December 01, 2016

Reminder on holiday gifts and the Ethics Act

As the holiday season approaches, it is important to be mindful of the requirements of the Gift Ban Act.  Please remember there is no question - or gift - too small to ask about. The associate general counsel of the Office of the Governor has recently provided new guidance on the Gift Ban Act. 

What the Ethics Act says about holiday parties 

Employees may be invited to a holiday party this month and wonder whether they may attend the event and what permissible gifts they may accept. This guidance only regards events sponsored by or offered by prohibited sources. Employees are welcome to attend events and parties of their friends, family, coworkers, and other non-prohibited sources.   

First, keep in mind that Executive Order 15-09’s (EO 15-09) exception that allows state employees to accept de minimis meals and refreshments at an event hosted by a prohibited source only applies to those events where state employees attend in the course of their official duties. If your agency’s rules and policies would otherwise allow them to attend such an event, then the question of whether an employee is attending in the course of their official duties is a fact-intensive one. It may turn on the sponsor of the event, the nature of the event, and the relationship of the event to the employee’s own work responsibilities.   

For example, a local toy store puts on a holiday party each year. Assume that the toy store is a prohibited source. At the party, speakers discuss their charitable giving throughout the year and their work with nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies across the city and state. Each year, the toy store offers invitations to state employees who work with the store throughout the year. The employees wear nametags with their names and titles, listen to the speakers, and enjoy refreshments. If those refreshments are de minimis, the employee is permitted to accept those refreshments under EO 15-09, although the employee should also confirm that their own agency rules and policies permit attendance and acceptance.    

Employees are permitted to accept opportunities, benefits, and services on the same conditions as the general public. For example, if a prohibited source sponsors a public holiday pageant, state employees can attend with their families and friends and enjoy the festivities.   

If you have questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to your university ethics officer Michelle Taylor at or 536-3461.