Lesson 10: Gifts
What is a gift and what are some exclusions?
A gift is considered to be anything of monetary value. Examples include gratuities, favors, discounts, entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance (forgiveness of a loan), services, training, transportation, travel, meals and lodging, etc.
An employee shall not, directly or indirectly, solicit or accept a gift from a prohibited source or a gift that is offered because of the employee’s official position.
- Direct acceptance means you, the card/account holder, accept the gift.
- Indirect acceptance means that someone gives a gift, with your knowledge and acquiescence, to your spouse or child, a sibling or other dependent relative because of that person’s relationship to you. A gift could also be indirectly given to a charitable organization at your recommendation or designation.
Gift rules specifically exclude certain things from being classified as gifts. The gift exclusions include:
- Modest items of food and refreshments, such as soft drinks, coffee and donuts that are offered other than as part of a meal.
- Greeting cards and items with little intrinsic value, such as plaques, certificates and trophies, which are intended solely for presentation.
- Loans from banks and other financial institutions on terms generally available to the public.
- Opportunities and benefits, including favorable rates and commercial discounts, available to the public or to a class consisting of all government employees or all uniformed military personnel, whether or not restricted on the basis of geographic considerations.
- Rewards and prizes given to competitors in contests or events, including random drawings open to the public unless the employee’s entry into the contest or event is required as part of his official duties.
- Pensions and other benefits resulting from continued participation in an employee welfare and benefits plan maintained by a former employer.
- Anything which is paid for by the government or secured by the government under government contract.
- Any gift accepted by the government under specific statutory authority, including travel, subsistence and related expenses accepted by an agency under the authority of the United States Code Title 31 Section 1353 in connection with an employee’s attendance at a meeting or similar function relating to his/her official duties which takes place away from his/her duty station. The agency’s acceptance must be in accordance with the implementing regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations (specifically 41 CFR, Part 304-1).
- Other gifts provided in-kind which have been accepted by an agency under its agency gift acceptance statute.
- Anything for which market value is paid by the employee.
Are there circumstances when you may accept a gift from a prohibited source?
The basic gift rules are written to ensure that you do not accept gifts inappropriately. However, there are circumstances under which you may accept a gift even when it is from a prohibited source or given because of your official position.
Gift exceptions include:
- Gifts of $20 or less.
- Gifts based on a personal relationship.
- Discounts and similar benefits.
- Awards and honorary degrees.
- Gifts based on outside business or employment relationships.
- Gifts in connection with political activities permitted by the Hatch Act Reform Amendments [PDF, 11 pages].
- Widely attended gatherings and other events.
- Social invitations from persons other than prohibited sources.
- Meals, refreshments and entertainment in foreign areas.
- Gifts to the President and Vice President.
- Gifts authorized by supplemental agency regulation.
- Gifts accepted under specific statutory authority.
What are the dollar thresholds to consider when receiving a gift?
Under the $20 rule, an employee may accept an unsolicited gift of $20 or less per occasion and no more than $50 in a calendar year from one person.
If the market value of a gift offered on any single occasion exceeds $20, the employee may not pay the excess value over $20 in order to accept the gift. For example, if Tim was offered a $55 item by a prohibited source, he could not apply the $20 rule to the gift and pay the other $35 to account for the total $55.
Please note that if the aggregate value of tangible items offered on a single occasion exceeds $20, the employee may decline any distinct and separate item in order to accept those items amounting to $20 or less.
Further information regarding the ethical conduct of federal government employees can be found on the U.S. Office of Government Ethics website or refer to your agency ethics training.Next