The holiday season is a time of celebration. However, even during the holiday season, ethics rules apply.
To make sure you don't mistakenly violate these rules, here is an overview of holiday ethics guidance.
Generally, you may not — directly or indirectly — solicit or accept a holiday gift:
If you believe that a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts would question your integrity or impartiality because of your acceptance of the gift, you should always consider declining otherwise permissible gifts from outside or prohibited sources.
Under the ethics laws and Standards of Ethical Conduct, a gift is any item of monetary value.
Holiday gifts can be:
A prohibited source* is any person or entity who:
*Employees of Bureaus and Offices listed in 5 C.F.R. § 3501.102(a), prohibited sources are determined based on whether the person or entity is seeking official action, doing or seeking to do business, or conducting activities regulated by your Bureau or Office, as opposed to the entire Department.
You may accept holiday gifts given under circumstances which make it clear that the gift is motivated by a family relationship or personal friendship rather than your official position.
If the gift comes from a person with whom you have a family relationship or personal connection and that person is also a prohibited source, consider consulting with an ethics official about whether the gift should be accepted.
If your friend is also a federal employee or a federal contractor, additional restrictions may also apply.
During the holidays, you may accept gifts (but never cash) that are from a prohibited source or offered because of your official position under the $20/$50 exception.
Under the $20/$50 exception, these gifts must have:
General use prepaid gift cards, such as those issued by credit card companies or financial institutions (such as Visa or Mastercard) are considered cash under the ethics rules and may not be accepted. Store gift cards, including mall gift cards or gift cards for a single online marketplace, are not considered cash, and may generally be accepted.
When it comes to holiday parties and receptions, there are several things you should keep in mind to have a happy, healthy and ethical holiday season.
An event is widely attended if many people are expected to attend and if people with a diversity of views or interests will be present.
You may accept the gift of free attendance to an in-person or virtual widely attended holiday event, with prior supervisory and ethics approval (DI-1958), when it has been determined that your attendance will be in the interest of the Department because it will further the Department’s programs and operations.
A virtual holiday event is considered widely attended if:
Some virtual events may not qualify as widely attended gatherings, so reach out to an ethics official for guidance.
Accepting holiday party invitations from family, friends or neighbors is generally allowed under the ethics rules. However, free attendance to events, depending on the circumstances, may be considered a gift under the Standards of Ethical Conduct.
The invitation to an in-person or virtual holiday party, open-house, or reception comes from a non-prohibited source and is not offered to you because of your official position.
You do not need to complete a DI-1958 and you may attend and accept food, refreshments, and entertainment if no one is charged admission (such as most holiday receptions and open-houses).
Read the Authorization for Free Attendance at a Widely Attended Gathering (DI-1958) to learn more.
If you are a political appointee, you must follow the lobbyist gift ban in the Ethics Pledge in addition to the guidance above. Contact an ethics official for additional guidance on how the lobbyist gift ban applies to holiday invitations and gifts.
There are other gift exceptions that may apply to gifts. Refer to the Departmental Ethics Office website and consult with an ethics official.
Generally, you are prohibited from:
This rule applies to:
During holidays, subordinates may give, and supervisors may accept, unsolicited gifts (other than cash) of $10 or less.
Gift collections made via an online or other crowd-sourcing tool are subject to the same rules. If you are organizing a gift collection that includes employees earning less pay than or a subordinate to the recipient, consult with an ethics official for guidance on compliance.
There are no legal restrictions on the value of gifts given to peers or subordinates.
Employees may make voluntary contributions to an office holiday celebration held either inside or outside the office.
A contribution is not voluntary unless:
We recommend that senior supervisors not solicit voluntary contributions from employees earning less pay or from a subordinate.
Consider including the following statement in communications: “employees are free to contribute less or nothing at all” to ensure that employees are contributing voluntarily. Finally, an employee who declines to contribute may not be excluded from a holiday celebration that is held in the office during business hours.
Contractors are not typically considered federal employees under the gift rules. Gifts from contractors would generally be governed by the rules on gifts from outside sources.
Federal employees are not prohibited from including contractor employees in office holiday gatherings, but any voluntary contribution accepted from a contractor for an office holiday celebration must come from the contractor employee personally, and not their employer. The employee who oversees work performed by contractors should avoid soliciting even voluntary donations from the contractor employees for an office holiday celebration.
If your office holiday celebration will include an online gift exchange or seek voluntary donations via an online or other crowd-sourcing tool, then seek additional guidance from an ethics official before proceeding. There are specific considerations for gift exchanges that include employees earning different amounts of pay as well as supervisors and subordinates.
While using these online or other crowd-sourcing tools is not prohibited, the public nature of the online platforms, which often list the names and donation amounts of donors, can create inappropriate pressure for employees to donate. Also, the one-size-fits-all nature of crowdsourcing websites does not account for the fact that ethics rules apply differently to gifts from outside sources and gifts from employees.
Gift regulations apply differently to different employees: gifts from subordinate employees or those making less pay than the recipient are restricted, while gifts from superior employees or those making more pay are not, so keep the value of the gifts in any office gift exchange to $10 or less.