Tis the Season of Gift Giving (Policies)
Whether it’s a fruit basket from a vendor or an employee gift exchange, it’s that time of year when the approaching holidays can stir up a frenzy of gift giving in the office. Many companies find themselves struggling to define what is appropriate, fair and festive when it comes to holiday gift giving. Certainly no one wants to be a Grinch, but creating a clear gift policy ahead of time is an easy way to avoid controversy and liability. Consider the following tips when creating a company gift policy.
Clearly define “gift.”
Employees are often confused about what constitutes a gift. Does that fruit basket from the office supplier constitute a gift? Maybe. Clearly defining the term “gift” helps to eliminate these questions. To avoid ambiguity, it may be helpful to define gift as “anything of value.” This means that those concert tickets, gift cards, and yes even fruit baskets are all gifts. To take this one step further, identify gifts that are inappropriate under any circumstances including gifts or entertainment that are illegal, sexually suggestive or otherwise potentially offensive.
Regulate how employees exchange gifts.
When it comes to supervisors/managers giving to employees, there is a fine line between a token of appreciation and favoritism. On the other hand, gifts from employees to their supervisors/managers can be seen as improperly currying favor. To avoid these predicaments entirely a gift policy should clearly define who may give gifts and to whom. Placing restrictions on gift giving by managerial level employees can help to avoid the perception of disparate treatment which can give rise to a discrimination lawsuit. Likewise, restrictions on gift giving to managers/supervisors can eliminate improper solicitation of gifts, feelings of competition among employees and the need to give in order to succeed.
Regulate gifts from outsiders.
A gift policy pertaining to outside vendors, suppliers and/or potential new business that is strictly enforced maintains the credibility of your company. You do not want to create the perception that new business can be won on the basis of anything other than the quality of the business. A good policy will guard against the potential for impropriety and eliminate improper influences on important business decisions. Also, clearly identifying the penalties for failure to abide by the policy will help to enforce the policy. Whether it’s as simple as returning the gift or excluding the particular vendor from future business considerations, making sure that the policy is clearly communicated when the relationship is initiated is key to maintaining transparency and credibility.
Set a dollar limit.
Consider setting a dollar limit on acceptable gifts. Such limits are useful to set reasonable expectations and eliminate competition among employees. It is also especially important with respect to gifts from outside the company walls. Limiting the value of such gifts helps to minimize the potential for outside influence on important business decisions.
Implement reporting requirements.
Requiring employees to report gifts from outside sources that exceed a certain dollar threshold enforces the gift policy and keeps employees and vendors honest. Additionally, providing supervisor review of higher value gifts received by employees creates a record that may be useful in assessing potential claims of impropriety.
Most importantly, for any gift policy to be effective it must be clearly communicated and uniformly enforced.