Gift restrictions during the holidays


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Soldiers and DOD civilians should ensure holiday gifts between co-workers are within regulatory guidelines.

The holiday season puts everyone in the gift giving mood. While most of us enjoy both receiving and giving gifts, there are federal restrictions in place that Soldiers and Department of Defense civilian employees must follow when giving each other gifts.

The general rule regarding gifts, according to the Code of Federal Regulation, is that Soldiers and DoD civilian employees may not accept gifts from other Soldiers and DoD civilian employees who receive less pay or are subordinates. There are a few select exceptions to this general rule.

One such exception is if there is a personal relationship between the two individuals that would justify the gift and they are not in a subordinate-official superior relationship. An example would be if two Soldiers had been friends for many years and they traditionally trade gifts during the holidays.

The most common exception this time of year is the occasional basis exception. This exception may be used on any occasion on which gifts are traditionally given or exchanged, such as during the holiday season. Under this exception, an official superior may accept a gift from a subordinate or employee receiving less pay if:

(1) The gift is not cash, and has a market value of $10 or less;
(2) The gift is food or/and refreshments, to be shared in the office among several employees;
(3) The gift is personal hospitality provided at a residence which is of a type and value customarily provided by the employee to personal friends; and
(4) The gift is given in connection with the receipt of personal hospitality if of a type and value customarily given on such occasions.

Gifts to contractors shall never exceed twenty dollars in value. Additionally, some contractors may have more specific restrictions on gifts, therefore it may be best to check with the contractor before purchasing a gift.

White Elephant gift exchanges may have no monetary limit if the gifts are truly chosen at random or traded because it is unknown who will eventually receive the gift. However, if a contractor is participating, there must be a limit of $20 in place. The above rules apply when there is a known recipient for the gift.

Soldiers and DoD civilian employees need to be mindful of the rules as they plan their holiday gifts or begin to receive holiday gifts. Please remember that this guidance only highlights common questions, and does not cover every situation. If you have any questions or concerns regarding gifts, please contact your ethics advisor.