It’s that time of year when vendors try to spread Christmas cheer, often in the form of gifts and entertainment. That means it’s also time to review company policies before accepting even the smallest gift, according to attorneys at Fisher-Phillips.
A gift or a meal can be perceived as a bribe and therefore necessitate a clear gift and entertainment policy, say the company’s experts.
“An effective G&E policy cannot address every possible situation, but a well-crafted policy can promote consistency, encourage ethical business dealings, minimize potential concerns and provide guideposts for your employees — as well as your business partners,” wrote Fisher-Phillips partner Melissa A. Dials, in the firm’s Cleveland office, and Raymond W. Perez, of counsel in the firm’s Columbus, OH, and Washington, DC, offices.
The policy should be written to include employees at every rung of the company’s ladder, according to the lawyers.
“If top executives are allowed to receive gifts and entertainment that exceed company boundaries, it may send the message that the ethical standards apply to all employees except the C-Suite executives,” they wrote. “This hurts morale and can lead employees to assume that it is acceptable to violate other company standards.”
Accepting invitations to special events is generally permitted, they said, as long as such events are “considered commercially reasonable and the individuals represent the company.” However, beware that some events may be inappropriate and violate anti-bribery laws, they added. That’s why, the lawyers said, it’s best to ask for approval from the company’s legal or compliance group before accepting.
According to Dials and Perez, a gift and entertainment policy should cover:
- dollar limits,
- Gifts to an employee’s family members and
- Timing – for example, don’t accept gifts “during the bidding process, contract negotiations, during supplier evaluations or formal reviews.”
The policy should be included in a company handbook available to all employees, the lawyers said.
“It is also good practice to send annual reminders (ie, during the holidays) to business partners regarding the company’s G&E policy and ask for their cooperation,” advised Dials and Perez.