Keep holiday gift giving joyous by following the rules

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Adam Wietgrefe
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Legal Office
It is that wonderful time of year once more. Decorations everywhere proclaim that the holiday season is here.

While customary gift giving during the holiday season is a joyous thing for many, for Department of Defense personnel it is limited by ethical rules.

The frequent questions asked are, can subordinates give gifts to their supervisors and can supervisors give gifts to subordinates?

Normally, gifts should not be exchanged between subordinates and supervisors. However, on an occasional basis, the holidays for example, gifts worth $10 or less may be given as long as they are truly given voluntarily and do not create the appearance of favoritism.

Items such as greeting cards or modest food items such as soft drinks, coffee and donuts are not considered gifts because of their minimal value. Keep in mind that favoritism cannot be shown with these items either.

You may not solicit or accept a gift because of your official positon or accept a gift from a "prohibited source" unless an exception applies.

A prohibited source is an organization or person who seeks official action by the Air Force or has interests that may be substantially affected by the employee's performance of duty. A primary example of a prohibited source is a contractor.

One exception to this rule is the "$20/$50" rule. You may accept a non-cash gift so long as it is not valued at more than $20 per occasion, and the total value of the gifts given does not exceed $50 per calendar year from the same source.

Refreshments like soft drinks, coffee, pastries or something similar not constituting a meal, may be accepted since they are not considered to be a gift.

Another exception is that gifts may be accepted if it is based on a "bona fide personal relationship." Gift giving must clearly be motivated by a family relationship or personal friendship rather than position. Factors in making this determination include the history of the relationship and whether the family member or friend personally pays for the gift.

While there are exceptions, it is never permissible to solicit or coerce the offering of a gift, or accept a gift in return for being influenced in the performance of an official act.

Gifts cannot be accepted from the same or different sources on a basis so frequent that a reasonable person would think you are using your public office for private gain.

Holiday gift giving is joyous for many, but it must be done within the ethics rules. Each situation is unique and dependent on the facts.

If you have any questions about giving or receiving gifts this holiday season, contact an ethics advisor at the Vance Air Force Base Legal Office, 213-7404.