State Ethics Commission issues Advisory Opinion regarding whether state employees may accept modest compensation from nonprofit for state-sanctioned work conducted during employees’ personal time
From Hawaii State Ethics Commission, May, 2021
A state agency (“Agency”) project coordinator (“Coordinator”) requested an advisory opinion regarding the application of the State Ethics Code, Hawaiʻi Revised Statutes (“HRS”) chapter 84, to the payment of stipends to participants in a state project (“Project”). The Coordinator asked whether she could authorize five Agency employees (“Employees”) to accept $100 stipends from a group of nonprofit corporations (“Nonprofit Corporations”) as compensation for participating in the Project outside of state work hours. As discussed below, the Commission believes that the Employees may accept the stipend, so long as they are not compensated for work that was performed or reasonably expected to be performed during state work hours.
In 2019, the Agency collaborated with a nonprofit corporation on the Project; the Project was to develop materials to meet certain goals that the Agency itself had previously set. Five Agency employees will participate in the Project. A small portion of the Project will occur at the Agency’s premises during state business hours, and most of the work performed by the Employees will occur outside of state work hours. The Employees will test the content during state work hours and then provide written feedback about the content to the Nonprofit Corporations. The Employees must provide extensive comments, examples, and a final written summary to the Nonprofit Corporations; they may also be contacted if further adjustments to the Project are made. The Agency estimates that each Employee will spend between 4.5 and 7 hours providing feedback on the Project, which will be completed during the Employees’ personal time.
The Nonprofit Corporations offered to provide a $100 stipend to each of the Employees as compensation for the work performed outside of their state hours. Neither the Agency nor the Employees solicited the stipend, and none of the Nonprofit Corporations does business with or has contracts with the Agency. The Coordinator requested an advisory opinion as to whether the Employees may accept the stipend….
II. Application of the State Ethics Code
…The Commission does not believe that the Employees’ acceptance of the stipend constitutes improper additional compensation for performing their state duties, because they will receive the stipend for doing additional work during their personal time beyond the scope of their state duties. …
Finally, the Commission does not believe that the stipend constitutes an unwarranted benefit for the Employees for two reasons: first, the Agency has collaborated with the Nonprofit Corporations in the development of the content; and second, the Agency specifically encouraged the Employees to undertake this additional work….
read … Ethics Opinion