A Season for Giving: How Ready Is Your Ethics Policy for the Gift Season?

Employee handbooks often include an ethics policy that regulate the giving and receiving of gifts.  These “gifting” policies are not intended to regulate gifts among coworkers as much as the exchange of gifts with vendors, clients, and potential customers.  The provisions of gifting policies are dictated, in large part, by corporate culture. How restrictive your policy should be will be determined by a variety of factors, including how much direct interaction employees have with vendors and customers. 

For employers who may be considering implementing an ethics policy for gifting, the rules for federal employees are a good starting point.  The general rule for federal personnel is that supervisors may not accept gifts from subordinates or personnel who receive less pay.  But there are exceptions to the rule.

During the holidays, federal supervisors may accept gifts from their direct reports so long as the value of the gift is $10 or less.  Cash gifts are not permitted in any value.  The opposite is true when it comes to gifts from supervisors to subordinates–no restrictions apply.  Nor are there restrictions on personnel gift giving between peers.

These rules do not apply to office gift exchanges so long as gifts are chosen at random or recipients are able to trade gifts.  There are no limits on gifts here since the gift buyer does not know who will eventually receive the gift.  But, if the gift exchange is not random, i.e., if names are drawn in advance, the gift value rules apply. Holiday gift giving at work

The rules for gift-giving with contractors are only slightly modified.  Federal employees can accept gifts up to $20 in value–no cash gifts may be accepted.  Federal employees who want to give a gift to a contractor must first check with the contractor to be sure he or she does not have any ethics rules that would preclude them from accepting the gift. 

There are also rules regulating the ever-popular office holiday party.  Supervisors can participate in the office party and can accept food and refreshments when those items are being shared by others.  Supervisors can also contribute to the cost of the party.  And, if the subordinate attends a function at the home of a supervisor, the subordinate may give a host or hostess gift of the type and value customarily given.  Supervisors and subordinates can accept an invitation to the other’s residence for a holiday party without restriction. 

One prohibition that seems grounded in common sense is the rule prohibiting federal employees from soliciting money from other employees or from contractors for the purpose of buying a gift for a supervisor.  Group gifts are limited to infrequent (as opposed to annual) occasions, such as baby showers and retirements.  And even then, contractors may not participate in the gift giving.

These rules may seem extreme when applied to your workplace.  But they’re a good starting point for ideas on just how restrictive such policies can be.  These rules also point out some of the potential areas of concern for employees who may be uncomfortable with the gift-giving and party-circuit traditions in the office environment.

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3 responses to “A Season for Giving: How Ready Is Your Ethics Policy for the Gift Season?”

  1. Lael Trent says:

    Yes, corporate gifting has got difficult, not because of the cash crunch but also because of company policies some of which allow it and some do not, additionally, gifts like alcohol or cigars or even food can seem in bad light if the person does not drink, smoke or is over weight. So what can be a neutral gift that is not likely to upset the recipient and also be delightfully different? This year our company gave away the iPod to its top billing clients, they bought them online from http://www.ipodyourlife.co.in/make_it.aspx and I think they were much appreciated.

  2. Tim says:

    Seems like a great idea. Also, the iPods can be customized with the Company logo before gifting it to the employees. It may act as a great motivational factor, during this recession period.

  3. Paul Reed says:

    I would welcome any comments on the following interpretation of IRS regulations about the taxability of gift certificates for turkeys or hams used as employee holiday gifts:

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