Ethics Guide

State officers and employees never lose their identity as a state employee, even when they are not working. Responsibility for compliance with ethics rules rests with the state employee and, in some cases, the supervisor if the supervisor knew the employee was engaged in unethical activities and did not intervene.

Student employees are state employees and are subject to restrictions while employed. University visitors and employee family members (including children) are not authorized to use University information technology resources.

A summary of substantive rules and restrictions as defined in RCW 42.52 are provided here. Further, we have identified guidelines and methods for ensuring compliance for specific provisions, or key areas of concern. It is recommended all employees be familiar with EP45 – University Ethics Policy. This policy outlines the Ethics Act provisions, and have been reviewed and approved by the Executive Ethics Board (EEB) as to conformance with the ethics law. As noted at Ethics in Public Service, training in regards to the state ethics law is provided to new employees in orientation, by request to departments, and to the University community throughout the year in open enrollment sessions sponsored by HRS. To become more familiar with the laws,  the EEB website is a valuable source of information; an online quiz is available to see how familiar you are with ethics laws.

  • State employees are obligated to conserve and protect state resources for the benefit of the public interest.
  • State employees may not use state resources for private gain.

Occasional but limited use is permitted if:

  • there is little or no cost to the state
  • any use is the most effective use of time or resources
  • there is no interference with the performance of official duties
  • the use is brief in duration and frequency
  • the use does not disrupt other state employees and does not obligate them to make a personal use of state resources
  • the use does not compromise the security or integrity of state information or software

Personal use of state resources may not be reimbursed so that there is no actual cost to the state.

Certain uses are prohibited regardless of whether there is no actual cost to the state and it does not interfere with the performance of official duties. This includes:

  • conducting an outside business, whether or not for profit
  • any use for assisting the campaign of a candidate or to oppose/promote a ballot issue, including any use to promote, support, or solicit for an outside organization or group
  • advertising or selling for commercial purposes
  • illegal activities or activities incompatible with professional workplace, e.g., accessing pornography or gambling sites on the Internet
  • lobbying activity unless authorized by law

  • State employees may not accept a gift if it could reasonably be expected to influence the performance or nonperformance of the employee’s official duties.
  • State employees may not accept a gift from any person with a value in excess of $50 a year.

The following are exceptions to gifts: unsolicited flowers, promotional items, tokens of appreciation, informational materials, food and beverages at a hosted reception, admission to (and food and beverages at) civic, charitable, governmental, or community events.


  • Travel, lodging and subsistence expenses are gifts when paid by another agency for section 4 employees. Section 4 employees have contracting authority.
  • Prohibited gifts may be returned to the sender or donated to charity within 30 days of receipt.
  • Exchanges of gifts at a departmental social event, or exchanges from friends or family that have no influence or appearance of influence on official duties, are not considered gifts within the context of this law.

No state officer or employee may receive anything of economic value under any contract or grant outside of their official duties.

Outside appointments/employment are appropriate when all conditions met:

  • The contract is bona fide and actually performed.
  • The performance of the contract is not prohibited by the RCW or applicable rules governing outside employment.
  • Performance is not within your official duties, under your supervision, or created by you.
  • Not performed for a person from whom you are unable to legally accept a gift.
  • Does not require disclosure of confidential information.

Refer to WSU Conflict of Interest policies in the Faculty Manual and EP 27 for more information on outside opportunities that involve technology transfer.

  • Personal (outside business use) of email is NOT permitted.
  • Occasional and limited personal (non-business) use is acceptable, if it does not interfere with the performance of state duties.
    Appropriate Use Example: You may email home (or call) to see if children are home safe. There is no cost to the state, it is brief, and it does not interfere with performance of duties.
    Inappropriate Use Example: An employee in the PTA (fundraising event where the more the parent raises, the less his personal contribution) solicits contributions using email. This is NOT permitted. This is using state resources to further private interest and promote an outside organization.
  • Email is a technology that may create an electronic record. Such records may be subject to the public record disclosure law, or legitimately may be disclosed for audit or management purposes.

Any personal use of the internet must be both brief and infrequent.

  • De minimis use of the internet is permitted by University policy.
  • Visiting humor and joke sites, downloading files, and emailing files to coworkers is an ethical violation.
  • Updating state-provided health and insurance benefit information on the Internet is not an ethical violation.
    Inappropriate Use Example: Management of your personal retirement investment account and to communicate to your broker is a violation of the ethics laws.

Use of state computers, network, email, or other resources for the purpose of conducting outside personal business activities is a violation of the ethics laws.

  • Downloading games is an ethical violation.
  • Playing games already on the computer as part of University software during break with a supervisor’s approval is not an ethical violation.
    Appropriate Use Example: Completing job applications for state positions is considered professional development and is appropriate, with supervisor approval and with consideration of de minimis.
    Appropriate Use Example: With supervisor approval, an employee taking a computer class on his/her own time to enhance job skills may use the state computer to do homework after working hours, using his/her own paper. This enhances the effectiveness of the organization.

  • Facsimile transmissions and voicemail are technologies that create an electronic record. Such records may be subject to the public record disclosure law, or legitimately may be disclosed for audit or management purposes.
  • Employees cannot have a personal line on a state cell phone.
  • Personal or personal business use of phones and copy machines is a violation of the ethics laws, even if reimbursed.
  • De minimis (minimal) use may be permitted for landline phones to make brief, personal phone calls as long as they incur no cost to the University and do not interrupt official duties. Personal use of University-owned cell phones is prohibited.

  • Any use for the purpose of conducting an outside business is a violation of the ethics laws (includes Avon, Amway, Girl Scouts, Tupperware, etc.).
  • It is not appropriate to bring your child to the workplace for daycare. It is a disruption to the workplace and poses a potential violation to the University.
  • It is not permitted to bring pets to the workplace as their presence creates potential liability.  Employees with disabilities requiring a trained service animal is acceptable, see EP 15.
  • Any use for the purpose of supporting, promoting or soliciting for an outside organization or group is not appropriate. See BPPM 10.24 (Charities) for the exception to this state law; limited use is permitted if approved. There is an exception for the Combined Fund Drive.

  • This is considered a gift of public funds and is a violation of the state constitution.
  • Discretionary Funds (Foundation) can support these activities, see BPPM 70.33.

  • State-supported meals and light refreshments are allowed as an integral part of training. See BPPM 70.31.
  • State-supported meals or light refreshments are not appropriate for routine business meetings.

  • Personal or personal outside business data (home phone, home address, and home email) is not appropriate on state business cards.
  • Use of state business card to enter drawings is not appropriate.

  • If a state agency pays consideration or allows state time to attend a conference, the agency may:
    1. Keep the prize (or send to Surplus if determined the department does not need).
      Example: A state agency pays for an employee to attend a computer technology conference. At a random drawing, the employee wins a color laser printer. The agency could use the equipment for an upgrade in one of its divisions. The employing department asks the employee to bring the printer in for the department’s use. When no longer needed by the department, it is disposed similar to other agency assets and sent to Surplus.
    2. Ask that the door prize be returned to the donor or donated to a charity.
      Example: At a state-paid conference, an employee wins a new training video from the training vendor. The agency asks that the video be returned or donated to charity to avoid the appearance that the prize might affect the state employee’s judgment, since the employee works in the field of training.
  • Employees may retain a door prize if:
    1. The employee pays consideration for an event and the employee does not use state time to attend the event.
      Example: A state employee pays to attend a local home show event on a Saturday. The entry ticket qualifies the employee for drawings. The employee wins a trip to Hawaii. He/she can accept the prize because the event was attended on his/her own time, and he/she paid consideration for the event.
  • Business cards may not be used to enter drawings when a state employee attends an event in his/her personal capacity.
  • State employees should not enter drawings when attendance is related to the performance of official duties, when the state paid consideration, or when the state allowed the use of state time for attendance.

When vendors offer or provide free merchandise with a WSU order, the free items may not be acquired by, or given to employees or students for personal use.

Under RCW 42.52.070, “Except as required to perform duties within the scope of employment, no…state employee may use his or her position to secure special privileges or exemptions for himself or herself, or his or her spouse, child, parents, or other persons.” The “free” items are only made available due to the expense of University funds in the initial purchase, so any items received as a result of the order must go to the University for official use.

Items received at no additional cost with WSU purchases may be used as follows:

  • use the goods for an official University purpose within the unit,
  • send the goods to University Surplus if the department has no use for them,
  • under some conditions, the goods might be given to students: 1) if the department has an existing mission or function authorizing it to purchase items to be given away to students, the free items can be given to students. For example, UREC has budget for Up All Night door prizes. A $10 iTunes card received free with an order could be given away at Up All Night. The department should have a protocol for the management and disposition of these items; 2) if the department does not have an existing mission or function authorizing it to purchase items to be given away to students, the free item can be transferred to another unit that does.

  • WAC 296-126-092 (relevant to civil service positions) provides that employees are allowed a 30-minute meal period between two to five hours after beginning of shift. No employee should be required to work more than five consecutive hours without a meal period. The statute also allows for ten-minute rest periods each four hours of work.
  • Skipping lunches, however, (to adjust arrival or departure time) is not appropriate. Further, banking 15-minute breaks (to extend lunch hours, adjust arrival or departure time) is also not appropriate.
  • Supervisor-approved flexible work schedules are appropriate.