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Code of Conduct

This resource provides for the Code of Conduct for all staff members. It includes the guidelines and requirements to define acceptable standards of behaviour for all staff.

Date policy adopted: 01/04/2011
Review period: Ad hoc when a change to legislation or ESC process requires it and at least every three years  
Date of last review: 26/02/2024
Date of next review: 28/02/2027

1.    Purpose and Scope 

The Code of Conduct sets out requirements and guidelines to define acceptable standards of behaviour. The Code complements the general obligations of good conduct placed on all employees under their contracts of employment when working for the office of the Ethical Standards Commissioner (ESC). The Code also applies to the Commissioner. 

This policy applies to all employees regardless of working pattern or nature of employment contract. It also applies to anyone working within the premises of and / or for the Commissioner (for example sub-contractors, consultants, secondees from another organisation or agency staff). The word employee(s) in the context of this policy should be taken to mean all such individuals, unless specifically referred to as being directly employed by ESC.

2.    Implementation, monitoring and review of the policy

Overall responsibility for policy implementation, monitoring and review lies with ESC. Everyone covered by the scope of the policy is obliged to adhere to and facilitate implementation of the policy.  Appropriate action will be taken to inform all new and existing employees and others covered by the scope of the existence of the policy and their role in adhering to it.  The policy will be reviewed at such times as legislation or a change to the ESC policy position requires it and at least every three years.  The policy will be made available to the general public.


3.    Register of Interests

ESC maintains:

  • a register of interests for all employees, including the Commissioner, as well as members of the Advisory Audit Board (AAB) and those working as Public Appointments Advisers (PAAs). The Commissioner, employees, AAB members and PAAs must complete a form listing their interests and identifying any actual or perceived conflicts of interest that may arise from these interests with their work for ESC. The form should be completed on appointment. Thereafter a new form should be submitted annually (for employees) and/or within 20 working days of a new interest arising. If a conflict of interest arises, whether actual or perceived, mitigating actions will be taken, recorded and monitored.
  • a register of gifts and hospitality listing all such that are offered and accepted. 

4.    Requirements and Responsibilities

The Commissioner, and employees working for ESC must be, and be seen to be, honest, fair and impartial in the exercise of their duties. They must respect all who have contact with ESC office, treating them with courtesy and empathy at all times. The Commissioner and employees should apply this Code to their informal dealings where they are identifiable as an employee of ESC no less scrupulously than in formal business situations.

The Commissioner and employees must not allow their judgement or integrity to be compromised in fact or to be reasonably thought to have been compromised. In particular they must not:

  • misuse information which has been acquired in the course of their duties, or disclose, without authority, information which is held in confidence by ESC, or received in confidence from others
  • seek to frustrate the policies, decisions or actions of the Commissioner either by declining to take, or abstaining from, action which flows from the Commissioner’s decisions or by unauthorised, improper or premature disclosure of any information to which they have had access
  • take part in any party political activity (including campaigning) which compromises their impartial service to ESC 
  • misuse their official position, or information acquired in the course of their official duties, to further their private interests or those of others. Conflicts of interest may arise from financial interests and more broadly from official dealings with, or decisions in respect of, individuals who share their private interests (for example through membership of societies, clubs and other organisations). Conflicts of interest, or the perception that such conflicts exist, may also arise when the Commissioner or any employee provides a reference for either an individual or commercial firm. Where a conflict of interest arises, they must declare their interest to the Commissioner so that a decision can be made on how best to proceed. 
  • act in order to gain inappropriate financial or other material benefit for their self, family or friends
  • accept gifts, hospitality or benefits of any kind from a third party which might be seen to compromise their personal judgement or integrity in relation to the work of ESC
  • offer a gift, hospitality or benefit of any kind to a stakeholder, supplier or other person with the intention of gaining a business and/or personal advantage. Where offering a business gift or hospitality is considered appropriate, for example paying for a meal, this should only be offered with the prior approval of the Commissioner.


  • recognise that their overriding duty is to the work of ESC
  • avoid doing anything which could not be justified to the Commissioner, the Scottish Parliament, or the public.
  • understand that it is not enough to avoid actual impropriety and at all times avoid situations which could give rise to suspicion or the appearance of improper conduct. As a consequence of this, the Commissioner and any employee must immediately declare to a member of the senior management team their intentions if they apply for any position or propose to take any action that may be reasonably viewed as giving rise to an actual or perceived conflict. ESC may suspend that individual from their usual duties or contract for the period during which that individual applies for any such position. Specifically, ESC may suspend from normal duties any individual who stands as an MP, MSP, MEP, Local Councillor or political Party Officer and may revoke any contract made with the individual should that individual fail to resign immediately on being elected or appointed. In the case of the Commissioner, a referral must be made to the Scottish Parliament when such circumstances arise.
  • take work-related decisions solely in terms of the values, purpose and objectives of ESC and never to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves or others
  • avoid giving references for individuals or commercial firms where these set up the potential for an actual or perceived conflict of interest. The Commissioner can delegate the authority to provide references as appropriate. ESC can provide one of two types of reference:
    • where substantive information is held by ESC relating to an individual’s or contractor’s performance in a role, such as evidence of good or poor performance against a contract or service level agreement, this may be used as content for a reference.
    • where no such information on individuals is held, references may only refer to other factual information held on that individual (such as length of term served)
  • In all cases, no reference can be provided unless the person providing it has consulted the Commissioner on the content.
  • disclose precisely any direct or indirect financial interest or any other interests which are not financial but which might influence judgement or give the impression that the person was acting for personal motives. Any person declaring such an interest will withdraw from any actions or meeting in which such matters are relevant
  • ensure that private or personal financial interests never influence decisions and that any position within the organisation is never used for personal gain
  • ensure that no special advantage is gained by virtue of their position, by using the services of a consultant, contractor, professional advisor or other individual or firm that works for ESC. If it is intended to use the services of any such body or individual, the arrangement should be declared to the Commissioner before the transaction takes place. In the case of the Commissioner, the arrangement should be declared to the SMT. 
  • ensure that confidential information, acquired as a result of their position with ESC, is not disclosed to anyone other than those who have the right to the information (see the Confidentiality Policy for further information).
  • ensure that such confidential information is not used for the personal advantage of themselves or others known to them. 
  • not accept any offer by way of gift or hospitality which could give rise to a reasonable suspicion that they might be influenced as an employee of ESC to show favour, or disadvantage, to any individual or organisation
  • decline to accept such gifts other than those which are obviously modest, including seasonal gifts like a calendar or diary, or whose refusal might reasonably be anticipated to cause offence
  • consider whether there may be a reasonable perception that any such gift received by their spouse or partner or by any company in which they have a controlling interest, or by a partnership of which they are a partner, can or would influence their judgement 
  • treat with caution any offer of gift, favour or hospitality made to them personally and ensure that they discuss the offer with their line manager.
  • refuse hospitality other than normal hospitality associated with their duties, such as a working lunch when representing ESC at an official event.
  • record gifts and hospitality accepted on the register set up for that purpose.

What employees do in their personal life is, generally speaking, their own business. They should be aware, however, that as an employee they represent ESC to the world. As such, their personal conduct online may impact their working life.



  • may identify themselves as an employee of the ESC in their personal social media accounts
  • must make a clear distinction between their personal activity and work activity
  • must be mindful of their conduct when using social media in both personal and business capacities, as personal views or information expressed can affect the reputation and operation of the ESC
  • understand that postings are instantly available to other users and nearly impossible to erase and may be made “public” regardless of whether or not the account settings are set to private or restricted access
  • must not use personal accounts to undertake ESC work such as engaging with individuals involved in an investigation or in relation to any other ESC function 
  • have all communications via official social media accounts authorised by the relevant line manager and follow the ESC corporate identity and design guidelines.
  • be aware of the technical guidance on the use of social media available in the IT Policy.

5.    Breaches of this Code

Anyone who does not comply with this policy, and is directly employed by ESC, may be subject to disciplinary action as set out in the disciplinary procedures.  

Any other person covered by this policy, and found not to comply, will be reported to the relevant office/employer.  This may also result in ESC terminating any contract which has been affected by the breach.

In the case of the Commissioner, a legitimate complaint or an initial finding that they have not complied with the Code will be referred to the SMT for a decision which the Commissioner will not take part in. If the SMT decides that there are grounds for concluding that the Commissioner has not complied with the Code, they will commission an independent investigation into the Commissioner’s conduct. If the investigation concludes that the Commissioner has not complied with the Code, the SMT will arrange for the investigator’s report to be referred to the Clerk/Chief Executive of the Scottish Parliament and to any other authority, such as Audit Scotland, considered appropriate.