Employment & Engagement Involving Personal or Significant Relationships

Approving Authority:
Date of Approval:
20 May 1997
Last Amended:
Contact Officer:
Director, Human Resources

1. UNSW Code of Conduct
The University's Code of Conduct places the following obligations on all of its staff:
  • "A duty to observe standards of equity and justice in dealing with every member of the community ...;
  • An obligation to act appropriately when a conflict arises between a staff member's own self interest and duty to the University. Where such a conflict does or may arise, the issue should be disclosed to an appropriate officer of the University and "wherever feasible" the staff member play no role in decision-making that might be associated with that issue … ;
  • With respect to their duty of care, staff members should: … not allow personal relationships to affect professional relationships … ;
  • With respect to their obligation to the University, members of staff should: … avoid improper use of resources of the University for private gain or the gain of a third party;
  • With respect to conflicts of interest, staff members: … should take suitable measures to avoid, or appropriately deal with, any situation in which they have, or be seen to have, a conflict of interest arising out of their relationship with another staff member or student. In particular, staff should avoid situations which may require them to supervise or assess a student with whom they have, or have had, a personal, commercial, familial, or other significant relationship. Similar considerations generally apply to the supervision of other staff. Where both a supervisory role and significant relationship between staff members co-exist, supervision must be openly seen to be of the highest professional standard and neither unfairly advantage nor disadvantaging the supervisee…"
2. Delegation
As outlined in the Code of Conduct, an appropriate officer of the University must be informed when a conflict of interest can, does or could be perceived to arise. This encompasses a situation where there is proposal to offer employment, promotion, transfer, or engage the services of a person who: is known to have a personal or other significant relationship in the same work location; and would be working with the other person in the relationship as a supervisor or subordinate. Similar considerations apply in situations where a relationship has developed subsequent to employment. Appropriate officers in this context include a staff member's immediate supervisor, the Director of Human Resources or the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic).
3. Guidelines
3.1 The term "personal relationship" refers primarily to married/de-facto partners, partners in same-sex relationships or near relatives. "Near relatives" refers to the members of the immediate family, including children, parents or siblings, brother or sister of the person or the partner. Significant relationship refers to business relationships or partnerships, interest in private companies or business names.
3.2 Where staff members with a personal or significant relationship are to be involved in a supervisor/subordinate situation or are to oversee services provided, they should develop, for endorsement by the appropriate officer of the University, a written proposal to manage the situation in such a way as to minimise at all times potential conflicts of interest (whether real or perceived) and potential friction between staff members. For example, consideration may be given to introducing a third party into the supervisory and/or decision-making process.
3.3 The employment or engagement of services of persons with a personal or significant relationship can in certain situations be compromising to the persons or organisation concerned, particularly in supervisor/subordinate situations or other circumstances where one is in a position to make or influence decisions concerning the other, where unbiased judgements about the other are required, or where disciplinary action is involved. Such situations can also be compromising to other members of staff who may perceive a conflict of interest. It would therefore be preferable if such potentially compromising situations were avoided while still meeting merit selection principles. But where the particular circumstances make this unachievable, it is imperative that the appropriate officer of the University approving the employment or other contractual arrangement take steps to properly and adequately manage the arrangement.
3.4 Under NSW Anti-Discrimination legislation it is unlawful to disadvantage a person or organisation on the basis of marital status or other relationships. It is therefore unlawful for the University to seek information on the relationship status of applicants for positions and/or give any consideration to this factor in employment, promotion, transfer or engagement of service decisions.
3.5 The existence or knowledge of a personal relationship is not to improperly influence the actions or conduct of any staff member in the performance of their job. Where a personal relationship affects the effectiveness or efficiency of the University, or where staff member(s) abuse the responsibilities of their position(s), normal disciplinary measures will apply.
3.6 Care needs to be taken to ensure that the integrity of staffing and other contractual decisions is maintained and that conflict of interest is at all times avoided in the selection process. Accordingly, staff are not to participate in selection decisions where they have a personal relationship with an applicant for employment, promotion or transfer or engagement of services. Failure to act in this regard compromises the person(s) concerned and is in breach of equal employment opportunity principles and the University's merit selection policy.
3.7 If, because of a personal or significant relationship, the presiding member of a selection committee withdraws from the selection process, then arrangements are to be made for another person of equivalent seniority to convene and preside over the committee. Depending on local delegations, this may require a change of delegation to approve the recommendation of the reconstituted selection committee.
3.8 In the event of 3.7 above, and where the presiding member would have been the supervisor of the selected person or selected organisation, the decision to withdraw should be reported in writing to the Director, Human Resources.