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Employees Dos & Dont’s


Public employees are critical to the City. We are held to a high standard. To help meet those standards, this guide introduces employees to several topics.

Use And Misuse of Position

Your role with the City & County of San Francisco is for the public good. Therefore, there are some guidelines about how you can use your role.
Here’s the short version: don’t use your title or office materials for anything than your role.
No one can use their position to:
• Help hire a family member or romantic partner
• Seek services, like a reservation at a restaurant, for yourself or a family member
• Pursue contributions to an organization you or a family member are a part of
• Endorsing political campaigns (unless for “identification purposes only”)

Learn more about nepotism at the Department of Human Resources’ website.

Learn more about political activities here.

Learn more about contributions to organizations (aka “Behested Payments”) here.

Gifts, Travel, & Honoraria


• We can’t accept gifts for doing our jobs. Accepting or asking for gifts for providing City services, assistance, advice, or anything related to our City jobs is prohibited.
• We can’t accept or ask for gifts from the people we manage.
• If a contractor or other restricted source gives you a gift, don’t accept it!

Restricted sources include contractors or someone who seeks to contract with your department. It also includes anyone who has tried to influence you in any legislative or administrative action in the past 12 months.

Gifts & Form 700 filers:
In addition to the rules above, if your level of decision-making authority requires you to disclose your financial interests on Form 700, more gift rules apply.

Visit the Ethics Commission Resource Page for Form 700 filers for more information about gift limits and disclosures.

The City’s gift laws are comprehensive, can apply in a wide range of scenarios, and can also have some common exceptions. So, the most important rule is: seek guidance before accepting a gift to avoid violating the law.

San Francisco City Hall rotunda

What is the Ethics Commission?

People expect a government that serves the public. This means working without improper influence or for personal gain.

The Ethics Commission helps people follow the rules of good governance through a mix of education, support, and enforcement.

It was created by San Francisco voters in 1993.

Behested Payments

What are “Behested Payments?”
A behested payment is one made (for example, to a non-profit) because of a request by a public official or employee to someone to make that payment. A “payment” can be cash, goods, or services.

Because these requests can raise ethical flags about fairness in governmental decision-making, the practice is regulated by both state and San Francisco laws.

Learn more about the limits on requesting Behested Payments on our website.

Secondary Employment 

If you work for the City , you need approval before getting a second job. This is, in part, to try and avoid conflicts. To learn more about this process, click here.


Gifts of travel are also subject to the City Gifts rules .
If you file a Form 700 (Statement of Economic Interests):

Generally, travel payment (including reimbursement) must be reported on your Form 700 as a gift or income.
If the travel payment is a gift, it is also normally subject to the $520 gift limit. If it is income, it may be considered an honorarium. In any case, you may need to disqualify yourself from any decision that could reasonably impact on whoever paid for your travel.

Learn more about travel restrictions, limitations, and exceptions in the FPPC’s Limitations and Restrictions on Gifts, Honoraria, Travel and Loans Fact Sheet.
If you are an elected officer:
You must file the Gifts of Travel form before accepting any out-of-state travel gift paid by anyone other than the City and County of San Francisco, another governmental body, or a bona fide educational institution. Find out more details and fill out the Gifts of Travel form on the Ethics Commission Gifts and Travel page.


Receiving payment for making a speech, publishing an article, attending a conference, convention, meeting, social event, meal, or similar is an “honorarium”.

The short version is this: if you are required to file a Form 700 (Statement of Economic Interests), you cannot take honorarium payments from any reportable source within your disclosure category.

This means that:
• If you are in disclosure category 1, you can’t accept honoraria from anyone.
• If you are in disclosure category 2, you can’t accept honoraria payments from any source if you are required to report income or gifts from that source on their Statements of Economic Interest.

Learn more about Honoraria restrictions and limited exceptions in the FPPC’s Limitations and Restrictions on Gifts, Honoraria, Travel and Loans Fact Sheet.

What is a conflict of interest? 

A conflict of interest happens when our personal interests (for example, our own financial interest or that of our friends and family) clash with our duties as public officers or employees. 

Government decisions should work in the best interest of the public. They should not enhance anyone’s personal finances or those of their friends and family. 

Because conflicts of interest could compromise official actions and even lead to corruption, they are regulated.

How can I avoid conflicts of interest? 

First, are you making, participating in, or influencing a government decision? This includes:
• Voting on a matter
• Appointing a person in relation to the interest,
• Committing your agency to an action
• Entering into a contract for your agency
• Providing advice through research without significant intervening review,
• Using your position to affect the outcome of a decision
• You can learn more on the Ethics Commission’s website. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask the Ethics Commission!
• Second, identify if the decision affects your financial interests or those of your direct family members’:
• Investments
• Property
• Someone who’s been a source of gifts or income for you
• Management positions (Any entity where you are an officer, director, partner, trustee, or any position of management)
• Income, assets or expenses for you or your immediate family

If you answered “yes” to either question, you may have a conflict of interest. You must announce the conflict of interest on the public record and abstain from participating in the decision. That means that you are not allowed to participate in, make, or influence that decision in any way. 

Example: “I am a commissioner who is voting on a permit for a building across the street from my house. Do I have a conflict of interest?”
• First, you should ask yourself: am I making a government decision? You are voting on this matter, so the answer is yes. 
• Second, you should ask yourself: is this decision affecting any of my financial interests? The answer is most likely, yes. A permit decision on a building across from yours is very likely affecting your property. 

In this example, everything indicated that you may have a conflict of interest, and you should recuse yourself from participating in this decision. 

When you need to disclose a personal relationship

As City officers and employees, we serve the public fairly and equally. Favoritism, nepotism, and abuse of power have no place in government. To support this, some relationships must be disclosed. This includes family relations and romantic partnerships.

Disclosing relationships as a manager:
You must notify your supervisor if you are in a management role over:
• Someone you are related to
• Someone you are romantically involved with

We are prohibited from influencing any decision involving a relative or a romantic relationship. You must notify your supervisor if you are related to or romantically involved with another employee in the workplace if you have the authority to impose or recommend an employment action over that person.

For example, imagine you are a deputy director of a City department and you recently learned that an analyst in your department is married to one of your cousins. Given that your position gives you the authority to potentially influence that analyst’s employment (e.g., promotions, firing, etc.), you should notify your supervisor that you are related to that employee.

Disclosing relationships in decision-making
If you are making a government decision that financially affects a friend, family, colleague, business partner or any other personal, professional, or business relationship, you should disclose this relationship on the public record.

If the government decision affects your own financial interests or the financial interests of your direct family (spouse, registered domestic partner, or dependent children) you must also recuse yourself from participating in the decision.

A “decision” is actually a vague term. It includes voting and making decisions, but it also includes being involved in the decision-making process. Be safe: if you have a relationship, stay out of the entire process.
• Commissioners and Board Members who have a financial conflict of interest arising from pending matters  must:
o announce their own or their immediate family’s financial interest on the public record
o recuse themselves from discussing or acting on the matter
o leave the room while the issue is being discussed and decided, and
o file a public disclosure form with the Ethics Commission within 15 days after the date of the meeting when the recusal happened (even if the member did not attend the meeting.) File the Notification of Recusal electronically through the Ethics Commission website.

Filing a notification for recusal does not apply to the Board of Supervisors.

Here are some examples of when to disclose personal relationships.
• A Commission member is voting to award a grant to a nonprofit whose Executive Director is a friend.
o The Commissioner should disclose that personal relationship on the public record.
• Another Commissioner is voting to award a grant to a nonprofit organization where his or her spouse is an unpaid Board Member.
o The Commissioner should also disclose the relationship on the public record and recuse themselves from participating in the decision in any way, leave the room while the matter is being discussed and decided, and file a Notification of recusal with the Ethics Commission within 15 days.

If you have questions about disclosing a personal relationship, reach out to your supervisor, your DHR representative or the Ethics Commission at 415-252-3100 or email

What can I do if I suspect fraud, waste, or abuse in City government?

What can I do if I suspect fraud, waste, or abuse in City government?

As public servants, it is important that we follow the rules for good governance and hold each other accountable. We all have a responsibility to not only follow ethics guidelines but also to report bad behavior.

This is why there is a process for city employees and contractors to report issues they know about – sometimes, this is referred to as “whistleblowing.” You can file a whistleblower complaint online on the Controller’s Office webpage.

Also, those who report suspected misbehavior are protected from retaliation.

Whistleblowing, in this context, is usually about unethical behavior. Issues include:
• Misuse of public funds
• Improper gift-giving & receiving
• Violating local, state, or federal laws
• Wasteful and/or inefficient government practices

How are whistleblowers protected?

How are whistleblowers protected?

People need to trust that if they report improper government activity, they won’t be a target for retaliation.
“Retaliation” could include being fired, demoted, suspended, or other similar actions against an employee.

If retaliation has occurred, the offender can face fines of $5,000-$10,000 as well as disciplinary actions. In addition, the retaliatory action could be reversed.

Learn more about retaliations and their penalties here.

Post-Employment Restrictions

People employed by the City & County of San Francisco hold valuable information about the government’s workings.

To avoid abuse of this position and conflicts of interest, there are some restrictions on what a person can do once they leave the City.

These restrictions are:
§ No lobbying their former department for one year after leaving
o Example: a former legislative aide cannot lobby the Board of Supervisors for one year after departing.
§ No employment or other compensation from someone with a contract the employee engaged with
o Example: a planner who helped approve a consultant contract cannot leave the City to then work for those who were awarded that contract.
§ No advocating before a court or other public body on an issue both the City and the former employee were involved
o Example: a former employee previously involved with buying vehicles for the City cannot go to the Air District and discuss rules impacting government’s ability to purchase vehicles

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