Are government shutdown freebies considered gifts?

During the limited federal government shutdown, many businesses responded by offering discounts and freebies to federal employees to help them cope during the difficult time. Our team often urges caution when government employees are involved with items or services that can be construed as gifts. So, we looked into this to ensure our clients were not inadvertently violating federal ethics guidelines and potentially making a bad situation worse.

Federal employees are normally limited to accepting gifts valued at $20 or less (and the total value of gifts from the same entity cannot exceed $50 in a calendar year). Gifts are broadly defined as anything of value. Here’s the great news: the federal ethical guidelines contain an important exception that discounts offered to all federal employees or to the general public are not considered gifts.

Ethics policies are extremely helpful in both the private and public sectors to keep employees (and their employers) away from compromising ethical situations. We all recognize the importance of the guidelines that detail what not to do. It’s equally important that these policies contain common sense exemptions for real life scenarios. We’d be happy to help create, review or revise your company’s ethics policies, if you need assistance.

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