Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1994-18

Advisory Opinion No. 1994-18
Advisory Opinion No. 1994-18

 Review Of Rules Regarding Two Spouses Working In Same
Department Of State Agency

Elaine Costello, a seasonal state employee at Hammonasset Beach State Park, has asked whether the Code of Ethics for Public Officials, Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79 et seq., prohibits her and her husband, the camp manager, from working together at the park.

This issue has been addressed by the Commission many times, both in advisory opinions and in enforcement actions.  See, for example, State Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion No. 88-8, 49 Conn. L.J. No. 48, p. 3D (5/31/88).  The Code does not contain a blanket prohibition against spouses working together in the same state agency.  It does, however, impose certain restrictions on that working relationship.

The salient prohibition in this situation is that the individual who is in a position of superior authority may not take any action which furthers the financial interest of his or her spouse.  See Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(c), which, in part, prohibits a state employee or public official from using his or her public office or position to obtain financial gain for himself or herself, a spouse, child, child’s spouse, parent, brother, sister or a business with which he or she is associated.  From the hiring process to the evaluation process, the spouse of greater rank must refrain from taking any such action.  For example, in this case, Mr. Costello as camp manager must not supervise his wife’s day-to-day performance of her job, nor evaluate her job performance.  Similarly, Mr. Costello may take no action which would affect the financial interest of anyone in competition with Mrs. Costello.  For example, he should not evaluate the job performance of any individual competing with his wife for wage increases or other benefits.

When a conflict of interest does arise (for example, when Mrs. Costello’s job performance must be evaluated, or her re-hiring is at issue), then Mr. Costello must notify his superior in writing of the potential conflict.  Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-86.  That supervisor will then either handle the matter personally or assign it to an individual of equal or greater rank to Mr. Costello.  If the number and quality of potential conflicts are so great that they interfere significantly with the performance of Mr. Costello’s duties, then it might become necessary for either husband or wife to transfer to a different assignment.  Mrs. Costello indicates that it is the Park Supervisor or his assistant, and not Mr. Costello, who hire the park staff and designate starting salaries and raises.  If Mr. Costello is able to avoid the potential conflicts described, then the spouses’ employment is not prohibited by the Code.

Finally, Mrs. Costello has asked whether this Commission can address issues of sex discrimination.  Such issues are, however, outside the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission.

By order of the Commission,

R.E. VanNorstrand

Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:00:43 AM