Proposed CONFLICT OF INTEREST RULES for salaried professional employees who make themselves visibly publicly with respect to controversial public issues, with the intention of future commercial gain.


The publicity-generating activities may include the publication of intellectual property (in print, on the web, on film, broadcast or other media) or visible positions (board membership) in lobbying groups or think tanks.  The use of a pen name or pseudonym for personally owned publishing would not affect the rules below (and neither would the fact that the name were common [“John Smith”] or unusual).  The possibility that a controversy was related to matters of religion or faith would not normally be relevant to applying these rules.    


The purpose of these guidelines is to prevent (1) the possibility that the employee’s views could materially contribute to conflict, distraction, or the appearance of hostility in the workplace, especially in front of customers or other stakeholders, (2) to protect the common law publicity rights of the employee and the public credibility of his or her work, and (3) to prevent other conflicts as the notion “conflict of interests” (including protection of proprietary information) is commonly understood.


(1)  The employee should not have direct reports.


(2)  The employee should not speak publicly for the company, or appear at community events or sales conferences in a way that would imply that he or she represents the company. (This provision would not apply to “trivial” public presentation by the employer, such as listing the employees on the employer’s web site. If the employee and employer want to “publish” together on some important topic with some kind of joint effort where the employer is the supervising third party, the employee should function as  an independent consultant, with as little dependence upon employer benefits [beyond social security and liability insurance] as possible, as in provision 8.)


(3)  The employee should not materially participate in making decisions that personally affect other stakeholders, except with the careful supervision of management. (This would include material participations in negotiations for securities offerings, approving financial reports or auditing financial reports. Other examples might include making underwriting or loan decisions or giving grades to students; they would not include discretion that is essentially automatic or trivial. )


(4)  The employee is not doing journalism under salary, in the ordinary sense of the term.[1]


(5)  Employees should not work for “fraternal” companies or for divisions that specifically target just one group of customers.


(6)  The employee does not involve the employer in any of the usually recognized torts or legal infringements, such as copyright, disclosure or other misuse of trade secrets or confidential information, libel, invasion of privacy, trademark, etc.  In addition, the employee does not have access to confidential stakeholder information that (interpreted “restrictively”) would appear to present an unusual or extraordinary temptation or “propensity” for misuse in the employee’s own future political or social activism.  Since the employee may be a “public figure” in his or her own right (and this may give media or press outlets the legal right to disclose his source of income without violating his normal right to privacy), he or she may mention the employer with permission; but the employee makes it absolutely clear that his or her views are personal or are at least not necessarily those of the employer and are not endorsed by the employer. Any professional or workplace experience used to support the employee’s social or political views is “generic” in character and could not reasonably be perceived by the public as a reporting of specific facts about the employer, its stakeholders, or its products and services, its business plans, or other information usually regarded as proprietary. .    


(7)  The employee is not “competing” with the employer (such as if the employer is primarily a publisher, media company, think tank, etc.)


(8)  The employee goes to great care to ensure that funds paid to cover expenses related to employment are not channeled to the media or publicity-generating activities. Labor practices related to salaried employment (no overtime pay or formal comp time) are followed strictly. Employee does not behave in such a way as to materially undermine existing labor union agreements.


(9)  If the employee has announced that he or she is homosexual in an open publication,[2] then he or she should not accept a position known to require, as a probable contingency, ”very intimate” personal contact with another in the workplace without the informed consent of that other person (medical emergencies excepted).


(10)                    Employees should make a good faith effort to (over some time span that could amount to several years) become self-employed or at least mobile with less dependent on employment perks and benefits, and gradually make the writing or publicity-generating activities able to generate (self-sustaining) income. Various issues to be addressed would include alternate work hours or possibly conversion to hourly or part-time, reduced discretion in duties, fungible support functions, shared software licenses or hardware, expense sharing, professional licenses and certifications, personal health insurance, and professional and media perils liability insurance. (Employee may accept shared or individual performance bonuses, and he or she may accept customary severance benefits upon involuntary layoff and/or retirement benefits upon voluntary or involuntary termination; however benefits should be accepted as soon as offered and within this “reasonable” several-year period. When an employer does not want to terminate the employee within that reasonable period through a staff reduction, employee should eventually leave without such compensation, although the employee and employer should first determine a termination date well beyond the time of agreement.) In some cases fair and ethical resolution is achieved if employee places all of his or her material under the control of an independent third party or places it on a permanent Internet archive, not subsequently maintained but identifying him or her clearly and not suggesting association with an ongoing business. 


(11)                    When this situation appears, the guidelines listed above should be complied with within 180 days.


©Copyright 2001 by High Productivity Publishing.  (July 13, 2001)  Provisions in italics were added 2/26/2002.

Questions, email me (Bill Boushka) at


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[1] This point may have become more critical because of recent “scandals” at some publications with journalistic integrity. Details are at this link:


[2] “Open publication” is defined under “publication” at the vocabulary link. It means placing a statement in a public place (like the World Wide Web) where the public has unrestricted access to the statement, or where there is an expectation of personal commercial or publicity gain. The term does not include “telling” another person in a setting intended to be private, as with the military “don’t ask don’t tell” policy, even though the latter interpretation may fall within the strict legal meaning of “publication.” Again, use of pseudonyms does not invoke compliance; it is assumed that the person’s identity is discoverable. See all the proposed blogging policy link.