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November 23, 2012


Federal employees beware: It’s gift-giving season again

By Col. Audrey Lewis, Fort McCoy Staff Judge Advocate

Gift-giving rules — If you’re not in accordance with the Joint Ethics Regulation, your season may not be as fruitful as you might hope.

The holiday season is almost upon us. Are you prepared? If you’re in shopping mode, and you’re a federal employee, either uniformed or civilian, there are rules to giving, and just as importantly, rules for receiving gifts. Be forewarned, so that you don’t become the latest example of what NOT to do.

The first thing to keep in mind is that there are rules that apply to gift giving between federal employees, and different rules that apply to gift giving between federal employees and contractor employees.

Gift-giving rules are all about avoiding appearances of favoritism or unfair influence.

It is better to give than to receive ... if you’re a supervisor.

Supervisors may give gifts of any value to their subordinates, but it doesn’t work the other way around — there are limits to gift giving from those who are junior to those who are senior, superior in rank or grade, or function as supervisors. If you are a supervisor, keep in mind that while there are no monetary limits to what gifts you may give to your subordinates or junior employees, you do not want to give the appearance of favoritism.

Therefore, while you are not required to give the same holiday gift to all of your employees, you should consider giving all gifts of an approximately equal value — you don’t want to appear to favor one employee over another.

Gifts up?
Gift giving up the chain is limited by Department of Defense rules (specifically the Joint Ethics Regulation) and the Code of Federal Regulations. Subordinate/junior employees only may give a gift on a recurring basis (i.e., Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s, Kwanzaa, return from a trip, birthdays, anniversaries etc.) of a value of no more than $10 to their boss/supervisor, or anyone senior to them.

Exceptions: Food and beverages may be shared in an office among employees; personal invitations/hospitality at a subordinate employee’s home may be offered and accepted, as may hospitality gifts which are normally given (for instance, your boss invites you to dinner and you bring a $12 bottle of wine as a house gift.)

Exceptions: Gifts of a value of greater than $10 but no more than $300 may be given from an individual or group that includes a subordinate on special, infrequent occasions (death of a Family member, marriage, birth, job departure), but NOT annual events such as birthdays, anniversaries or holidays.)

Gifts to, from contractors
A federal employee can give any kind of gift of any value to a contractor employee if it’s a personal gift (i.e., not a gift for “doing a good job” — those are limited by government contract and appropriations law.) So if you’ve got the bucks, you can spend them. But they cannot reciprocate, or more accurately, you can’t accept unlimited gifts in return. If you’re a federal employee, you may only accept a gift of a value of no more than $20 from a contractor or contractor employee on any one occasion, and further, you may only accept a total value of $50 in gifts from that contractor (that is, from any and all employees of that contractor) per year. There are exceptions: If your association with that contractor employee is based not on the workplace but on some other association (say the contractor is your brother-in-law, or your best friend from college), the $20 rule may be relaxed — see your legal office or ethics official if you have questions.

Finally, contractor employees may participate in holiday parties that include the provision of food and beverages if they pay their own way, and may participate in a pot-luck type of event.

If you keep the above rules in mind, you can enjoy your holidays and the gifts that may come your way, without risking your job.

For more information in the Fort McCoy community, call the Installation Legal Office at 608-388-2165.

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