The giving and receiving of gifts in the corporate world can often play an important role in helping to build business relationships.
However, organisations must be aware that there is a very fine line between a simple gift or hospitality gesture, and an act of bribery.
Major holidays like Christmas and Easter are a prime time for firms to fall into the trap of accepting a gift that was given to them for dishonest and unethical means, leaving themselves vulnerable to accusations of unlawful conduct.
So, in order to get this right, businesses and employees need to understand when a gift is appropriate or inappropriate, and whether it was given out of honest goodwill, for something in return or to influence your decision in some way.
Top tips for managing corporate gifts & hospitality
1. Use common sense
Some gifts and hospitality are perfectly reasonable and legitimate - for example, providing refreshments, a meal or overnight accommodation to interview candidates.
But it is best to avoid gifts like expensive tickets or access to exclusive events. If you have to give a gift, stick to something of token value.
2. Set & communicate clear limits
Ensure that you set a company policy with clearly defined rules and that it is communicated to all employees. Then it is clear both in terms of single occasions, ongoing periods of time or relationships what the thresholds and limits are.
3. Think about the timing and context
Consider what other events are happening around the same time a gift is given or received. For example, are there job vacancies, a tendering process, or contract negotiations? If so, any hospitality may be seen as an attempt to unduly influence the outcome.
4. Encourage employees to use 3 key criteria to judge
By applying these tests, they can quickly decide what is acceptable:
- Is there a legitimate business purpose,
- is it proportionate (i.e. is it reasonable or would it be seen as unduly lavish?),
- and is it transparent (i.e. declared in your Gifts & Hospitality Register)?
Finally, are there any conflicts of interest or would there be a perception of one?
5. Encourage transparency
You will find that you can reduce the number of submissions that are declined by making information regarding gifts and hospitality publicly available.
6. Build a formal oversight process
By ensuring that gifts and hospitality are declared in a Gifts & Hospitality Register (such as the number and value of gifts, whether it was accepted or declined, who the donor and beneficiary were, etc).
The register can be as simple as a spreadsheet for small businesses, whereas larger organisations tend to use RegTech tools.
Check your register regularly to ensure that limits and thresholds are being kept up-to-date and complied with.
7. Think about reputational risk
Even when the individual or total value of gifts is not high, there may be a perception of wrong-doing or impropriety which can damage your company's reputation. Often large volumes of small gifts can easily go under the radar.
8. When in doubt seek advice before proceeding
Ask your manager, finance or compliance team if you are ever in any doubt. Particularly if you feel obliged to accept hospitality or a gift to avoid offence or for reasons of cultural etiquette.
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