'Tis the Season of (Ethical) Giving
By Capt. Noel Horton, Chief, General Law, 42nd Air Base Legal Office
/ Published December 19, 2013
MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE,Al -- The holiday season is upon us, and some Air Force personnel may wish to exchange gifts in the office. Also, during this same time, some personnel are on the move -- bound for their next duty station, some retiring, some resigning. You will sincerely miss some of them and you may want to give them a gift as a token of your appreciation. This short article will help provide a brief overview of some of the ethical rules and regulations relating to gift giving.
Generally, 5 C.F.R. § 2635.302 prohibits giving gifts to a superior or the superior accepting a gift from someone receiving less pay. But, take heart; you may not have to return the gift yet. There are a few exceptions to this rule.
If a subordinate-official superior relationship, a gift may be given on an occasional basis, including any occasion on which gifts are traditionally given or exchanged (such as Christmas, Bosses' Day, birthdays, or other annually recurring holidays), as long as the gift is not cash and its market value (the purchase price) is $10 or less.
Also, a gift may be given in special instances, specifically: (1) if a gift is appropriate to the occasion in recognition of an infrequently occurring event of personal significance (such as marriage, illness or the birth/adoption of a child), or (2) on occasions that terminate the subordinate-official superior relationship, such as retirement, resignation or transfer. If in doubt about whether an event is of personal significance (a swearing in or promotion does not qualify), consult the Legal Office.
A few other general exceptions exist when exchanging gifts between subordinates-official superiors that may be of interest. You may provide items, such as food and refreshments, as long as it is among employees in the same office and any contributions to pay for the refreshments are strictly voluntary. You also may provide a hospitality gift at the residence of a superior or someone receiving more pay if the gift is of a type and value customarily given on such occasion.
Finally, what if you want to give a gift to someone who is not your official superior or subordinate? This would be acceptable as long as there is a personal relationship between the two of you that would justify the gift.
Any questions about these or any other rules relating to gifts should be referred to the Legal Office.