political party officers and includes the prohibition of certain conduct in business and professional activities that is a conflict of interest with state employment.

Last, NYS Public Officers Law Section 74 sets forth the Code of Ethics applicable to NYS employees, including University employees.

Declining Gifts, Gratuities, and Kickbacks

Faculty and staff should never personally accept any material gifts, gratuities, or other payments, in cash or in kind, from any vendor currently doing or seeking to do business with University.  Material gifts are those of more than nominal value. Nominal value means an item of little or no marketable value such as a keychain, notepad or pen with a vendor’s name on it.

NYS Public Officers Law Section 73 also prohibits the solicitation, acceptance or receipt of any gift having more than nominal value under circumstances that it could be reasonably inferred that the gift was intended to influence him/her or could be reasonably expected to influence him/her, in the performance of his/her official duties or was intended as a reward for any official action on his/her part.

Accuracy of Records

Employees are required to maintain the integrity and accuracy of business documents and records for which they are responsible. No one may alter or falsify information on any record or document.

Privacy and Confidentiality

Many employees have access to sensitive, confidential, or proprietary information. Federal laws and University policies prohibit the unauthorized seeking, using, or disclosing of such information, including confidential information contained in student, employee or patient records.   Such information is to be accessed, used, or disclosed only when authorized and required to complete assigned job duties. In addition, such information, including personally identifiable information of students, faculty, staff and the general public, such as social security numbers, credit or financial information, or medical records should only be obtained when absolutely necessary for business reasons and allowable under law. Finally, such information must always be protected by limiting access to the information to only those authorized to see it, storing hard copies in locking cabinets, never sending such information by e-mail, fax or interagency mail, and storing electronic copies only on the University main computer drive. Never store such information on the local drive of a desktop computer or ever on a portable device such as a laptop, cell phone, thumb drive, or external computer drive.    

Professional Behavior

All members of the University workforce are expected to behave in a manner that is consistent with professional, courteous conduct and supportive of excellence in the workplace. Unacceptable behavior includes demeaning, disruptive, or threatening actions or any actions that interfere with the ability of others to do their jobs or pursue their academic or research goals. Any such behavior will not be tolerated and should be reported to management.

Voicing Concerns

External standards or policies are no substitute for an individual’s internal sense of fairness, honesty, and integrity. Employees who encounter a situation or a course of action that does not feel right are encouraged to discuss the situation with management, the Office of Human Resources, the Office of Enterprise Risk Management and Compliance, or make a report to the Internal Control Hotline at 518-437-4738 or by e-mail at ichotline@albany.edu.

Hotline users may choose to remain anonymous. There will be no retribution or discipline for anyone who reports, in good faith, a possible violation or misconduct.

A report in good faith means one that is made with a reasonable belief that the reported activity occurred or may have occurred.

Employees should not assume that management is aware of a situation or that it is someone else’s responsibility to bring attention to an issue. Maintaining the highest ethical standards is everyone’s responsibility.

No University employee may retaliate against any individual for making a good faith report of known or suspected misconduct or wrongdoing or for assisting in an authorized investigation of such reports.

Conclusion

By following the requirements of this document, we can all help insure that the University can meet its goals and missions in a fair, ethical and safe environment and such an environment will be more productive and satisfactory for all students, faculty, staff, vendors, and visitors.