Government ethics rules restrict the giving and accepting of gifts between employees and from outside interests. Policies on the exchange of gifts between employees—as well as the acceptance of gifts or hospitality from other sources—are set by government-wide rules found in the Code of Federal Regulations at 5 CFR 2635 201 –205 and 301–304. Employees with questions regarding the offer or acceptance of a gift, gratuity or anything else of value should contact their supervisors and the Designated Agency Ethics Officers. Also see information from the Office of Government Ethics at www.oge.gov.

Gifts between employees

An employee may not give or solicit contribution for a gift to an official superior, and may not accept a gift from an employee receiving a lower salary if the employee is a subordinate.

On annual occasions where gifts are traditionally given, such as birthdays, Christmas, Boss’s Day, an employee may offer the following to a formal superior:

  • items, other than cash, of a value of $10 or less;
  • items such as food and refreshments to share in the office; and
  • personal hospitality provided in a residence that is of a kind and value customarily provided by the employee to personal friends.

On special and infrequent occasions, such as a wedding, illness or birth of a child, or an occasion that terminates the superior/subordinate relationship, an employee may present an official superior with an appropriate gift to the occasion. In addition, an employee may solicit voluntary contributions of nominal amounts from colleagues, but not subordinates, to contribute to the donation.

Donations from outside sources

In general, an employee may not solicit or accept a gift offered because of his official position or from a prohibited source to anyone who:

  • has or seeks official action or business with the agency;
  • is regulated by the agency;
  • has interests that may be materially affected by the performance of an employee’s official duties; Where
  • is an organization made up primarily of the people described above.

A “gift” under these policies generally does not include items such as discounts and publicly available prices, commercial loans, non-meal foods such as coffee and donuts, and items of little value such as plaques and greeting cards.

Unless the frequency of accepting gifts seems inappropriate, an employee can generally accept:

  • gifts based on a personal relationship when it is clear that the motivation is not their official position;
  • gifts of $20 or less per occasion, not to exceed $50 per year from a single source (note: this exception does not apply to gift cards, certificates and promotional codes that work like cash , although it applies to those redeemable only in limited locations, for example only in one store or in a group of affiliated stores such as those in a particular mall;
  • discounts and similar benefits offered to a broad category, including a broad category of government employees;
  • most genuine awards and honorary degrees, although in some cases an employee needs a formal decision;
  • free attendance, food, refreshments and materials provided at a conference or busy gathering or certain other social events attended by an employee in their official capacity, with approval; and
  • gifts based on an outside business relationship, such as travel expenses related to a job interview.

An employee should return gifts that do not meet the exceptions or contact their supervisor to find out how to dispose of them. Perishables may be donated to charity or shared by the office, with approval.

Policies governing entertainment gifts are also issued by individual agencies.

Conferences and other events—When an employee attends in his or her official capacity as a speaker or panel member at a conference or other event, he or she may generally accept an unsolicited offer of complimentary attendance, including a meal or refreshments on the day of its presentation. The employee’s attendance at the event that day is considered a customary and necessary part of their duties and is not considered a gift.

This policy also applies to agency personnel whose presence at the event is deemed essential under agency procedures for the speaker’s participation in the event, e.g. security details members , representatives of the public affairs division of the agency or assistants to attend presentations. In limited circumstances, the complimentary attendance of a spouse or other guest on that day may be permitted.

Virtual Events – Under OGE Legal Advisory 20-10 at www.oge.gov, the Ethical Rules for Federal Employees Governing the Acceptance of Gifts for Events Such as Conferences also apply to virtual events. If event organizers charge an attendance fee, employees may not accept free or discounted attendance if the invitation comes from a prohibited source – a party with a financial interest in the actions of an agency or employee’s duties – or offered because of the employee’s official position, unless an exception or exclusion to the rules on gifts applies, such as the exception for crowded gatherings. Events that are free or involve “presentations of free information broadcast live or on-demand and open to the public” would not be considered gifts, although even then policies for accepting gifts may arise if the event involves items such as books that have money. value but are presented free of charge to participants.

Very crowded gatherings

There is an exception to the general restrictions on the acceptance of gifts which applies to “busy gatherings”. The exception allows for a waiver of all or part of the attendance fee, as well as food, refreshments, entertainment, instruction and materials “provided to all attendees as an integral part of the event.”

A person designated by the agency must determine that the employee’s participation in the event “is in the best interests of the agency, as it will benefit the programs and operations of the agency.” A higher standard must be met if the donor has interests that may be materially affected by the employee’s performance of official duties, or if the donor is an organization the majority of whose members have such interests.

All authorizations to accept such gratuitous participation must be in writing and before accepting, an employee must determine whether the government is also providing persons with opinions or interests different from those of the donor.

Rules for presenters

The “speaking and similar engagements” exception allows accepting free attendance on the day of an event where an employee will present information on behalf of the agency. An employee’s presentation at an event does not have to come from a podium or stage, but the employee should nevertheless communicate the agency’s message in a deliberate and substantial presentation. The exception only applies to the day the employee shows up and does not apply to purely social events, even if business matters are discussed. The same policies apply as described above regarding a separate meal or reception at such an event.

Social invitations

An employee may generally accept food, refreshments and entertainment, excluding travel and lodging, at a social event attended by more than one person when the invitation is from a person who is not not a prohibited source and that no fees are charged to attendees.

Free events

Attendance even at an event for which no fee is charged to an attendee may imply gift policies. To determine the actual value of the event, employees must add the value of any food, beverage, entertainment or other tangible benefits provided to attendees, but they do not need to consider the costs incurred by the sponsor for the place where the event takes place. . Employees considering attending such an event are encouraged to seek guidance from their agency’s ethics office. See OGE Legal Advisory 15-05 at www.oge.gov.

Report gifts

Although employees may not accept gifts from prohibited sources or gifts given on the basis of their official duties, there are exceptions, such as when individual items are valued at less than $20 per occasion and a total of 50 $ from a source during a calendar year.

Gifts must be reported when the total value of all such gifts from one source exceeds $415 in a calendar year; individual gifts worth less than $166 do not count against this threshold. Registrants are required to identify the source of the gift, the value of the gift and a brief description of the gift – excluding items such as food and beverages that are not consumed as part of the accommodation for the night. (Note: separate rules apply to gifts and various types of awards from foreign sources; see 41 CFR 102-42.)

For federal employees using someone else’s luxury accommodations (such as a skybox or private suite) when attending an activity such as a concert or sporting event, the guidelines state that when declaring the value of such entertainment, employees shall add the market value of the most expensive publicly available ticket for the event to the market value of the food, parking and other tangible benefits provided in connection with the attendance donation. Each tangible benefit included in the free entry gift is not a separate gift that may be excluded from the reporter’s report based on its individual market value.

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