DRS: Code of Ethics - April 2011

 

 

DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE SERVICES

CODE OF ETHICS

 Updated 4/21/2011

 

 

I.    Purpose 

 

The purpose of this Code of Ethics is to establish and maintain the highest standards of honesty, integrity and impartiality for all employees of the Department of Revenue Services (DRS). The citizens of Connecticut expect ethical behavior from their public servants.  Ethical and professional behavior while serving the public, and when conducting yourself in public, goes a long way toward helping to instill confidence in State government on the part of Connecticut’s citizens.

 

The DRS Code of Ethics provides guidance to employees in the application and interpretation of Connecticut’s ethics laws and regulations.  It is not intended to supersede state law. Ultimately, you are subject to the provisions of the State Ethics Code (Chapter 10, Part I, Sections 1-79 through 1-89a of the Connecticut General Statutes).

This Code also provides you with guidelines for ethical conduct and gives examples of situations that should be avoided.  If you find yourself in an unavoidable situation that is contrary to this Code of Ethics, your supervisor or manager should be informed immediately.

 

Questions regarding ethical conduct should be addressed to your supervisor or manager or to the agency’s Ethics Liaison Officer at (860)297-5649.  You may also contact the Ethics Commission directly at (860) 263-2400.

 

The Agency’s Ethics Liaison Officer is responsible for coordinating training programs, monitoring agency policies regarding ethics compliance, and serving as a resource for ethics guidance and advice.  He/she is also the liaison to the State Ethics Commission and will screen and refer issues to the Commission.  Ultimately, the State Ethics Commission is the authority that determines what constitutes an ethics violation under the law. 

 

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   II.   Conflicts of Interest

 

As set forth in the “Purpose” section, the Department’s Code of Ethics does not supersede but, rather, is intended as guidance to Department employees as to the application of the State’s Code of Ethics for Public Officials (“State’s Code of Ethics”).  To this end, the State’s Code of Ethics lists a series of prohibited activities.  The first prohibited activity is set forth in Conn. Gen. Stat. §1-84(a), which provides as follows:

 

No public official or state employee shall, while serving as such, have any financial interest in, or engage in, any business, employment, transaction or professional activity, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his duties or employment in the public interest and of his responsibilities as prescribed in the laws of this state, as defined in section 1-85.

 

A conflict of interest occurs when your private interests conflict with your public duties and responsibilities. Usually a conflict arises for monetary reasons, but other actions may also constitute a conflict.  This section is intended to help Department employees avoid conflict of interest situations. 

 

Important note:  Conn. Gen. Stat. §1-85, which is entitled “Interest in conflict with discharge of duties,” provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

 

A public official, including an elected state official, or state employee has an interest which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his duties or employment in the public interest and of his responsibilities as prescribed in the laws of this state, if he has reason to believe or expect that he, his spouse, a dependent child, or a business with which he is associated will derive a direct monetary gain or suffer a direct monetary loss, as the case may be, by reason of his official activity.

 

Based on the above, a conflict of interest or the appearance thereof may arise due to the actions of your immediate family members. The Department considers “immediate family” more broadly to mean a spouse or civil partner; son, daughter, son in-law or daughter in-law; brother, sister, brother in-law or sister in-law; father, mother, father in-law or mother in-law; or any legal dependent. It is important that all Department employees are aware of this.

 

A.  Outside Employment, Business Activity and Private Business Interests

 

1.  Department employees are required to obtain agency approval before entering into any outside employment, business activity or private business or investment interests that would create the appearance that the employee is either potentially or substantially in conflict with the proper discharge of his or her duties.  Therefore, if you are not sure whether it is appropriate to engage in outside employment, business activity or private business interests, you must complete an Inquiry and Disclosure Form and obtain agency approval before so engaging in such outside employment, business activity or private business interest.  The following example is intended to illustrate a substantial conflict of interest:

 

Example: John Doe is a revenue examiner in the Department’s Audit Division.  Mr. Doe is preparing to open a tax consulting business.  Among the activities the business will perform is the preparation of Connecticut and federal tax returns.  Before opening his business, and as required [under the Department’s Code of ethics], Mr. Doe files a Disclosure and Inquiry Form with the Department.

 

Because of his job duties and the access to information he has as a result of such job, preparing Connecticut tax returns for private clients would give the appearance of a substantial conflict of interest.   Stated simply, if Mr. Doe were to open such a business, his actions would be in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his duties or employment in the public interest and of his responsibilities as prescribed in the laws of this state. Accordingly, the Department notifies Mr. Doe that his actions would present a substantial conflict of interest and, therefore, are prohibited under state law.

 

The Inquiry and Disclosure Form is available on the Human Resources intranet web page.

 

2.   Conn. Agencies Regs. §1-81-15 provides that “[t]he term [employment] shall not . . . include any endeavor undertaken only as a hobby or solely for charitable, educational, or public service purposes, when no compensation or other financial gain for the individual, his or her immediate family or a business with which the individual is associated is involved.”  Consistent with the above, and provided no compensation or other financial gain is involved, the following is a list of activities that do not represent a conflict of interest and employees are not required to submit an Inquiry and Disclosure Form in connection with such permitted activities, provided the activities do not involve tax advice, assistance, preparation or representation other than on behalf of the employee’s spouse, civil partner or legal dependent:

a)  Membership, active participation or management in civic, scout, religious, educational, fraternal, social, community, veteran, political, professional or union organizations.

b)  Participation in fundraising drives as a chairperson or in other capacities, provided the drive is under the auspices of a civic, scout, religious, educational, fraternal, social, community, veteran, political, professional or union organization.

c)  Performing activities as an administrator, executor, trustee or attorney-in-fact for immediate family members

d)  Preparing tax returns or providing tax advice, assistance or representation for the employee’s spouse, civil partner or any legal dependent.

e)  Participation in the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA).

 

The above list is not intended to be exhaustive.  Therefore, if you are not sure whether you fit into one of the above categories or you are otherwise unsure as to whether it is appropriate to engage in outside employment, business activity or private business interests, you must complete an Inquiry and Disclosure Form and obtain agency approval before engaging in such outside employment, business activity or private business interest. 

 

3.   Other prohibited activities 

In contrast to a determining whether a conflict of interest exists, which    determination is dependent on the specific facts and circumstances, there are certain activities that are statutorily prohibited by State Law.  These prohibited activities are set forth in Conn. Gen. Stat. §1-84.

 

B.   Self-Disqualification

1.   DO NOT participate in any matter before DRS in which you have a financial interest.

For purposes of this policy, the financial interests of the following persons or entities also are considered to be your own financial interests: your spouse; your child or spouse of a child; your parent; your dependent relative; any person living in your household; your general partner; any entity and/or person that you serve, or are seeking to serve as an officer, director, trustee, attorney, consultant, advisor, or employee.

 

A "financial interest" includes but is not limited to, an equity or security interest in property (real or personal), or in a business entity. It may also include indebtedness, compensated employment relationships, deeds of trust or liens.

 

A financial interest, for purposes of this policy, does not include a minority ownership in the equity or other securities of a publicly traded company, if the interest is less than five percent of the total outstanding stock of the class of stocks or securities involved.  Under this policy you are prohibited from official involvement in any administrative matters (purchases, leases, etc.) or any tax account matters (assessments, billings, refunds, etc.) involving you personally, or involving the financial interest of any of the persons and entities whose interest are imputed to be your own, as described above.

 

For purposes of this policy, however, a conflicting financial interest does not exist if you have no knowledge of the conflicting interest held by the party whose interests are imputed to you. Also, money market funds, certificates of deposit, savings and checking accounts, and similar instruments from financial institutions do not constitute financial interests that generally would create a conflict of interest.

 

2.   DO NOT participate in any matter concerning any person or entity with whom you have or have had any relationship that might impair or give the appearance of impairing your impartiality. 

 

Relationships with the following persons and entities are presumed to fall into this category: spouse, fiancé or fiancée; child or spouse of a child; parent; dependent relative; any person living in your household; sibling; any other relative or person with whom you have a close relationship; any person(s) or entity who your spouse, child, child’s spouse, parent, dependent relative or person with whom you have a close relationship, to your knowledge, serves or seeks to serve as an officer, director, trustee, general partner, agent, attorney, consultant, advisor or employee.

 

3.  If you receive a work assignment that involves a conflicting financial interest, or impairs or gives the appearance of impairing your impartiality

a)  Delay further work on the assignment and notify your supervisor, in writing, of conditions that might create a conflict of interest; and

b)  Await the decision as to whether a conflict exists. If a conflict does exist, you will be relieved of the assignment and the supervisor will assign the matter to another employee at the same level or above.

 

C.  Compensation, Gifts and Bribes 

Bribery and attempted bribery are crimes that strike at the core of state government. Employees should constantly seek to avoid solicitation to accept money, consideration, or anything of value in return for acts or omissions involving their official functions. Such solicitations may be indirect and subtle. Any attempt to bribe a departmental employee shall be reported immediately to the proper agency authority. DRS employees shall immediately report any attempted bribery to their supervisor or manager. After reporting, the employee shall thereafter cooperate in any ensuing investigation and avoid any unnecessary discussion of the case with others.

  1. DRS employees are required to notify all taxpayers and vendors with whom they do business that they are not allowed to accept gifts, food, gratuities, or anything of any value.
  2. DO NOT accept, or agree to accept, any form of compensation or consideration, other than your salary for a) services rendered as part of your job with DRS; or b) any part you may have had in any matter in which DRS is directly or indirectly interested.
  3. When attending out of state conferences or speaking engagements on behalf of DRS, however, you are allowed to accept reimbursement or payment of necessary expenses from a third party. Necessary expenses include travel expenses; lodging for nights before, during, and after the event; meals; and any related conference registration fees.
  4. If you receive a reimbursement of necessary expenses from a third party other than the State of Connecticut or any other state or federal agency that includes out of state travel or overnight lodging, written disclosure to the State Ethics Commission on Form ETH-NE (available on the Ethics Commissioner website) is required within thirty days of the event.
  5. DO NOT accept, from any person or entity, entertainment, food, beverage, advertising, or promotional material of any value in your official capacity.
  6. DO NOT solicit or accept, directly or indirectly, any gift, gratuity, favor, entertainment, loan, or any other thing of monetary value from a person or firm that a) has, or is seeking to obtain, contractual or other business for financial relations with DRS; and b) has interests that may be substantially affected by the performance or non-performance of your official duties.  This includes all taxpayers, vendors, and contractors.

This restriction does not apply to gifts between co-workers valued at less than $100.00.

 

D.   Preferential Treatment

1.   DO NOT show, through word or action, any preferential attitude or treatment to any person, group, or other entity in the performance of your official duties.

2.  Employees may not recommend or suggest to anyone, either specifically or by implication, that he/she obtain the services of any particular accountant, or firm of accountants or attorneys, or any other person or professional or business organization in connection with any official business that involves or may involve the agency/department.

 

E.   Political Activity

1.  You are free to participate actively in political management and/or political campaigns. However, DO NOT:

a)  Use your official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election or a nomination for office;

b)  Coerce, or attempt to coerce, command, or advise directly or indirectly, another state employee to pay, lend or contribute anything of value to a party, committee organization, agency or person for political purposes;

c)  Campaign for political office for yourself or others during your normal work hours. Employees are prohibited from being a candidate for full-time federal, state or municipal office while actively employed. Such employees must obtain a leave of absence to run for such offices;

d)  Seek or hold a public office without first receiving written confirmation from the  Commissioner’s Office that such action will not conflict with your assigned duties;

e)  Display a political or campaign button while on official agency/departmental business.

 

2.   Seek written guidance from the Commissioner’s Office before seeking or holding a public office. You may be prohibited by federal and/or state law from participating in this form of political activity given your assigned duties. If you are involved in directing, managing, supervising or conducting any of the following kinds of activities, it is likely you are affected by the restriction:

a)  DRS activities that are part of, or are connected to, activities of any state agency that are financed by a federal grant or loan;

b)  DRS activities that may involve the approval of accounts, such as real estate conveyance tax returns, sales tax returns, or tourism district financial statements from a municipal office that you are interested in seeking;

c)  DRS activities related to the provision of funds to municipalities, such as the funding for tourism district programs provided under statute by DRS.

 

F.  Actions after Leaving DRS Employment

You are restricted from participating in certain activities after leaving DRS employment in accordance with C.G.S. Sec. 1-84a and 1-84b:

  1. You shall not represent anyone other than the state, concerning any particular matter a) in which you participated personally and substantially while in state service and b) in which the state has a substantial interest. This is a lifetime prohibition.
  2. For one year after leaving state service, you shall not represent anyone before DRS for compensation, other than the state, concerning any matter in which the state has a substantial interest.
  3. You may not disclose or use confidential information gained while in State service for financial gain after leaving state service.
  4. You should contact the Ethics Commission for guidance if there is any possibility of contact with your former agency within one year after leaving state service.

This is only a partial listing of the revolving door law provisions.  Refer to C.G.S. §1-84b for additional guidance. 

 

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III.    Threats/Intimidation

 

A.  Immediately report to your supervisor any threat, intimidation, assault, or forcible interference made against you in the course of your official duties.

B.  Similar actions against members of your family, when made to impede the performance of your official duties, should also be reported.

 

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IV.    Confidentiality

 

A.  Employees may not, except as provided or required by law, disclose, use, or make known in any manner information contained in any tax return or information relating to any taxpayer.  Employees may not publish, divulge, disclose, or make known in any manner or to any extent not authorized by law any information relating to any taxpayer, including any information concerning trade secrets, processes, operations, style of work, or apparatus; or the identity, statistical data, amount or source of any income, profits, losses, or expenditures of any person, firm, party, corporation, or association received by the Department.  Virtually all information and documentation received by the Department is confidential information, prohibited by law from disclosure. Employees who disclose confidential information may be subject to disciplinary action, civil, and criminal liability.

 

B.  When a question arises as to whether an item of information may be disclosed, the employee shall discuss the facts with his/her division director or the Commissioner’s designee and, when appropriate, request an opinion from the Legal Division.

 

  1. DO NOT request, obtain, photocopy, or view a tax return, record, or file of any taxpayer, including yourself or a family member, for any purpose other than in connection with your regularly assigned duties;
  2. DO NOT remove from State property, even temporarily, any tax return, record, or file, or photocopy files or records, for any purpose other than the performance of your assigned duties;
  3. DO NOT divulge or disclose any information which is confidential and privileged to any person not authorized to receive such information, or to any person authorized to receive it, but for unauthorized use.

C.  If you are a supervisor and your unit requests or handles federal tax information from the IRS, you are required to review safeguarding practices annually with the Internal Audit Division.

 

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V.    Personal Conduct

 

You are expected to act and perform your duties in a professional manner. While on state business, you are expected to adhere to the DRS General Rules of Conduct.  Certain prohibited behavior violates not only the General Rules of Conduct, but this Code of Ethics as well.  You are also cautioned regarding the following:

 

A.  Use of State Property

DO NOT use state property such as computers, office supplies, calculators, telecommunications equipment, photocopy machines, or fax machines, for any purpose other than state business.

 

The public is aware that state employees are privileged to use state vehicles and other property. Any personal use of such property is strictly prohibited.

 

At all times, employees are expected to follow the DRS Communications Systems and Equipment Use Policy and all other DRS and State equipment usage policies contained in the DRS Personnel Policy Manual.

 

B.  Soliciting of Personal Business

DO NOT solicit or canvas within DRS for the sale of any goods, services, or other personal business without the written approval of the Commissioner’s Office.  Such soliciting or canvassing, even with permission, shall not involve soliciting from subordinates, nor shall it be done on state time. You are not allowed to post or distribute advertising material for such purposes without the express permission of the Commissioner’s Office.

 

C.  Falsification

Proper functioning of the government requires that the agency/department, the courts, other state agencies and the public be able to rely fully on the truthfulness of government employees in matters of official interest. An employee will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal for intentionally making false or misleading verbal or written statements in matters of official interest.

 

DO NOT make an official statement, or cause a statement to be made, or allow a presumption to remain that is known not to be entirely accurate.

 

DO NOT submit or allow to be submitted, documents to support a false written or spoken statement.

 

D.  News Media and Publicity

To ensure that the Department speaks with an informed voice on the many sensitive matters that come before it, no news media release concerning DRS official business is to be issued unless first approved by the Commissioner’s Office.

 

All contacts concerning official departmental business with the media must be approved in advance by the Commissioner’s Office or follow specific guidelines established by them. All requests for information or documents from the news media should be referred to the Commissioner’s Office.  Likewise, all correspondence to the news media must be mailed from the Commissioner’s Office or follow specific guidelines for the handling of such material established by that Office.

 

E.   Use of Identification Cards

Agency/departmental identification cards, badges, and other identification or access cards or documents are for use only in establishing identity, authority or access in connection with official duties.

 

Agency/departmental identification cards or badges may be used for personal identification purposes when cashing checks or as proof of employment, such as when applying for a loan, for credit, or when renting an apartment.

 

Employees are responsible for the safeguarding and proper use of agency/departmental identification cards, badges, and access cards; for promptly reporting their loss; and for surrendering them on termination of employment or demand by proper agency/departmental authorities.

 

Cards, badges, or documents, or an employee’s official position or status, are not to be used to exert influence or obtain, either directly or indirectly, personal privileges, favors, or rewards for his or herself or others.

 

F.   Discrimination

DO NOT discriminate on the basis of race, color, religious creed, age, sex, marital status, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, learning disability, genetic information, present or past history of mental disability, mental retardation, or physical disability, including but not limited to blindness, and criminal record.

 

If you encounter any discrimination, immediately report the incident to your supervisor, the Human Resources Office, the Office of Diversity and Equity and/or your union steward.

 

G.  Timely Filing and Certification of Federal and State Tax Returns and Timely Payment of Taxes Due

 

The mission of DRS is to encourage and achieve the highest possible degree of voluntary compliance with our tax laws and regulations. In light of this mission, it is imperative that all employees comply fully with all applicable requirements of federal and state taxing authorities.

 

Therefore, all employees are required to timely file all federal and state tax returns, regardless of whether taxes are owed. Any tax due must be paid in a timely manner or the employee must enter into a payment agreement, file in good faith an application for abatement, or have an appeal pending before a tribunal of competent jurisdiction. A "tax due" as used in the preceding sentence, includes:

a)  A balance on a federal or state tax return; or

b)  A federal or state tax assessment where that agency’s status or regulations require immediate payment, notwithstanding the fact that the tax assessment is being contested.

 

H.  Firearms and Deadly Weapons

1.   An employee shall not carry firearms or other dangerous weapons on his/her person while in the performance of official duties or on work premises except as specifically authorized by the agency/department head or his/her designee. An employee authorized to carry a firearm in the performance of official duties is forbidden from displaying it unnecessarily in public.

 

I.   Legal and Other Professional or Scholarly Publications

All employees are encouraged to publish articles in professional and scholarly journals. However, to protect the integrity of departmental letter rulings and other official documents of the DRS and to ensure application of a clear and consistent legal policy within the DRS, all legal, accounting, tax or tax-administration related publications authorized by employees must bear the following caveat:

 

This article represents the opinions and (legal) conclusions of its author(s) and not necessarily those of the Department of Revenue Services.

 

Also, copies of all such articles published should be made available to the departmental library in the Legal Division.

 

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VI.    Compliance with Code of Ethics

 

A.  Every employee is expected to maintain and uphold the integrity of the DRS. Every employee has a duty to promptly and accurately report violations of ethics laws that affect the administration of the Department or the tax laws of the State of Connecticut to his or her agency/department head or designee. To the fullest extent possible, any such reports will be treated confidentially. Such complaints, as well as other problems in maintaining compliance with this Code of Ethics, shall be forwarded in writing by supervisors to their division director and to the agency Ethics Compliance Officer. You may also contact the Ethics Commission directly at (860) 263-2400.

 

B.  Ultimately the State Ethics Commission is the authority that determines what constitutes an ethics violation under the law. Unless the Ethics Commission makes a finding of probable cause, a complaint alleging a violation shall be confidential except upon request of the respondent.

 

C.  Whistle blower protection under Section 4-61dd of the Connecticut General Statutes is provided to any individual who provides information to the Ethics Commission, the Auditors of Public Accounts, or the Attorney General’s Office.

 

D.  Violations of the DRS Code of Ethics may result in disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal from State service, and/or prosecution under applicable State and Federal Law.

 

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VII.   Distribution of Code of Ethics

A.  All prospective employees who are being interviewed for DRS positions are required to acknowledge receipt of a copy of the Guide to the Code of Ethics for Public Officials and State Employees.

 

B.  All new employees are required to sign an acknowledgment form upon receiving a copy of this Code of Ethics and the Guide to the Code of Ethics for Public Officials and State Employees. The acknowledgement form is placed in the employee’s official personnel file.

 

C.  All new employees receive a comprehensive review of the DRS Code of Ethics at New Employee Orientation.

 

D.  All employees are sent an Inquiry and Disclosure form annually which must be completed if the employee is engaging in outside activities that require disclosure in accordance with this Code of Ethics.

 

E.  All employees receive an annual review of the DRS Code of Ethics and the State Code of Ethics to ensure that they are made aware of any changes or additions to the Codes.

 

F.  All employees are notified immediately when any changes are made to the DRS Code of Ethics of the State Code of Ethics, or when there are Advisory Opinions or rulings that may be of particular relevance to DRS employees.