National Institutes of Health

National Institutes of Health Ethics Program

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Gifts Between Employees

The law prohibits an employee from giving, donating to, or soliciting contribution for a gift to an official superior and from accepting a gift from an employee who receives less pay than him/herself, unless the item is excluded from the definition of a gift or falls within one of the exceptions to the gift rules.  The reason for these prohibitions is to eliminate any actions which could influence, or appear to influence, a supervisor or official superior's impartial conduct of his/her job -- especially in the areas of promotion, performance appraisal or other personnel actions which could affect a subordinate's paycheck in any way.

General Standards

Gifts to Superiors: Except as explained below, an employee may not directly or indirectly give a gift or make a donation toward a gift for an official superior; or solicit contributions from other employees for a gift to either his/her own or the other employee's supervisor.

Gifts from Employees Receiving Less Pay:  Except as explained below, an employee may not directly or indirectly accept a gift from an employee who receives less pay than him/herself unless the two employees are NOT in a subordinate-official superior relationship, and there is a personal relationship between the employees that would justify the gift.


Gift means anything of value (gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance; includes services, training, transportation, local travel, lodging, meals).  It DOES NOT include
  1) modest items of food and refreshments such as soft drinks, coffee and donuts offered other than for a meal;
  2) greeting cards and items of little intrinsic value, such as plaques, certificates and trophies, meant only for presentation;
  3) loans and discount opportunities from financial institutions which are available to the general public;
  4) rewards and prizes given to competitors in contests or events, including random drawings open to the public, unless the employee's entry into the contest is required as part of his official duties (e.g., attending a conference where attendees are all entered into a drawing);
  5) anything for which the Government pays, e.g., items purchased with Government funds;
  6) any gift accepted by the Government, e.g., sponsored travel; and
  7) anything for which the employee pays market value (retain cost)

Solicited or accepted indirectly means that the gift was given with the employee's knowledge and acquiescence to a parent, sibling, spouse, child, or dependent relative because of the relationship to the employee; or given to any charitable organization because the employee designated that particular charitable organization.

Official superior means any other employee whose official responsibilities include directing or evaluating the employee's official duties, or those of any other official superior of the employee. It includes the supervisor and up the chain of command; it also includes others in the office who have input into the annual performance evaluation (e.g., peer review for performance evaluation means peers are also official superiors for this purpose).

Exceptions to the Gift Rules (Gifts Which May Be Accepted)

Even though acceptance of a gift may be permitted by the exceptions outlined in the regulation , it is sometimes advisable and prudent for an employee to decline a gift.  Gifts may generally be accepted from other Government employees in the following situations.  These descriptions are quite general.  For more details, see the regulation (5 CFR 2635, Subpart C) or consult with your IC's Ethics Officials (see links below).

General Exceptions:  On an occasional basis, for example annually occurring events and holidays where gifts are normally exchanged, the following may be given to an official superior or accepted from a subordinate or from someone receiving less pay than the giver.

Special, Infrequent Occasions:  A gift appropriate to the occasion may be given to an official superior or accepted from a subordinate or other employee receiving less pay for special, infrequent events, defined as events other than the annually occurring events, for example:

Voluntary Contributions:  Finally, it is acceptable to solicit voluntary contributions of nominal amounts for an appropriate gift to an official superior, and an employee may voluntarily contribute a nominal amount to an appropriate gift for an official superior only as follows:

Example 1: To mark the occasion of his retirement, members of the immediate staff of the supervisor want to give him a party and provide him with a gift certificate.  They may distribute an announcement for the party and include a nominal amount for a retirement gift in the fee for the party.

Example 2:  The office staff may not contribute to a fund to buy a birthday present for the supervisor.  Birthdays occur annually and are not an occasion of personal significance based on the regulation's definition.  The same rationale applies to a group Christmas or Hannakuh gift, or for any other annually recurring event.

Example 3:  The division director is getting married.  The subordinates may pool their funds to purchase a group gift because marriage is an infrequently occurring event of personal significance.  They may jointly decide what to purchase, but cannot set an amount.  All contributions must be voluntary.  (Note:  The group of subordinates may in advance determine a gift, the cost, and agree to equally share the expense.  Those who agree to participate then will contribute the share they agreed to give.)

For additional information, contact your IC's Ethics Officials (see links below).

Updated: 4/10/10