Ethical giving in the workplace

By CPT Catherine Vollertsen
Stuttgart Law Center

During the PCS transition or winter holiday season, keep in mind that Federal ethics rules on gifts exchanged between employees exist for a reason. These rules are in place to protect supervisors from the influence, or the appearance of influence, by the receipt of gifts from subordinates.

Gifts are defined by the Joint Ethics Regulation as anything of monetary value, including cash, meals, trinkets, and services. The general rule is that an executive branch employee may not give (or contribute toward) a gift for the employee’s official superior and a supervisor may not accept a gift from another employee who receives less pay. A person may only accept a gift from an employee who receives less pay if two conditions are met: 1) there is no subordinate-official superior relationship; and 2) there is a personal relationship that justifies a gift.

There are other exceptions to the general rule. Occasionally, gifts may be given under the following circumstances 1) the gift is $10 or less per occasion (meaning a birthday or souvenir). Cash gifts are not allowed; 2) as refreshments shared in the office; 3) personal hospitality at an employee’s home; 4) customary gifts in connection with the hospitality.

On special, but infrequent, occasions subordinates may give to a superior a gift that is “appropriate to the occasion.” Such occasions may include marriage or the birth of a child but do not include a promotion, unless the employee is also being transferred out of the chain of command.

Finally, gifts from an employee’s spouse to another employee’s spouse are considered a gift between employees and are subject to these rules. An exception is if there is an independent basis for the gift to the spouse, outside of the employee’s work connections.

These ethics rules should not put a damper on the holidays but should rather set expectations and guide appropriate gift-giving between employees. How can this be so without treats that come from the mall? Office holiday festivities can come “without ribbons and tags, packages, boxes or bags” after all.

General Rule Gifts between Federal Employees are prohibited.

  • No gifts from a subordinate to a superior
  • A superior may not accept a gift from a subordinate


  • Occasional Basis Gift (e.g., birthday, holiday – may not exceed $10 value)
  • Special Infrequent Occasion Gift (e.g., retirement, PCS – may receive a gift from a group or individual)

 Group Gift Rules:

  • Limited to $300 Total Value
  • Gift to a Spouse/Dependent considered a gift to the Sponsor (Total Value)
  • Employees may be solicited to voluntarily contribute
  • Solicitation limited to $10, but employee may contribute above $10
  • May not contribute to more than one gift group
  • Employee may contribute to gift group and give an individual gift
  • Contractors may not contribute to a gift group
  • No limit on the number of gift groups, but use reason (gift purpose)

Questions? Contact the Stuttgart Law Center.