Compliance Glossary

Conflict of Commitment

Most professionals strive to maintain a work-life balance, faithfully executing their duties to an employer during business hours and pursuing private hobbies and interests during their recreational time. When activities outside the workplace interfere (or have the potential to interfere) with an individual’s normal performance of job duties, the situation may be termed a conflict of commitment. 

What is a Conflict of Commitment?

Conflicts of commitment relate to the proportion of effort an employee allocates between their external activities and professional duties or responsibilities. A conflict of commitments exists when an employee engages in outside activity, either professional or recreational, that interferes or may appear to interfere with the fulfillment of commitments and duties to their primary employer. 

Many types of activities, both paid and unpaid, can result in a conflict of commitment. These include things like:

  • Employment with another organization
  • Membership in a professional society or association
  • Attending conferences or conventions
  • Performing consulting work for another organization
  • Starting a new business venture
  • Operating a business
  • Pursuing a hobby
  • Participating in review panels

For busy professionals who find their skills and services in high demand, pursuing opportunities outside the primary place of employment invariably leads to the occasional conflict of commitment. Such conflicts are not necessarily problematic provided that the affected individual takes the appropriate steps to identify the conflict, disclose it to their employer, and resolve it.

Conflicts of commitment may be resolved through individual judgment and discretion or in accordance with a Conflicts of Commitment Policy established by the employer. 

What is an Example of a Conflict of Commitment?

Conflicts of commitment appear in professional environments where individuals are given leeway to manage their own time and participate in professional activities outside the workplace. 

Conflict of commitment policies are commonly published by post-secondary institutions and typically require that staff and faculty members prioritize the fulfillment of their professional duties when a conflict of commitment is identified.

Below are two examples of a conflict of commitment that could arise in a post-secondary education setting:

  1. A faculty member is allotted one “consulting day” per week by their employer. They are offered a consulting role that engages them for three days per week. This offer represents a potential conflict of commitment since it would interfere with their normal job responsibilities.
  2. A faculty member is expected to allocate their focus, time, and energy to research. One day, the faculty member decides to start a business. As the business grows, the faculty member starts responding to business emails and responding to customer queries during the normal work day at the University. 

Conflict of Interest vs. Conflict of Commitment – What’s the Difference?

Conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment are separate concepts, though both are related to the maintenance of professional integrity in the workplace.

While conflicts of commitment deal with the allocation of time and effort between the individual’s primary employment and their external activities, conflicts of interest are situations where an individual’s personal, professional, or financial interests have the potential to impact the performance of their job duties. When a conflict of interest arises, employees are usually bound by policy to disclose the conflict and obtain approval from their employer before proceeding.

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