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Legal tip: gifts from subordinates

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- A few years ago, a supervisory contract specialist at a base was terminated after it was discovered that she had accepted gifts valued at $2,820 from a subordinate. Despite the employee's claims of not knowing it was prohibited by the ethics rules, an administrative judge affirmed the termination of her 20-year Federal career.

Don't let your dedicated career end this way; know the rules.

The general gift rule is that senior employees cannot accept gifts from subordinate employees. However, there are two exceptions to that rule. First, on occasions where gifts are ordinarily exchanged, a gift of $10 or less may be accepted as well as group food and refreshments. Holiday gift exchanges or birthdays are the most common examples. Second, a senior employee can accept a gift from a subordinate on a special, infrequent occasion of personal significance or in situations where the superior-subordinate relationship is ending, i.e. during a PCS or a retirement. In the second exception, the gift cannot exceed $300 per donating group.

Additionally, the group cannot solicit for more than a $10 contribution for the group gift from subordinates. A best practice is to have one of the lower ranking members of the group request contributions to ensure that contributions are voluntary. And finally, if one subordinate contributes to two or more donating groups, then the value of the gifts from groups with a common contributor are aggregated for the purposes of the $300 limit.

Ethics rules can be complicated, but they are important and the legal office is here to help get things right. As government employees, we hold our jobs as a matter of public trust and it is important we don't abuse that trust.

If you have any questions about gift-giving rules during the upcoming PCS season, please contact the legal office at 377-4114.