Receiving gifts from employees: does it send the wrong signal?

by Janie Smith24 Apr 2014
A seemingly-innocent gift can land you in hot water, as outgoing NSW premier Barry O’Farrell discovered.

The evidence he gave to the Independent Commission Against Corruption about a $3000 bottle of Penfolds Grange wine he received from Nick Di Girolamo, head of Australian Water Holdings, led to his resignation.

Let’s hope he enjoyed the wine, because it ended up being far more costly than expected.

So what do you do when an employee wants to give you a gift?

HR manager Dave* told HC Online that employees have occasionally given him gifts as a thank-you for his help and support.

“Having always maintained probity, I say to the gift giving employee that the wine/wallet/gift will go towards our prize pool for acknowledging the efforts of team members in their work performance. It's important to ask the employee if that's ok, otherwise I return the gift to them.

“Most times the gift giving employee is happy to donate the gift as a prize. I also acknowledge the employee when awarding their gift.”

He said that as an HR professional, it’s important to consider the law of reciprocity, or giver’s gain.

“Some people give gifts in order to gain favours in return. But generally I believe that people are sincere and wish to acknowledge something special that I might have done for them. The purpose of the gift needs to always be considered. I would not accept a gift without a meaningful purpose and even then if accepted, is offered as a prize for star performers with the appropriate acknowledgement of the gift giver.”

Some workplaces have their own gift policies, ranging from employees having to report any gift received worth more than a certain dollar value, to companies like Walmart where employees are not allowed to accept gifts of any kind or dollar value.

Business ethics professor Julian Friedland told the business website inc.com that having a clear gift policy was important.

“If you don’t have one, then you open yourself up to a credibility, liability problem. Whatever product you happen to be selling, whether it’s a service or an actual object of any kind, can be compromised by the appearance of some conflict of interest.”

*Not his real name.

Have you even been given a gift by an employee? How did you respond?     

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