Frequently Asked Questions about Gifts, Gratuities and Recognition

These FAQs supplement the policy on Gifts, Gratuities and Recognition (III.B.5).

Table of Contents

Receiving Gifts and Gratuities

Giving Gifts, Gratuities and Recognition

Holiday and End-of-Year Gifts

Receiving Gifts and Gratuities

  1. I will be attending a conference. A company that does business with the University is a sponsor of the conference and has offered to pay my hotel and airline ticket. Can I accept?
  2. I attended a national conference paid for by the University and won a laptop from one of the conference vendors. Can I accept it?
  3. A conference vendor would like to take me and several other conference attendees out to dinner to discuss its products and services. Can I let the vendor pay for my meal?
  4. What is official conduct?
  5. A third party is offering me a t-shirt. Can I accept it?
  6. Can I accept a tray of cookies from a vendor of the University?
  7. The CEO of a foreign company that does business with the University gave me a nice leather briefcase; they will be upset if I return it. What should I do?
  8. One of the vendors that my department works with offered to let me borrow his boat on Lake Freeman. Can I take him up on this?
  9. A third party has invited my office staff to a lunch meeting on Carb Day at the Indy 500. They will provide the meal and talk to us about the services they can offer the University. Can we attend?
  10. As a faculty member who conducts research and holds patents, I sometimes have to travel to various companies and institutions in order to find buyers or investors for my work. Often these entities offer to pay my travel expenses. Is this okay?
  11. I work in the purchasing department and one of my friends owns a business that just signed a contract with the University to provide services. We often meet each other for dinner and sometimes he pays for my meal. Does the policy prohibit this?
  12. My spouse is friends with the owner of a company that does business with the University. My spouse received a gift from the owner. Is this a problem?
  13. One of my employees is asking me to sign a form allowing them to attend an event sponsored by a third party. Who can I contact to get guidance on this?

Q1. I will be attending a conference. A company that does business with the University is a sponsor of the conference and has offered to pay my hotel and airline ticket. Can I accept?

No. You may not allow the company to pay for your travel expenses due to the vendor relationship the sponsor has with the University. If you believe extenuating circumstances warrant an exception, refer to sections I.B (Criteria for Exceptions) and I.E.2 (Travel expenses for business purposes) of the operating procedures for guidance.

Q2. I attended a national conference paid for by the University and won a laptop from one of the conference vendors. Can I accept it?

If the prize was the result of a random drawing that was open to all conference attendees, you may accept the laptop on behalf of the University and speak with your office or department head to determine the best use of the gift.

If there were limiting criteria for eligibility to win the prize and/or the vendor is seeking to influence your official conduct, you need to refuse the item since it is a tangible item of more than nominal value.

Q3. A conference vendor would like to take me and several other conference attendees out to dinner to discuss its products and services. Can I let the vendor pay for my meal?

Yes, as long as the dinner option was offered to all attendees of the conference and the meal is not lavish or priced substantially more than the applicable per diem.

Q4. What is official conduct?

The decisions you make and tasks you perform on a day-to-day basis in your role as a faculty or staff member for the University.

Q5. A third party is offering me a t-shirt. Can I accept it?

Yes. Promotional items of nominal value (defined in the policy) such as t-shirts, cups, pens and the like may be accepted as long as the gift does not influence your official conduct.

Q6. Can I accept a tray of cookies from a vendor of the University?

Yes. As long as the gift is of nominal value (defined in the policy) and you share it with the rest of your office’s or department’s staff.

Q7. The CEO of a foreign company that does business with the University gave me a nice leather briefcase; they will be upset if I return it. What should I do?

Since the gift is of more than nominal value (defined in the policy), you need to consult with the individual listed in the policy as the contact for questions regarding the receipt of gifts to assist in determining a satisfactory disposition for the gift that is sensitive to the cultural concerns.

Q8. One of the vendors that my department works with offered to let me borrow his boat on Lake Freeman. Can I take him up on this?

No. Loaned items such as boats, cars, jet skis, cottages, beach homes, airplanes and the like are considered gifts of more than nominal value. In accepting the offer to use these items for little or no compensation, the faculty or staff member puts him/herself in a questionable ethical situation.

Q9. A third party has invited my office staff to a lunch meeting on Carb Day at the Indy 500. They will provide the meal and talk to us about the services they can offer the University. Can we attend?

No. An event such as this is considered lavish. The ticket price plus meal exceeds what is considered nominal value (defined in the policy) and attendees spend several hours at the track participating in the day’s activities, which does not serve a legitimate business purpose.

Q10. As a faculty member who conducts research and holds patents, I sometimes have to travel to various companies and institutions in order to find buyers or investors for my work. Often these entities offer to pay my travel expenses. Is this okay?

Yes, as long as the criteria listed in sections I.B and I.E.2 of the operating procedures are met. Lavish upgrades to accommodations or travel to exotic locations would not be acceptable. You may consult with the individual listed as the contact in the policy for your campus for further guidance.

Q11. I work in the purchasing department and one of my friends owns a business that just signed a contract with the University to provide services. We often meet each other for dinner and sometimes he pays for my meal. Does the policy prohibit this?

The system-wide policy does not prohibit faculty or staff from accepting gratuities or benefits from individuals with whom they have a personal or professional relationship independent of the University, as long as the giver is not seeking to influence the faculty or staff member’s official conduct. Your department may have a more restrictive standard on the issue, which would take precedence.

Q12. My spouse is friends with the owner of a company that does business with the University. My spouse received a gift from the owner. Is this a problem?

No, as long as the gift was given because of the personal relationship they have and not intended to influence your official conduct as a University employee.

Q13. One of my employees is asking me to sign a form allowing them to attend an event sponsored by a third party. Who can I contact to get guidance on this?

The contacts section of the policy lists an individual for each campus who can provide assistance with questions regarding the receipt of gifts.

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Giving Gifts, Gratuities and Recognition

  1. My office is holding a focus group of students to get input on one of our student services. We would like to provide everyone with a small gift for participating. In reading the policy and procedures, it looks like things given for participation are considered Prizes and have to be part of a documented recognition program, but this is a one-time thing. Are we prohibited from giving something to the students?
  2. I would like to send a $25 Amazon gift card to a colleague in Austria. Can I do this?
  3. Who is considered a public official?
  4. At times, a recipient of a Gift, Award or Prize is both an employee of the University and another status (e.g., Student, volunteer, donor). How do I determine which column to refer to on the Recognition and Appreciate Grid?
  5. The Recognition and Appreciation Grid uses the word “de minimis.” What does that mean?
  6. Sometimes my department gives a pair of basketball or football tickets to a speaker or consultant who is here from out of town. Is this okay? Do we need to document it?
  7. Is there a template I can use to request approval from my department head and fiscal approver for a Gift expenditure?

Q1. My office is holding a focus group of students to get input on one of our student services. We would like to provide everyone with a small gift for participating. In reading the policy and procedures, it looks like things given for participation are considered Prizes and have to be part of a documented recognition program, but this is a one-time thing. Are we prohibited from giving something to the students?

No. While a focus group may not be part of a formal, ongoing program, a written request for the activity must be approved by the applicable vice president, vice chancellor, vice provost or dean (or his or her designee) and your business manager or fiscal approver. Be sure to follow the Considerations When Giving to Students section of the Procedures as well.

Q2. I would like to send a $25 Amazon gift card to a colleague in Austria. Can I do this?

The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prohibits giving gifts of any value to a governmental or public official from another country (no de minimis or nominal value exceptions). In many cases, faculty members of universities are considered public officials in their country. Always obtain advanced written approval from the Vice President for Public Affairs or his/her designee before using University funds for a gift to someone from another country.

Q3. Who is considered a public official?

In the U.S., a public official is anyone who holds a position that is granted authority by the federal government, a state or a municipality, whether elected or appointed to that position. The individual is generally part of the legislature, judiciary, administration or executive branch.

Under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which applies to gifts to public officials in foreign countries, a foreign official is any employee or any person acting on behalf of a foreign government or public international organization. This may include employees of universities, hospitals and utility companies, both high-level employees as well as regular staff.

Q4. At times, a recipient of a Gift, Award or Prize is both an employee of the University and another status (e.g., Student, volunteer, donor). How do I determine which column to refer to on the Recognition and Appreciate Grid?

The transaction is based upon the status related to the giving of the Gift; a determination must be made as to whether the presentation of the Gift, Award or Prize is dependent on the individual’s employment relationship with the University or is not dependent in any fashion on the fact that the recipient is also employed by the University.

Q5. The Recognition and Appreciation Grid uses the word “de minimis.” What does that mean?

De minimis refers to things that are trivial, minor or insignificant. Tangible items such as t-shirts, coffee mugs or pens with a University logo or meal tickets for on-campus dining are de minimis when they are given infrequently.

Q6. Sometimes my department gives a pair of basketball or football tickets to a speaker or consultant who is here from out of town. Is this okay? Do we need to document it?

This meets the definition of a Gift, so it does need to be documented and approved by the applicable vice president, vice chancellor, vice provost or dean (or his or her designee) and your business manager or fiscal approver. Section II.D of the Procedures outlines what needs to be included in the documentation.

Q7. Is there a template I can use to request approval from my department head and fiscal approver for a Gift expenditure?

These is no formal template; documentation can be achieved in many ways, including e-mail.

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Holiday and End-of-Year Gifts

  1. May I buy a gift for my supervisor?
  2. Is it okay to accept a gift from my supervisor?
  3. Can I use unrestricted or gift funds to buy gifts for my employees?
  4. I have great employees who have worked hard all year. Is there anything I can do to reward them?

Q1. May I buy a gift for my supervisor?

The University discourages faculty and staff from giving gifts to their supervisors and others who have authority over them.

Q2. Is it okay to accept a gift from my supervisor?

Yes. Supervisors are not discouraged from giving gifts to those they supervise. If you receive a gift from your supervisor, saying thank you is all that is necessary.

Q3. Can I use unrestricted or gift funds to buy gifts for my employees?

No. Holiday gifts are personal. No University funds, including unrestricted and gift funds, may be used to purchase holiday gifts. University credit cards may not be used to purchase gifts or gift cards.

Q4. I have great employees who have worked hard all year. Is there anything I can do to reward them?

Yes. Many activities can be used to celebrate the hard work and dedication of your employees over the past year, such as an office pot-luck lunch or a white elephant/gag gift exchange. A simple thank you note will also let your employees know they are appreciated.

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Contact Information
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155 S. Grant Street
West Lafayette, IN 47907-2114
Phone: 765-494-5830
Fax: 765-494-1295
E-mail: vpec@purdue.edu 

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