Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1999-15

Advisory Opinion No. 1999-15
Advisory Opinion No. 1999-15

Application Of Ethics Rules To Acceptance Of Expense Payments To
Accompany Department Of Mental Retardation Client To Event

John Houchin, Director of the Eastern Region of the Department of Mental Retardation ("DMR"), has asked how the Code of Ethics for Public Officials, Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79 et seq., applies when the employee of a private agency under contract with DMR accepts payment or reimbursement of expenses from a DMR client, or his or her family, to accompany the DMR client on an outing. Since similar issues often arise with state employees as well, this opinion will address acceptance of such benefits by both state and private employees.

The Code of Ethics prohibits a state employee from using his or her state position for financial gain. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(c). Similarly, the Code of Ethics prohibits a person hired by the state as a consultant or independent contractor from using the authority provided to the person under the contract, or any confidential information acquired in the performance of the contract, to obtain financial gain for the person, an employee of the person, or a member of the immediate family of any such person or employee. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-86e(a)(1). Therefore, the response to Dr. Houchin’s inquiry is the same for private agency employees and state employees.

Turning to Dr. Houchin’s question, if the state employee or private agency employee is expected to accompany an individual as part of his or her job, the least problematic solution under the Code would be for the private agency or DMR to pay for or reimburse the employee for reasonable expenditures incurred as part of that employee’s job. So, for example, if a DMR client wishes to attend a particular movie, and in order to do so, must have an employee come as well, then DMR or the private agency should pay for the employee’s ticket. If, however, DMR or the agency is not able to pay for such expenditures, but agrees that the activity is beneficial to the client, then the payment or reimbursement of the employee’s expenses by the DMR client may be acceptable, provided that certain restrictions are followed.

When the recipient is a state employee, the idea for the outing should originate with the client, with his or her guardian, or with someone at DMR at or above the potential recipient’s level. See, Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-86(a). If the proposal is deemed beneficial by DMR, the payment of the state employee’s expenses will then qualify as a gift to the State which facilities state functions. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(e)(5). Under the Commission’s applicable Regulation, if the payment is over $50 and incidentally benefits the state employee, his or her supervisor must certify in writing to the Commission that the gift, in fact, facilities state functions and is acceptable to the Agency. See, Regulations of Conn. State Agencies 1-81-27.

Analogously, for a private agency employee, the approval for acceptance of expenses valued at $50 or more must come from DMR at a level above the interdisciplinary team. This is so because, according to Dr. Houchin, the interdisciplinary team itself generally includes the potential recipient.

The examples cited by Dr. Houchin include cases where the DMR client both has, and has not, been adjudicated incompetent. The same rules apply in either case, since the issue is acceptance of an improper benefit by the employee, not the competency of the donor to bestow the benefit.

Finally, whether the recipient is a state employee or a private one, only those expenses necessary to the outing should be accepted. For example, it would be appropriate to accept reasonable airfare, hotel accommodations, and meals for a trip to Florida, but the employee should provide his or her own spending money.

By order of the Commission,

Stanley Burdick,

Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:02:57 AM