Our nonprofit has a social worker who assists elderly clients apply for benefits and referrals to other organizations. She is well respected and has always been very ethical. Her husband was the realtor who sold the home of one of our clients who moved to a retirement community. I'm concerned that clients might be being steered by our social worker when they are in need of a realtor and that it is at least an appearance of improper influence or possibly a conflict of interest. Should she be told to not speak with clients about her husband's profession or should she give them a list listing several firms (including her husband's) but not list individual broker's names?
It would certainly be a conflict of interest for your social worker to refer your organization’s clients to her husband if, as you suggest (and perhaps suspect) but do not say, she referred your client to him. Conflicts are not necessarily illegal, but they can create the appearance of impropriety. At the very least, you ought to tell your social worker that she may not recommend her husband as a sole referral, and has to give a number of options if offering assistance. You should make a similar rule applicable to all employees, with violation subject to discipline. If you think that might not be sufficient, you can further protect against this kind of situation by developing a more general list of referral sources that all of your employees can give to clients and requiring that the printed list is given when any recommendations are made. That will reduce the risk of impropriety, even though it won’t eliminate it entirely.