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Can close relationship be considered a "conflict of interest" only if the parties are in a direct reporting relationship? Can conflict of interest arise if the individuals are in the same group and one is indirectly reporting to other? Or, if the individuals are in different parts of the organization but there is power difference between the parties

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    If you think you might even potentially have a conflict of interest issue in the workplace, talk to your manager/HR. It doesn't matter what anyone on the Internet tells you if your employer decides something different. Sep 23 '21 at 15:41
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    It differs from companies. In most cases I've seen the conflict of interest is only when you're a direct report or within the same department. Just being in the same company, some places want to know that you're in a relationship with someone just so they won't put you guys on the same project or whatnot.
    – Dan
    Sep 23 '21 at 17:33
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    Don’t ask a vague “is there any” question, ask about your real problem.
    – mxyzplk
    Sep 23 '21 at 18:35
  • Does your company have a conflict of interest policy? What does it say? If you're talking about romantic relationships in the workplace, that's something that really should be in a policy, and if there is any doubt speak to HR. Same with family relationships. If that's not what you're talking about, what is it?
    – Stuart F
    Sep 25 '21 at 16:58
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They can certainly arise without a direct reporting relationship.

For example, imagine that you have a company with a group of engineers who carry out onsite work, and one of them is married to the person who schedules the onsite jobs. Although the engineer isn't directly reporting to the scheduling/operations person, they could still receive favourable treatment (better sites, less travel, not being onsite on public holidays, etc).

It can also happen from a more junior position to a more senior one. A receptionist who picks up inbound calls pass a disproportionate amount of them to their partner in the sales team, potentially leading to higher commission for them (IIRC this accusation was made in an episode of the US version of The Office).

It's also worth bearing in mind that a lot of the time, it doesn't matter if there is actually a conflict of interest: what matters is whether there appears to be a conflict of interest. Even if there's no wrongdoing on either side, it can still generate a lot of resentment in a team if there's even a suspicious of it.

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    I like your wording - it seems clearer and cleaner. Sep 23 '21 at 18:19
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An example: my spouse worked with a project manager that didn't always do very good work. The project manager's wife was my spouse's manager. When a project went south (according to my spouse because of the laziness and ineptitude of the project manager), my spouse got a bad annual review.

The project manager and manager were not in any direct line of reporting. But because there were people underneath both of them, it caused issues. It could also cause issues if the two related people were in conflict and a direct report had to deal with both of them. Or if others simply think there is a benefit given to the family member that other members of the team don't receive.

So yes, it doesn't require a direct line to cause issues when people who are related are working together.

On the other hand, it's not always an issue - I've worked many places where family members work together, and they have remained professional. It's best to not have a direct (or indirect) reporting line, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, but even that can work under ideal circumstances.

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