Two University of Washington employees committed ethical violations by earning overtime pay for personal internet use. An article from Seattle-based KOMO News Network reports that the State Ethics Board found that the UW employees violated rules regarding personal use of state resources. Other state employees can learn from this story to avoid being the subject of an ethics investigation.
The ethics investigation began when two of UW’s fire alarm technicians reported extremely high overtime hours. By looking at the employees’ pay stubs, auditors found that one employee had logged 549 overtime hours in the span of one year, while another employee had logged 916 hours. On days when they were earning overtime pay, the employees sometimes spent upwards of four to five hours on the internet looking at sports, celebrity gossip, or social networking websites. The State Ethics Board found that the employees had violated ethical rules with improper use of state resources. However, UW has not yet taken any action against the employees, who may challenge the Ethics Board’s findings or settle the charges with the Board.
The UW Division of the Attorney General’s Office states that all state employees, including UW employees, must follow the State Ethics in Public Service Act, also called the ethics law. The ethics law applies to many aspects of a state employee’s official and unofficial activities, such as:
-Limitations on Gifts: state employees are not permitted to accept or solicit gifts if that gift could influence the employee in his official duties.
Improper Use of Position: state employees cannot use their position in order to receive special privileges.
-Conflicts of Interest: state employees may not have interests or obligations that could conflict with their official duties.
-Use of State Resources: state employees are forbidden from using state resources for personal gain. This includes property, money, or other state employees.
If any person believes that a state employee has violated an ethical rule, that person may file a complaint with the State Ethics Board. The Board then investigates the charges and issues a written report with its findings and whether it believes that the employee has violated one or more of the ethical rules. The state employee has the option to appeal the Ethics Board’s decision. If the charges are sustained, the Ethics Board has the authority to impose fines or recommend that the employee be dismissed or suspended from his position.
In some cases, knowledge of the ethics law can prevent a state employee from committing an ethical violation. In other cases, a state employee needs help defending himself against an ethics investigation. A skilled employment lawyer can help state employees in either of these situations.