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Handbook of Operating Procedures

Consensual Relationships

Policy Number: 216

Subject:

Consensual relationships

Scope:

Employees, students, postdoctoral research fellows, residents and clinical fellows

Date Reviewed:
May 2015
Responsible Office:
Human Resources
Responsible Executive:
Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer

I. POLICY AND GENERAL STATEMENT

This policy addresses relationships that, although consensual, may impair the effective operation of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston ("university").  For situations involving spousal or other family relationships, refer to HOOP 134, Nepotism.

It is the policy of the university that individuals with teaching, supervisory, advisory, or evaluative responsibility over other employees, residents, postdoctoral research fellows, clinical fellows, students and/or student employees must recognize and respect the ethical and professional boundaries that exist in such situations. Consensual relationships, as defined in this policy, may create conflicts of interest and/or appearances of impropriety that impair the integrity of academic and employment decisions. Such relationships also have the potential to exploit a subordinate individual and to professionally or academically disadvantage third parties. 

Consequently, the university prohibits consensual relationships between an individual with supervisory, teaching, evaluation or advisory authority and an employee, resident, postdoctoral research fellow, clinical fellow, student and/or student employee who is directly or indirectly supervised, taught, evaluated or advised by that individual, unless the relationship has been disclosed and a plan to mitigate any conflict has been approved by the Chief Human Resources Officer or designee and documented in writing. Such disclosure must occur prior to the commencement of the relationship or, if the relationship exists, with as much advance notice as possible prior to the supervisor accepting supervisory authority. The teacher, supervisor or advisor is responsible for disclosure and cooperation in making alternative arrangements for the supervision, evaluation, teaching, grading, or advising of the subordinate individual.  If the conflict cannot be mitigated, the relationship is prohibited.  Examples of consensual relationships include, but are not limited to:

  • A faculty member and a student who is enrolled in the faculty member’s course, who is enrolled in a program for which a course taught by the faculty member is a requirement, who is an advisee of the faculty member, or whose academic work is being supervised, directly or indirectly, by the faculty member.
  • An employee and a student if the employee is in a position to evaluate or otherwise influence, directly or indirectly, the student’s education, employment, or participation in other university programs or activities.
  • A supervisor and an employee under the person’s direct or indirect supervision; division/department chair/head and a faculty member in the same division/department or an administrator and an employee in an office/department under that administrator’s direction.
  • A tenured faculty member and an untenured faculty member if the tenured faculty member participates in peer recommendations about the untenured faculty member.

II. DEFINITIONS

Supervision: the exercise of direct or indirect authority or responsibility with regard to appointment, reappointment, promotion, managing performance, work or academic assignments, salary administration, termination or other terms and conditions of employment or education.

Consensual relationship: a mutually acceptable, romantic, dating and/or sexual relationship between an individual with supervisory, teaching, evaluation or advisory authority and an employee, resident, postdoctoral research fellow, clinical fellow, student and/or student employee who is directly or indirectly supervised, taught, evaluated or advised by that individual.  A single event can constitute a consensual relationship.

Conflict of interest and/or appearance of impropriety: arises when individuals with the authority and the responsibility to evaluate the work or performance of an employee resident, postdoctoral research fellow, clinical fellow, student or student employee initiate, acquiesce or engage in an intimate romantic, dating and/or sexual relationship with that individual.

III. PROCEDURE

A.     Reporting Responsibility

In the event that a consensual relationship exists or begins to develop, the individual in the supervisory, teaching or advisory position shall immediately notify the Vice-President and Chief Human Resources Officer (“Chief Human Resources Officer”) or designee of the relationship and cooperate in making the arrangements necessary to resolve the conflict of interest or eliminate the appearance of impropriety. The Chief Human Resources Officer or designee will consult with the university’s Chief Legal Officer and/or the Executive Vice President & Chief Academic Officer or designee, as needed, in making appropriate arrangements and in implementing any mitigation plan.

While the burden of notification lies with the individual in the supervisory, teaching or advisory position, the other party involved in the consensual relationship may also disclose the relationship’s existence to the appropriate office or his or her supervisor: (1) students may report such relationships to the student affairs office in their respective schools;(2) residents may report such relationships to the Office of Graduate Medical Education; (3) postdoctoral research fellows may report such relationships to the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs; and (4) employees may report such relationships to their direct supervisor.  The university will not tolerate retaliation or threat of retaliation against those who make such disclosures.  See HOOP 108 Protection from Retaliation.

B.    Supervisor/Notified Office Responsibility

A supervisor who is notified, or becomes aware, of a consensual relationship as defined by this policy, shall report the existence of such relationship to the Chief Human Resources Officer or designee.  The supervisor, in consultation with the Chief Human Resources Officer or designee, shall take immediate steps to alter the conditions that create the conflict of interest and/or the appearance of impropriety caused by the relationship. In most instances, that will be accomplished by providing an alternative means for the supervision, teaching, advising, and/or evaluation of the subordinate individual.  The university official with supervisory responsibility for the individuals involved shall consult with the Chief Human Resources Officer or designee to reduce any such mitigation plan to writing and ensure that is understood, signed and complied with by all parties. 

Likewise, if a student affairs office, the Office of Graduate Medical Education or the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs is notified, or otherwise becomes aware, of a consensual relationship as defined by this policy, the office shall notify the Chief Human Resources Officer or designee and take immediate steps to alter the conditions that create the conflict of interest and/or appearance of impropriety caused by the relationship.

C.     Failure to Report or Cooperate

The person who is in the position of relative authority in a consensual relationship, as defined by this policy, may be subject to disciplinary action in accordance with applicable university policies (see HOOP 44, Faculty Reappointment and Non-Reappointment, HOOP 133, Faculty Termination, HOOP 153, Termination of Appointment: Administrative and Professional and/or HOOP 187, Discipline and Dismissal of Classified Employees), up to and including termination, if he or she enters into or persists in a consensual relationship without reporting it or fails to cooperate in efforts to eliminate the conflict of interest or appearance of impropriety. In the event that a complaint of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct is brought by the subordinate party regarding an unreported relationship, the burden will be on the person in a position of relative authority to explain the failure to comply with this policy and such failure will be a factor in determining whether the relationship was consensual and free of sexual harassment.

Any individual who believes that he or she has been has been subjected to discrimination or harassment should follow the applicable procedures outlined in HOOP 183, Nondiscrimination, Anti-Harassment and Equal Opportunityand HOOP 59, Sexual Misconduct.

D.     Counseling Services

Confidential counseling services are available to all university employees, residents, and other trainees through the Office of Employee Assistance Programs at (713) 500-3327 and to students through Student Health and Counseling Services at (713) 500-5171.

IV. CONTACTS

    • Human Resources - Employee Relations
    • 713-500-3130
    • https://www.uth.edu/hr/department/employee-relations/index.htm
    • Applicable Offices of Student Affairs
    • Office of Graduate Medical Education
    • 713-500-5140
    • https://med.uth.edu/oep/gme/
    • Office of Postdoctoral Affairs
    • 713-500-6612
    • http://www.uth.tmc.edu/postdocs/