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Compliance and Ethics

Ethical Frequently Asked Questions

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Topic Question Additional Information

Question:  Can you accept tickets to a concert?

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


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.  

Gifts- Generally- Do not accept or solicit any gift, favor or service that might appear to influence the employee in discharging his/her official duties or that is being offered with intent to influence.
Outside Employment

Question 1: May I work at the Hattiesburg Country Club Golf Course, with which USM has a lease arrangement, at times when I am not working at USM if I am a full-time employee? 

Question 2:  Do I have to fill out the Permission to Engage in Outside Employment form to request permission to obtain another job if I am a part-time employee?

Answer 1:  Probably as it does not appear to be a conflict.  However, you must receive approval from your department 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 Outside Employment or Consulting Form. 

Answer 2:  Yes, all employees are required to obtain permission for outside employment per IHL Policy 801.08 Outside Employment and must fill out the Permission to Engage in Outside Employment or Consulting Form.

Permission to Engage in Outside Employment or Consulting

See Faculty Consulting Policy

See Employee Handbook Section 3.2 Outside Employment

See IHL Policy 801.08 Outside Employment

Business Transactions and Investments

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.

Political Activities

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.

Legislative Activities

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.

Contacts with Media

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.

Contacts with Law Enforcement

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.

Records and Information

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.

Information Excepted from Disclosures

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.

Confidentiality of Social Security Numbers

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.

Accuracy of Records

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.

Occupational Fraud

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.

Equal Opportunity Employment

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.

Sexual Harassment or 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.

Family Medical Leave Act 

Family Medical Leave Act

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.

Workplace Health and Safety and Protection of the Environment

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.

Drug and Weapon Free Workplace

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

Contracts and Agreements

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.

Use of State Owned Property

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. 

Computer Software

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.

Information Security and Acceptable Use

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.

Computer Access, Passwords and Other Confidential Information

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 access 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.