Frequently Asked Questions - Gifts Between Employees

Question: What is a Gift?

Answer: Almost anything of monetary value, such as cash, meals, paperweights, trips, concert tickets, and services.

Question: What is not a gift?

Answer: A cup of coffee, modest refreshments which are not part of a meal, and items of little intrinsic value such as greeting cards, plaques, and certificates intended solely for presentation. Car pooling from a non-contractor, and similar arrangements are also fine, provided there is a proportionate sharing of cost and effort involved.

Question: I know that I cannot accept gifts from employees who work for me, but what if my supervisor gives me a gift?

Answer: You may accept a gift from your official superior and the value of that gift isn't limited by the $10 gift rule. The prohibitions are against giving a gift to a superior or accepting a gift from an employee making less pay than you. However, the superior needs to be sensitive to the possibility that other employees may view this as favoritism, especially where the receiving employee receives promotions or favorable assignments. This could result in employee grievances. See Section 2635.302

Question: May I, as a supervisor, collect money from my staff to have an office baby shower for another employee on my staff?

Answer: The purpose of these rules is to protect employees from feeling coerced into giving gifts, while permitting some limited, voluntary social exchange between employees. Thus, supervisors may not solicit gifts from those they supervise - even if the gift is for another employee (and certainly not for themselves or another supervisor). Someone on your staff will have to take the initiative to hold this event. Of course, you may, on your own, give your employee a baby gift.

Question: Our supervisor's birthday is coming up; what can we do to celebrate this event?

Answer: Employees may bring - or collect voluntary contributions to buy - a cake and other refreshments to share in the office for a birthday party. It is not permissible, however, for the staff to collect money and "chip in" together to buy a birthday gift, although employees individually may give the supervisor a gift valued at $10 or less. Similarly, because a group gift is impermissible for this type of recurring event, it is not proper for the group to take the supervisor to a restaurant for lunch.

Question: Our supervisor's husband has been very ill, and was recently hospitalized; may the staff send him flowers?

Answer: An employee may directly or indirectly give a gift to a supervisor on special, infrequent occasions, such as a major illness. For these types of events, a group of employees may voluntarily "chip-in" nominal money contributions (e.g., less than $10) to purchase the flower arrangement, or an employee may send flowers on his or her own.

Question: I travel at least once a month in my job; may I bring my supervisor an inexpensive souvenir from each of these trips?

Answer: Gifts between employees and supervisors are permitted on an occasional basis, including occasions when gifts are traditionally exchanged. This is much too frequent to be considered occasional.

Question: I'm in charge of collecting money for a retirement gift for our office's supervisor; may I tell everyone on the staff that they should contribute $4 each for this gift?

Answer: Contributions must be voluntary. Thus, although an amount may be recommended, the recommendation must also indicate that employes are free to contribute less or nothing at all.

Question: Must employee contributions towards gifts for official superiors be voluntary?

Answer: Yes. The employee must be allowed to decide for himself or herself, without coercion, whether to participate. There is no exception to voluntariness of contributions. See section 2635.303

Question: A management official from headquarters travels to a remote Agency field office near a cheese factory. An employee of the field office asks if employees can collect $10 in donations to provide cheese for a reception honoring the management official. Is this permissible?

Answer: On an occasional basis, employees may contribute towards food and refreshments to be shared in the office among employees. The employees could contribute voluntarily toward purchasing the cheese if it is to be eaten within the office by all employees, including the management official from headquarters. See 5 CFR §2635 304(c)(2). See also Sectoin 2635.304

Question: I have worked with someone for many years and we have become great friends. In fact, we began our jobs on the same day. She is in a higher grade, but she is not my official superior. We are avid gift givers and exchange gifts all the time. Is that a problem?

Answer: No, that is not a problem. As noted above under the general prohibits, employees, generally may not accept gifts from other employees who receive less pay, unless, as in your case, the two are not in a superior-subordinate relationship and a personal relationship justifies the gift. Consequently, you and your friend are free to exchange gifts of any value at any time.

(i) The $10 Rule

Question: My supervisor and I have developed a good working relationship over the years. Are there any gift-giving exceptions that would permit me to give him a gift on, let's say, his birthday or Bosses' Day?

Answer: Yes. There is an exception that allows you to give your supervisor a gift, other than cash, with a market value of $10 or less on an occasional basis. This includes occasions when gifts are traditionally given such as birthdays, Bosses' Day, or other annually occurring holidays.

Question: One of my colleagues and I share office space. We are the same grade level, but she makes more money than I do. While I can't really say we are "friends," we have a congenial relationship. I'd like to give her a gift on her birthday. May I give her a present, and is there a dollar limit on the gift she may accept?

Answer: Yes, you may give your colleague a birthday present. However, she may only accept a gift from you that is valued at $10 or less because even though she is not your superior, you receive less pay than she does, and there does not appear to be a personal relationship between the two of you that would otherwise justify the gift.

Question: Why a $10 limit?

Answer: Because it is high enough to permit an exchange of modest tokens between employees--such as cookies on holidays, or flowers and vegetables from home gardens--but low enough generally to discourage employees from purchasing gifts for their superiors.

(ii) Food and Refreshments Shared in the Office

Question: Once a month, my office has a lunch to celebrate the birthdays of everyone born in that month. Everyone but the birthday celebrants pitches in money for pizza or Chinese food, or we organize a potluck. Some of the beneficiaries are supervisors. Is this okay?

Answer: Yes, provided that these events take place in the office and all contributions are voluntary.

(iii) Hospitality Gifts

Question: My wife and I enjoy entertaining. When I was in the private sector, we invited employees to our home for annual holiday parties. Now that I work for the Government, we plan to invite the people I supervise to similar events in our home. If any of these employee-guests should bring a gift, such as a box of candy, a planter, or a bottle of wine, may I accept?

Answer: Yes, you may accept hospitality gifts from subordinate employees and other employees receiving less pay than you provided that the gifts are of a type and value customarily given in connection with the receipt of personal hospitality.

(iv) Special, Infrequent Occasions

Question: My supervisor is in the hospital and I'd like to send her a nice flower arrangement. Am I limited to $10? (I'm afraid $10 won't buy many flowers?)

Answer: No, you may send your supervisor a nice arrangement of flowers, and you don't have to limit your purchase to a couple of daisies. In recognition of certain special, infrequent occasions of personal significance such as illness, a marriage, or the birth or adoption of a child (but not holidays or annually recurring events), and on occasions that terminate the superior-subordinate relationship, you may give gifts to an official superior and accept them from subordinates or other employees receiving less pay. On these occasions there is no monetary limit; however, the gift(s) must be of the type and value appropriate to the occasion.

(v) Voluntary Contribution

Question: Our division chief is expecting her first child and some of the employees in the division would like to take up a collection to buy her a car seat. Is that okay?

Answer: Yes, employees may solicit and make voluntary contributions of nominal amounts for an appropriate gift to an official superior for special, infrequent occasions of personal significance. The birth of a child certainly qualifies as such an occasion. Contributions may not be solicited or made, however, to purchase a gift of $10 or less for Bosses' Day, or for other annually recurring occasions, such as a birthday.

Question: The Deputy Associate Administrator of our office was recently promoted to a new position in a different office. He will no longer be our supervisor. Before he leaves to take the new position, we would like to collect money for an appropriate gift. May we do this?

Answer: Yes, you may collect voluntary contributions of nominal amounts for a gift for the Deputy associate Administrator to recognize his promotion to a position outside of your supervisory chain because it is an occasion that terminates the superior-subordinate relationship. If the promotion did not terminate the superior-subordinate relationship, you would be prohibited from soliciting or making contributions for a gift. You could, however, take up a collection to buy refreshments to be consumed by everyone in the office to mark the occasion.

Question: Every year at our agency, employees are asked if they wish to contribute to an office social fund which we use to purchase gifts for our co-workers on special occasions, such as a wedding, an illness, or a death in the family. Is this an acceptable practice?

Answer: Yes, employees may solicit and make voluntary contributions of nominal amounts for such social funds. It is critical, however, that no one is pressured or coerced into contributing. Employees should be made aware that they may contribute as little as they choose or not at all. Keep in mind that because beneficiaries of this fund may include supervisors or other employees who earn more than some contributors to the fund, this fund may be used to purchase gifts only for special, infrequent occasions. The fund also may be used on an occasional basis to buy food and refreshments to be shared in the office among several employees.