By Aundrea Snyder, ANAD Legal OfficeNovember 14, 2019
ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. -- It's the season when many people celebrate by giving gifts to family, friends, and coworkers.
However, federal employees must remember that ethical rules control what gifts can be offered and received.
WHAT IS A GIFT?
Anything with a market value may be considered a gift. Examples of gifts include any gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, loan, meal, transportation, an invitation to an event or service.
A direct gift is given to the federal employee.
An indirect gift is given with the employee's knowledge to his/her parent, spouse, sibling, child, dependent relative or a member of the employee's household because of that person's relationship to the employee.
An indirect gift may also include a donation to another person or charity at the federal employee's designation, direction or recommendation.
There are exclusions and exceptions to the gift rules. For example, modest items of food and non-alcoholic refreshments that are not offered as a part of a meal are gift exclusions.
WHO IS THE GIFT-GIVER?
The identity of the gift-giver is important because it determines which rules, exclusions and exceptions may apply.
Between employees: There are no legal restrictions on gifts given between non-supervisory employees or coworkers; however, common sense (and good taste) should always apply.
Federal employees may not accept a gift from a subordinate or an employee receiving less pay unless there is a personal, non-supervisory relationship.
Prohibited sources: Federal employees generally cannot accept gifts from prohibited sources.
Generally, a prohibited source is any person who is seeking official action by the employee's agency or does business or seeks to do business with the employee's agency or whose interests may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the employee's official duties.
Contractor employees are a common example of prohibited sources here at ANAD.
A federal employee shall not accept a gift that is given because of the employee's official position.
In other words, if the employee is only receiving the gift due to his/her status, authority or duties associated with his/her position, the employee should refuse to accept the gift.
Of course, there are exceptions to the above rules.
For example, gifts based on bona fide personal relationships are allowed.
However, gifts based on personal relationships must be from an individual and not an organization.
Also, supervisors may accept food and refreshments shared in the office and may share in the expenses of an office party.
WHAT IS THE VALUE OF THE GIFT?
On an occasional basis, including traditional gift-giving situations, supervisors may accept gifts (other than cash) with a value of $10 or less from a subordinate.
Special events (for example, birth of a child, marriage) allow an appropriate gift valued more than $10, but holiday gifts are not an exception.
Federal employees may accept gifts (other than cash) not exceeding $20 in value from a prohibited source, as long as the total amount of gifts from that source does not exceed $50 for the year.
This is referred to as the "20/50 Rule."
The guidance provided in this article only touches on common situations which occur during the holiday season.
Always remember gifts must truly be given voluntarily and not give the appearance of improper influence or unprofessional relationships.
If you have any questions regarding gift-giving and receiving, call the legal office at 256-235-6518 and ask to speak to an ethics counselor.