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NIH Relationship Policy

Information about personal boundaries in workplace relationships, especially those between trainees and fellows with their supervisors and Principal Investigators (PIs).


The NIH is committed to a work environment that is collegial, respectful, safe, and productive, where everyone can grow and learn. The purpose of the NIH Relationship Policy is to promote a positive work environment that is free from relationships that cause real or perceived conflict of interest.

We appreciate that hierarchy can make it difficult to set healthy boundaries at work, and we are here to help when you face uncertain or uncomfortable situations. The goal of the relationship policy is to mitigate some of the pressure you might feel to agree to activities or relationships that are uncomfortable and inappropriate.

Mandatory training

It is critical that you understand what types of relationships may be viewed as inappropriate and that you know where to turn with questions and when you have concerns.

The relationship policy is discussed in detail in the OITE training, Your Rights and Responsibilities as an Intramural Trainee. You must complete this training within two-months of arriving at NIH. Trainees who transition from one training program to another (e.g., from postbac to predoc or predoc to postdoc) must retake the training.

The NIH Relationship Policy

All members of the NIH community are expected to comply with the NIH Relationship Policy.

"Personal relationships (including romantic and/or sexual) between individuals in inherently unequal positions, where one party has real or perceived authority over the other in their professional roles, may be inappropriate in the workplace and are strongly discouraged. If such a relationship exists or develops, it must be disclosed. This applies to all individuals in the NIH community, including employees, contractors, students, trainees, and fellows and includes anyone who holds a position of authority or perceived authority over another individual from a scientific or administrative perspective."

Situations the policy does/does not address

It is important that you appreciate that the policy addresses situations for:

  • NIH staff who supervise trainees and fellows
  • Trainees and fellows who mentor other trainees; for example, a postdoc mentoring a graduate student or postbac

This policy excludes relationships where one party does not have real or perceived authority or influence over the other’s condition of employment or the ability to directly impact the other’s career progression.

Disclosure requirement

Personal relationships involving trainees and fellows with NIH staff with greater authority must be disclosed, even if there is no perceived supervisory or mentoring relationship between the two parties.  The goal of the disclosure is to allow leadership in the IC to manage, decrease, or mitigate any risk of a conflict of interest. Disclosure can be made to your OITE, your IC Training Director, or PI.

Know who can help

If you have questions about whether a relationship is appropriate or cause for concern, you should also seek guidance. If you feel comfortable, speak with the PI of your group. However, we appreciate that hierarchy in research groups can be a barrier to open communication; therefore, we provide other sources of guidance and support including:

If you feel pressured to agree to an activity or relationship that makes you feel uncomfortable, it is important that you seek immediate guidance and support.