At this time of year, citizens and users of public services may choose to thank public employees with small gifts at this time of year. Some of the gifts may be to a group or department and some may be individual gifts, such as gift certificates. The State Ethics Commission reminds public employees about the limits of acceptance of gifts, details of which may be found in State Ethics Commission Advisory 19-1: Gifts and Gratuities. Here are some general guidelines:
Generally, gifts to an individual employee cannot equal or exceed $50 in value. If a gift has a market value that differs from the face value, then the higher value controls whether the gift can be accepted. Even if the gift is under $50, you may still need to file a disclosure if acceptance could cause someone to believe that the receipt would give undue favorable influence over the recipient in the course of their official duties. If the gift is unrelated to the employee’s public position, such as a gift from a long-time friend, there is no limit on the value.
Gifts to a group or a department are not subject to the $50 limit. For example, someone may give a gift basket of food or donate supplies to a department. Alcohol cannot be accepted, regardless of value. If a nonperishable gift is given, such as a gift of vests to all police officers, the statutory process for the acceptance of the gift must be followed.
Lobbyists cannot give gifts of any value to elected officials, to officials in policy-making positions, or to the officials’ spouse or children. Gifts from a public employee to a supervisor or superior cannot be valued more than $10. Otherwise, public employees may exchange gifts of any value. Discounts or waived membership fees can only be accepted if they are offered to all public employees of the municipality.
The Conflict of Interest Law is not intuitive and there are exceptions to the general precepts described above. If you are offered a gift, be sure to review the Commission's Advisory.