Two sides to each conflict

What should you do if your spouse gets a job offer from a competitor of your employer?

Most people know they should report the potential conflict of interests to their ethics office. And most ethics officers will work with you and your colleagues in creating processes that will avoid actual conflicts and leaks from your organization.

But what about your spouse and the competitor? What is your and your organization’s responsibility? That is a step often overlooked by ethics officers. In some circumstances, it might be reasonable, even advisable, to ask the spouse to inform the competitor of the apparent conflict. In other cases, the ethics officer might even call the competitor’s ethics office to discuss the matter.

Think of it this way: we ask employees to disclose conflicts to their organization in part because if something goes wrong later on, it will look suspicious if the conflict was not disclosed, even if the conflict had no bearing on the thing going wrong. Similarly, we need to consider how our organization will be perceived if something goes wrong and we made no attempt to let the competitor know that we knew of the potential conflict, even if the conflict had no bearing on the thing going wrong.

To some, this might feel like overreaching. To me, it’s a reasonable additional layer of protection for all involved.

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