‘Tis the season for gift giving: Know the rules

Lt. Col. Tyesha Smith, Fort Meade Staff Judge Advocate

By Lt. Col. Tyesha Smith, Fort Meade Staff Judge Advocate

Tis’ the season to be jolly. Tis’ also the season for gift giving. But as with most things in life, there are rules.

The Code of Federal Regulations provides Standards of Ethical Conduct for federal employees that sets limitations on gifts that federal employees can both give and receive.

So before you buy that thoughtful gift or accept the present that you always wanted, every federal employee should be familiar with the following rules pertaining to gifts.

Rule No. 1: As a general rule, federal employees cannot accept gifts offered because of their official positions.

For example, a member of the Fort Meade community desires to give the garrison commander a holiday gift to show his appreciation for the services provided by Fort Meade. The Standards of Conduct would preclude the garrison commander from accepting this personal gift since the gift is being offered to him simply because he is the garrison commander.

Rule No. 2: A gift is practically anything of value.

It includes “any gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance, or other item having monetary value.”

Rule No. 3: There are a few items that are not “gifts.”

Modest food items and non-alcoholic refreshments like coffee and donuts are excluded as gifts. This means that supervisors, subordinates and contractors may partake in that tin of delicious sweet treats set out for the entire office.

Greeting cards and items of little intrinsic value like certificates are also excluded as gifts.

Rule No. 4: Supervisors may not accept gifts from their subordinates except on an occasional basis when the gift is valued at $10 or less.

The employee who wants to give his supervisor a holiday gift or who draws his supervisor’s name may not give the supervisor a gift that exceeds $10. As an aside, if names are drawn randomly, there are no monetary limits.

Rule No. 5: A supervisor may accept a “hospitality gift” from a subordinate.

A supervisor hosting a holiday reception in his home may accept a gift from a subordinate if the gift is “of the type and value” ordinarily given to hosts. Flowers or wine are traditional hospitality gifts.

Rule No. 6: As a general rule, federal employees may not accept gifts from a “prohibited source.”

Typically, this involves someone who does business with or would like to do business with the employee’s agency like a contractor. As an exception, federal employees may receive a gift from a prohibited source as long as the gift does not exceed $20 and as long as the total amounts of gifts received does not exceed $50 for the year.

Rule No. 7: The government usually does not reimburse a contractor employee for time spent participating in an office party during duty hours.

It is the contractor’s decision, not the government’s, whether to pay its employees for time attending an office party.

Consult the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, Administrative Law Department, should you have additional questions.

Editor’s note: The author based much of her article on information provided by the DoD Standards of Conduct Office, Office of General Counsel regarding Holiday Guidance. For more information, go to: http://ogc.osd.mil/defense_ethics.

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