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Compliance and Ethics

Ethical Concerns

 

PUTTING ETHICS INTO CONTEXT

USM is committed to conducting itself in a manner that promotes the upmost public confidence and trust, which requires that we consistently abide by the highest ethical standards of integrity, honesty, fairness, and excellence.  These standards of conduct should be implemented within all the services that we provide as an institution and represents a core belief to which each USM campus community member must abide in compliance with USM’s Code of Ethical Conduct.  

We encourage you to report instances where ethical standards were not upheld so that we can remedy those and improve as we move forward.  In alignment with USM’s Code of Ethical Conduct and the Disclosure of Wrongful Conduct Policy, those reporting good faith concerns assist the institution and receive protection from retaliation for reporting ethical concerns. 

If you have questions about the policy or reporting an ethical concern, please feel free to contact the Office of Compliance & Ethics at 601.266.4466.

Have a difficult decision to make?

Every day members of the USM community face difficult decisions. When taking action, or observing someone else's actions, consider the following information to help you better understand the next step to undertake.

OBTAIN GUIDANCE FROM THE CODE

Review the Code of Ethical Conduct for guidance by clicking the button below. 

 USM CODE OF ETHICAL CONDUCT 

ETHICAL CONSIDERATION QUESTIONS

If you still are unsure of how to proceed after reading the Code of Ethical Conduct, ask yourself the questions listed below.

Question One: Is the action they are contemplating undertaking legal?

Proceed to act based on your answer to the above-referenced question. If the answer is yes, proceed to question two.  If you are unsure about the answer, ask for help.  

If the answer is no, do not proceed because there may be serious consequences for the individual and the University. The individual should contact the Office of Compliance and Ethics for other options.

Question Two: If the action is legal, the individual must ask themselves if it aligns with the Universities' values and policies?

  • If the answer is yes, proceed to question three. If you are unsure about the answer, ask for help.
  • If the answer is no, do not proceed because there may be serious consequences for the individual and the University. The individual should contact the Office of Compliance and Ethics for other options.

Question Three: Would you feel comfortable if others knew about it?

If the answer is yes, proceed to question four. If you are unsure about the answer, ask for help.

If the answer is no, do not proceed because there may be serious consequences for the individual and the University.  The individual should contact the Office of Compliance and Ethics for other options. If the answer is no, do not proceed because there may be serious consequences for the individual and the University. 

Question Four: Would you want to read about it in tomorrow's news?

  • If the answer is yes, then proceed with taking the action you are contemplating. If you are unsure about the answer, ask for help.
  • If the answer is no, do not proceed because there may be serious consequences for the individual and the University.  END OF QUESTIONS

 SEEK ASSISTANCE AND/RAISE A CONCERN

If you are still unsure of how to proceed, seek out assistance using one of the following options for seeking assistance or raising concerns:

your supervisor or other management
Office of Compliance and Ethics
Office of Internal Audit
Office of General Counsel
Human Resources
the Compliance and Ethics Helpline (anonymously if desired)

FREQUENTLY ASKED CODE OF CONDUCT QUESTIONS

Question:  Can you accept tickets to a concert?

Answer:  Yes, you can accept tickets to a conert, as long as it is not given in exchange for an official act. and the value is less than $50 

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF:

  • Does it appear that it might have influenced you or seems inappropriate?
  • Are you involved in a procurement process with the vendor?  If yes, decline gift. 

NOTE:  This would include gifts obtained in drawings for door prizes at work-related conferences.  

Question: May I work at the Hattiesburg Country Club Course, with which USM has a lease arrangement, at times when I am not working at USM.

Answer:  Probably as it does not appear to be a conflict.  However, you must receive approval from your deparmtent head and the President before accepting the outside employment unless your work at the Golf Club constitutes employment related duties within the scope of your responsibilities as a USM employee.  This permission is obtained by filling out the appropriate Permission to Engage in Outisde Employment or Consulting Form. 

Permission to Engage in Outside Employment or Consulting

See Faculty Consulting Policy

See Employee Handbook Section 3.2 Outside Employment

Question: I’ve been buying stock in a company that does business with USM. After my next purchase, I’ll own more than a $5,000 equity interest in the company. Does this pose a problem? 

Answer:  Depending on your job duties, this investment may constitute a conflict of interest and should not be pursued.  In addition, if you have the authority to award contracts, select vendors, or influence the purchases of goods or services, then you must report your ownership on the financial disclosure and conflict of interest statement filed with your department head and the Office of Research Integrity.

Question:  I noticed a flyer posted in my supervisor’s office advertising a party for a political candidate. Is it okay for the ad to be posted?

Answer: No, no one should ever post any type of advertisement for any political candidate on any USM property, leased or owned.

Question: May I use USM computers or telephones to send e-mails or make local calls to representatives urging their support for a bill that regulates fishing? The bill is not related to higher education, and I will only do it during a small part of my lunch break.

Answer:  No, you may not use USM resources to urge passage or defeat of a bill, even if the use is incidental and even if the bill does not affect higher education.

Question: I received a call from a newspaper reporter who wanted to speak to somebody about student enrollment statistics for USM. Since I am not familiar with this subject, how should I direct her call?

Answer:  The Office of University Communications can help connect reporters with appropriate spokespersons. In identifying the appropriate spokespersons, each office should follow the guidelines established by supervisors and executive officers for their areas. Do not refer a reporter to another office unless you are certain that they are the appropriate office to address the reporter’s questions. When in doubt, refer a reporter to the Office of University Communications.

Question:  Last night there was a knock on my door, and the person identified himself as an FBI agent. The agent wanted to talk with me about my work at USM. Should I have talked with him? .

Answer:  Unless the FBI agent has a search warrant or a subpoena, you should ask the agent to contact you at the office the next business day; then, immediately contact your supervisor who is to contact the Office of General Counsel. Should the FBI agent produce a search warrant or subpoena, if possible, notify your supervisor and the Office of General Counsel before you answer any questions from the agent.

Question: Our department is very short on space. We have many boxes of “old” files that we’re ready to get rid of. Can we go ahead and toss them?

Answer: It depends on the content. Generally, if the records are listed on USM’s retention schedule a disposition log must be submitted and approved. Bulk paper records should be securely shredded. Bulk electronic records require a disposition log but may be deleted at any time of the year after approval of the disposition. Your departmental records coordinator is the best resource for more information on departmental procedures or you can contact Special Collections with the University Libraries for specific information on retention schedules.

Question:  I received a phone call from a woman asking if I would send her copies of all email and other correspondence our office had sent to state leaders regarding tuition and fees. Should I make the copies and send them to her?

Answer: No, receiving a verbal inquiry for public records is not considered a valid request under the Mississippi Public Records Act. To be a valid public record request, an inquiry must be submitted in writing. Because this individual seeks to obtain information from USM, you should advise her to submit her request in writing, via hand delivery, facsimile, e-mail or regular mail, to the Office of University Communications.

Question:  My office uses an application that requires the collection of Social Security numbers (SSN) that is mandated by state law. Individuals can fill out the form as a hard copy or electronically. Since I am required to give the notice required by the Federal Privacy Act when we request an individual to initially disclose his or her SSN, is there standard language available somewhere that we can use for that notice?

Answer:  Yes, The Office of Compliance and Ethics provides pre-approved text for the notice required by the Federal Privacy Act of 1974.

Question:  I noticed some numbers were wrong on a proposal I sent out. Can I go back and change the numbers so my file copy is correct? 

Answer: No, changing the numbers on the file copy of a proposal may be considered falsifying the document. If possible, reissue the proposal and indicate what was changed.

Question:  What are some examples of occupational fraud?

Answer: There are three primary categories of occupational fraud:

  • Asset misappropriation may include stealing or misusing cash or non-cash assets (e.g., supplies, equipment) of the organization; providing false receipts and documentation for any type of reimbursement from Southern Miss; or claiming overtime for hours not worked.
  • Corruption refers to the fraudster using their influence in business transactions to obtain a benefit for themselves or someone else contrary to their duty to their employer, such as accepting a bribe or kickback to favor an outside vendor in buying goods or services.  
  • Financial statement fraud involves the intentional misstatement or omission of material information from the organization’s financial reports which may include the financial statements, grants, or application the organization submits which include financial information.

Question: I feel like I was passed up for a promotion because of my age. Who do I call when I feel I’ve been discriminated against?

Answer:  Contact The Equal Employment Opportunity Officer in the Office of Human Resources if you feel that you have been passed over for promotion based on your age : they handle allegations of discrimination not related to sexual harassment or sexual misconduct.

Question:  My co-worker is sending me jokes via email that contain offensive content. I’ve asked her to stop, but she continues to send them. What can I do?

Answer:  Since the emails with “jokes” could be a form of sexual harassment and continued after you asked her to stop, immediately contact your supervisor and the Title IX Coordinator. An investigation will be conducted, and appropriate action will be taken.

Question:  If I am a wage (non-exempt) employee, how often am I required to complete and submit timekeeping records to my supervisor?

Answer: In accordance with Employee Handbook Retrieval Number 2002 – Time and Attendance, all wage employees should submit timesheets on a weekly basis: it is also preferable that time be recorded on a daily basis.

Question:  I am a non-exempt employee, and I am confused about overtime. Sometimes my department says that I have to take the time off or lose it and other times I accrue time and one-half off. How can I tell what I am going to receive?

Answer: A non-exempt employee qualifies for FLSA overtime if he or she actually works more than 40 hours in a workweek (Monday through Sunday). FLSA overtime is earned on a one- and one-half-time basis for all time worked over 40 hours in a workweek (one hour of FLSA overtime is accrued as 1.50 hours). The FLSA provides that any employee of a public agency who has accrued compensatory time off and requested use of this compensatory time shall be permitted to use such time off within a "reasonable period” after making the request, if such use does not “unduly disrupt” the operations of the agency. Unduly disruptive is usually not interpreted as a staff shortage.

Question:  My wife and I are adopting an infant next month. Am I eligible for Family and Medical Leave? How long may I take off?

Answer: You could be eligible for Family and Medical Leave (FML). For a qualifying legal adoption, FMLA allows a certain number of weeks off. Check with the Office of Human Resources  for specific eligibility requirements and for information on requesting FML.

Question:  I accidentally cut my finger on the paper cutter and will most likely need stitches. Do I need to report this to anyone?

Answer: Yes, you should always report any job-related injury to your supervisor and to the Workers’ Compensation Insurance manager in the Office of Human Resources: report all job-related injuries no matter how small. Your supervisor should ensure that the required WC forms are completed.

Question:  Is it okay to have an alcoholic beverage during my lunch break while off campus?

Answer:  Using alcohol while not on duty (including, but not limited to when on lunch or a break) when that use that adversely affects job performance or may adversely affect the health or safety of other employees, students, visitors, or patients is prohibited by the University’s Drug and Alcohol Policy.

Question:  A sales representative has asked me to immediately sign a “purchase agreement” because the product price will increase tomorrow. May I sign such an agreement?

Answer:  No, This is a contract for purchasing goods and services. Contact the Department of Procurement and Contract Services or the Office of General Counsel for guidance. Only certain individuals have the authority to enter into contracts on behalf of The University.

Question:  My son calls me each day when he gets home from school to ask me to make copies of his homework assignments which he mails me. Since it’s a personal call on a USM owned phone, am I breaking any rules?  Is it okay to make photocopies for my son. 

Answer:  No. Generally, the personal use of any USM property or asset is prohibited; however, incidental personal usage of email, telephone, or the Internet that complies with applicable Southern Miss policies and does not result in additional cost is okay.  However, using resources that do result in additional costs like making copies is not permitted. 

Question:  •My budget doesn’t allow for everyone to have a copy of a software program. Is it okay to copy the program from someone else’s computer and put it on mine? What’s wrong with that?

Answer:  No, it is not okay to use someone else’s software on your computer without paying for a license. This is a violation of federal copyright laws. Check with iTech to determine whether a cost-effective site license is available for this program.

Question:  While typing some employment records, I noticed that a new employee is now married to my ex-husband. Can I talk with her about it?

Answer:  •Unless she or someone else tells you that she is now married to your ex-husband, you may not disclose that you saw the information on her employment application.

Question:  A friend of mine owns a construction business and has asked me to tell him how much USM has paid to a competitor over the last year.  I have accss to this information on the mainframe.  Is it okay for me to do this?

Answer: No, Miss. Code Ann. § 25-4-105(5) states “No person may intentionally use or disclose information gained in the course of or by reason of his official position or employment as a public servant in any way that could result in pecuniary benefit for himself, any relative, or any other person, if the information has not been communicated to the public or is not public information.”

Questions:  Our department wants to purchase new furniture. Can we go to any store and purchase the furniture and seek reimbursement?

Answer: No. USM has strict guidelines for purchasing. Purchases over a certain amount must be placed for bid. Additionally, Facilities Management should pre-approve furniture purchases. When in doubt, contact the Office of Procurement and Contract Services.

 

Question:   I would like to copy a chapter of a certain book for one-time use in my training class.  Would that be okay?

Answer:  In accordance with the four-factor fair use test, copying of a chapter for one-time use would probably qualify as fair use. On the other hand, repeated use will likely require permission from the copyright owner. A good practice: if the material is properly and publicly available through a web site, provide a link to the material and an acknowledgement to the web site (rather than a copy of the material). Feel free to contact the Office of General Counsel if you have questions about fair use or other copyright analysis.


ETHICAL SCENARIOS

Question: Margie finished a crucial assignment involving records last week but just realized her report had errors. She tells Jason that she will fix it before anyone notices. What should Jason do?

Answer:  Jason should tell Margie to speak to their supervisor about the problem right away, so it can be fixed with everyone being aware of the situation.  In case Margie doesn't tell their supervisor, Jason should tell him/her.

Remember, employees should never cover up their mistakes. 

Question:  Holly has been having problems getting up to go into work since she began taking night class. She's been making mistakes and going much slower than usual due to how tired she is. If Holly makes up her hours by staying after the workday is over, is it okay for her to go to work late on the days following her night class?  Is it okay for her to work slower since she is so tired?

Answer:  No, university employees are expected to attend work and be punctual.  Even if hours are missed, changes of schedules must only be done with supervisor approval.  There are specific rules that relate to timeoff, including vacation days, overtime, paid personal days, holidays, etc. In fact, local, state and federal laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) control pay and time practices.  As a worker at the university, Holly is expected to work diligently with efficiency and economy; and she is expected to make sure her personal life is not interfering in her work life. 

Question: Natasha oversees making packets for incoming students. Another department on campus would like copies of the packets early and Natasha promised them that she would give them to the department, but she knows that they will not be ready. What should Natasha do?

Answer:  Natasha should guide the assumptions of other employees, students, and third parties practically and prudently to guarantee an optimistic working and learning environment. In this conundrum, Natasha should work alongside her supervisor and the other department to find a solution. 

Question:  Susan sees her supervisor and her co-worker coming back from lunch cleary drunk.  Should she report them?

Answer:  Alcohol and substance abuse is strictly prohibited. Susan must report the incident to Human Resources. She will be protected from retaliation by her supervisor and colleague since the school's policy can ensure her safety. 

Question:  As she walks into work, Nadia notices that McKenzie is punching in her own timecard as well as the timecard of another employee. McKenzie is the employee who oversees timecards. Is McKenzie allowed to do this?

Answer: Work hours are a crucial asset to schools. Employees must punch in their own timecards and ensure that the time on the card is correct. When taking time off, employees must designate the type of leave such as sick leave or vacation days.  McKenzie cannot punch the other employees’ timecard. 

Question:  Elliot must access student files for his job, and he wants to help the students who are have issues; and he would like to give their information to a friend of his who provides tutoring.  He asks his supervisor, Nancy, if he can provide this information to his friend. What is the appropriate response from Nancy?

Answer: Student and staff information available to employees can only be used for legitimate purposes related to his/her job. These records are confidential; therefore, Elliot cannot give out student information nor use student information to recommend tutors for their benefit: that would be a misuse of student information and a possible violation of Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). 

Question: Over the last year, Pam has been working with Henry who is a graduate student intern in her office. Henry's internship will end in a couple of months, and he will no longer be reporting to her; therefore, Pam and Henry have decided to wait to start dating when she is no longer supervising him. Is this a potential conflict of interest?

Answer: Pam is obligated to report this to Human Resources because it is a conflict of interest to supervise someone with whom you have a personal relationship. She is his supervisor, and she does not want to give off an appearance of favoritism towards him. It does not matter if they are dating yet or not. 

Question:  Kathleen knows Josh who is a student at the university very well. Josh tells Kathleen that an employee in the Administration department has been violating the confidentiality policies of the university. What is best thing for Kathleen to do?

Answer: Kathleen should ask Josh to report the incident and report it herself to Human Resources. Any disciplinary action should come from the appropriate individual in charge and follow university policy.

Question:  A vendor has been frequenting the office and Cathy asks him how he got into contact with the university. The vendor admits that his wife works for the school and pushed his company in the right direction. What should she do in this situation?

Answer:  Cathy needs to discuss the information that she gained from the vendor with Human Resources. It is a conflict of interest for his wife to be involved in the contract. It is also inappropriate to give one company an advantage because of personal relationships. 

 

Question:  Andy is ready to renew a vendor’s contract with the university in his role as Library Collections Procurement Manager. Should he report this procurement action or renew the contract himself?

Answer: Andy must follow all university policies and state laws regardless of his employment title. Hence, he needs to notify procurement.  Keep in mind only certain people are allowed to sign contracts on behalf of USM.

IHL Board Policy No. 707 makes clear that no one other than the IHL Board, the Institutional Executive Officers, and those USM officials to whom contract signature authority has been specifically granted in writing by the USM President, is authorized to sign any contract, of any type, on behalf of USM.  Only certain individuals have such authority and signing a contract without such authority is grounds for disciplinary action, including termination, as well as personal liability.  See Our Office | Office of General Counsel | The University of Southern Mississippi (usm.edu). 

Question:  Thomas a professor is worried about what he should do.  He has two students who are often late.  One is a great student, and one is not.  He would prefer not to mark the student who is excelling late.  Can he do that?

Answer:  No, Thomas has an obligation to treat all students equally. If he marks one student late and takes point away, he must do that for each student. 

Question:  Mason becomes very close friends with other faculty in the Political Science Department. From time to time, he will send them inappropriate and offensive email chains and jokes. He only does this because he is sure that they will not be offended by his messages. Is this appropriate?

Answer: There is no expectation of privacy when using school emails. Professors and students should watch what is said on school email accounts and computers. The emails could be forwarded to other individuals including university officials or other university personnel such as iTech.  Anyone who reads the emails may be offended.  Hence, his actions are not appropriate. 

Question:  As the new faculty member in the Political Science Department, Martin has been given a school computer. He's enjoying setting it up with everything for his classes, but he has a few questions about what he is appropriate or inappropriate for him to do with his school-issued laptop. Martin is using Canvas to communicate with his students. Which of the following should Martin remember while using Canvas?

Answer: Discussion posts should be closely examined to make sure all participants are appropriate. Grades must be kept confidential. Passwords are also confidential and should be kept private. 

Question:  Nadine has constructed a new program to enhance outreach for potential new students. To whom can she show her new plan?

Answer: Information such as that which is in the plan is the University's information and should be safeguarded from disclosure: it is not common knowledge and release could harm the institution.  

 

Question:  was asked to present at a conference due to her job at the university. What should she remember when attending the conference?

Answer:  Remember, time used while on a conference for which the institution is paying is a resoure and should be spent wisely.  Document all expenses accurately to be reimbursed. 


REPORT AN ETHICAL CONCERN

You can discreetly and confidentially report activities that may involve criminal or unethical actions.  Click on one of the following links to begin.

Make an Anonymous Report


Follow Up on a Report


 

 

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Compliance and Ethics
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118 College Dr. #5079
Hattiesburg, MS 39406

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