Attendance at Events
Except when they are acting in a scholarly capacity, the State requires employees to seek permission before they go off-campus in an official capacity to attend events that are not sponsored by an agency of the State of New Jersey. The State defines "event" to include meetings, conferences, seminars, speaking engagements, training courses, groundbreakings, ribbon cuttings, open houses, cocktail parties, and fundraisers. You will find below a summary of the State's rules on attendance at events and some examples from the State Ethics Commission, but you are encouraged to review the Commission's rules in full in the Uniform Ethics Code
Except when they are acting in a scholarly capacity, employees must fill out a Request for Approval for Attendance at Events form for each individual event and seek the prior approval of their vice president (or the vice president's designee) and the University's ethics liaison officer.
Summary of the State's Rules
Two questions must be asked before attending an event: Is a legitimate State purpose served by the State employee's attendance at the event? Who is the sponsor? With regard to the first question, the answer must be yes. With regard to the second question, there are two categories of sponsors: interested parties and entities other than interested parties. An interested party is any person who might be subject to the supervisory authority of the University, any vendor, or any organization that represents the positions of its members to the University.
As a general rule, if an event is sponsored by an interested party, that party cannot pay the expenses associated with a State employee's attendance at the event, and the employee may not receive any benefit. The State defines "benefit" to include reimbursement for costs of travel, meals, accommodation, event fees, or any other costs associated with attending the event for which no reimbursement is made by the State, but it does not include light refreshments like nonalcoholic beverages and snacks.
There might be an exception to the general rule if a State employee takes an active role in the event. An interested party sponsor may pay for meals and for "actual and reasonable expenses" for travel and lodging if:
1. the event is designed to provide training, disseminate information, or exchange ideas;
2. an employee will be making a speech, participating in a panel, or acting as a resource person for a participant; and
3. it does not create a conflict of interest or the appearance of one.
Even so, a State employee may not accept an entertainment benefit associated with the event (like tickets to a sporting event or concert), and may not accept an honorarium except when acting in a scholarly capacity. Whenever an employee plans to accept a meal or reimbursement for travel or lodging from an event sponsor that is not a State agency, the State Ethics Commission must be forwarded a copy of the signed Attendance at Events Form via the ethics liaison officer.
When the sponsor of an event is an entity other than an interested party, a State employee may accept benefits as defined above, but may not accept an entertainment benefit associated with the event, and may not accept an honorarium except when acting in a scholarly capacity.
Whether the sponsor is an interested party or not, payments of travel expenses for out-of-state travel not paid by the State are limited to $500 unless the payment is made by a non-profit organization in which the University holds membership, a non-profit organization that does not contract with any State agency, or an agency of another state or the federal government.
State employees may not permit the use of their official titles for the purpose of fundraising for private organizations.
N.J. State Ethics Commission Examples
The Division of Motor Vehicles is considering the purchase of new pollution-testing equipment. One of the companies that plans to submit a bid invites several Division employees to a demonstration of the equipment to be held at a hotel conference center. A seafood buffet will be served after the demonstration. With proper approval, the Division employees may attend the demonstration, but because the company is an interested party with respect to the Division, they may not partake of the seafood buffet at the expense of the vendor. The employees may, however, pay the cost of the buffet personally.
Three employees from different units of the Department of Transportation are responsible for weekly monitoring of a construction project. Each Friday morning, they meet with the contractor's representative at the site field office to review the week's progress and to assess projected schedules. Coffee is available, but no other refreshments or meals are served or offered. Because no direct or indirect benefits are provided or offered, and because the meetings are part of the employees' job responsibilities, the meetings are not considered "events" for the purposes of this State rule.
An employee of the Department of Environmental Protection has been invited to attend a conference of the Association of Environmental Authorities and has been asked to present a short program to explain a new series of forms being proposed by the Department. The Association has offered to waive its $200 conference fee. The conference program includes morning and afternoon refreshments and lunch. If the employee's attendance and participation in the conference is approved, the employee may accept the waiver of the fee and the refreshments and meal included in the program.