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Employee spouse involved in a sponsored project

Example 5:   Employee spouse involved in a sponsored project (Ownership Interests)

Under state and federal law, both spouses are considered to hold the same ownership interest.  Hence the requirement that an employee must disclose the ownership interests of a spouse, not just their own.  As with the “conflicted investigator” example above, there are very significant COI risks involved whenever a spouse is expected to perform a part of the research as a consultant (non-university employee), or when a subcontract is anticipated with the spouse-owned company.  All mitigation strategies included as options in Example 3 may apply and should be considered.  Below are additional considerations and actions:

  • Disclosure:  If the spouse is a Virginia Tech employee, the individual must file a disclosure through the COISystem and prepare a management plan similar to that required of employee-owners.  If the spouse is not a Virginia Tech employee, the spouse is not required to complete and submit disclosure forms to the university. 
  • All VT employees have the responsibility to disclose a spouse-owned company that seeks to do research with Virginia Tech.
  • Independent oversight of work conducted by spouse-owned business:  A management plan must be in place that includes independent oversight of the relationship with and work of the spouse-owned business.  
  • VT employee cannot be sole PI of project funded by spouse’s company:  If the spouse-owned business is the sponsor, with a subcontract to the university, then the Virginia Tech employee cannot be the sole principal investigator.   Additional management strategies may be required depending on the situation, including the possibility of not proceeding with the subcontract if adequate independence cannot be achieved.
  • These provisions also apply to immediate family members, not just spouses.


Example 6: Employee’s spouse or immediate family member is involved in the same sponsored project where employee is lead Principal Investigator

Under state law and university policy, spouses are not allowed to supervise one another, so there are certain steps that are required in order to have spouses or immediate family members working on the same research project.  

Disclosure:  The Virginia Tech employees must disclose to the COI Office that they are working on a sponsored project with their spouse or immediate family member.  Please contact us at A management plan will be required.

Management Plan:

There are two areas that need to be addressed in the management plan:  supervision and the separation of payments to the spouse or other family member.

  1. Supervision of spouse:   State law and university policy prohibits an employee from directly supervising their spouse or other immediate family member. A management plan must be completed outlining an alternative reporting structure for the spouse and any other immediate family member.   This alternative supervisor should be of equal or higher rank than the individuals involved or have approval of the COI Officer. This would provide independent oversight of the work conducted by the spouse and any other immediate family members.  
  2. Separation of payments:   A subfund shall be established to separate out any payments, including salaries and travel expenses, to the non-lead PI. An independent person, of equal or higher rank than the PI, shall be listed as the financial manager of the subfund in Banner. This individual is often the department head, but can be another independent co-investigator with the approval of the COI Officer.

In the interest of transparency, it is recommended that the entire research team be informed of any familial relationship which exists between team members.