There are limits on what federal employees can accept, which are designed to avoid conflicts of interest, actual or perceived.

There are limits on what federal employees can accept, which are designed to avoid conflicts of interest, actual or perceived. Anastasiia Krivenok / Getty Images

What Federal Employees Need to Know About Giving and Receiving Gifts in the Workplace

For ethics purposes, there are restrictions on what gifts federal workers and mail carriers can accept.

The holiday season is in full swing, and federal employees can join in on most of the fun without breaking ethics rules. But before you accept a gift in the workplace, there are a few limitations to keep in mind. Here is a refresher on the rules at federal offices.  

The gift rules for executive branch employees are designed to avoid conflicts of interest, either actual or perceived, and were updated in 2016. They forbid federal employees from seeking or receiving gifts given to them because of their government job. Accepting a gift from someone who does business with an employee’s agency is also forbidden, and can be a crime if an employee takes certain actions after receiving the gift. 

However, not everything is off limits. Small gifts from family or close friends are usually acceptable. Gifts such as food, desserts, coffee, and discounts that apply to all government workers are also not considered unethical, because the giving of small gifts will likely not cause the public to distrust the government’s integrity.

A good rule of thumb is that expensive gifts or gifts given for the sole purpose of culling favor with an agency or worker are prohibited. According to the U.S. Office of Government Ethics website, “The guiding principle of the gift rules is: government employees should not accept gifts that hurt the government’s reputation or its integrity.”

If employees are unsure if accepting a gift is unethical, the Office of Government Ethics recommends that employees ask for guidance from their department’s ethics official

There are separate rules for U.S. Postal Service workers.

It can be tempting to want to tip or give a gift to your local mail carrier–they sometimes work through snow and cold weather to make sure the holidays run smoothly– but there are still rules that must be followed.

The USPS website says: “Carriers are permitted to accept a gift worth $20 or less from a customer per occasion, such as Christmas. However, cash and cash equivalents, such as checks or gift cards that can be exchanged for cash, must never be accepted in any amount. Furthermore, no employee may accept more than $50 worth of gifts from any one customer in any one calendar year period.”