Christmas is almost upon us and naturally, this means that we are entering the season for gifts and festivities. From time to time, suppliers or customers/clients may invite your employees for a drink or a meal, drop off gifts to thank you for using their services or providing a good service to them, invite them to celebrate the opening of a new office, a new product or service offering, or simply just to remind you that they are there.
Most of us enjoy receiving gifts and hospitality and these small tokens are not usually of concern, but employees can unintentionally create problems (for both you and themselves) by accepting more valuable gifts or hospitality.
Managing the giving and receiving of gifts and hospitality
The following may help you to manage the giving and receiving of gifts and hospitality:
- Clear, widely communicated and published rules help your employees and managers to ensure that everyone remains within acceptable boundaries. So if you don’t already have one, start to draw up a business gifts and hospitality policy or some guidelines, making it clear what you consider to be acceptable conduct in relation to gifts and hospitality and what is suitable to accept or give. If specific rules apply to your industry or certain groups of employees, ensure that these are incorporated.
- Consult fully with your employees so that everyone is aware of the policy and has the opportunity to input into it. If you are not aware of the full scale of what is offered and/or received, this can be a real eye-opener!
- Clarify acceptable business standards, quality, and the appropriateness of the gifts or venues for hospitality.
- Appoint a designated person to whom all gifts and invitations (incoming and outgoing) should be reported and who is aware of your obligations in this area.
- If employees would find it difficult not to treat suppliers differently in relation to gifts/hospitality received, discourage them from accepting these in the first place.
Gifts from you to your own staff
The most common gifts to employees are a cash bonus or vouchers, or physical items such as wine or a hamper. If you opt for hampers, ensure that the contents are acceptable to the recipient, ie bear in mind those who are vegetarian, who don’t eat or drink particular items on religious grounds.
Don’t forget that part-timers and those on fixed-term contracts must get the same, pro-rata, as their full-time comparators on open-ended contracts.
The Bribery Act introduced general offences of offering or receiving bribes, a specific offence of bribing a foreign public official, and an offence of failure by a commercial organisation to prevent a bribe being paid for or on its behalf.
It also makes it easier for the Serious Fraud Office to prosecute bribery and corruption offences and, if convicted, companies face unlimited fines and individuals face up to ten years in prison.
If bribes are paid by or on behalf of an organisation (either by employees or agents acting on behalf of the company), the company can be prosecuted for the strict liability offence of failing to prevent bribery.
It will be a defence if the organisation has adequate procedures in place to prevent bribery and corruption. Reasonable steps may include:
- A clear code of conduct or robust HR policies which cover business ethics, ban bribery and include clear, tight rules on accepting/giving corporate entertainment and gifts and declaring these.
- Training staff on ethical business practice
- Appropriate disciplinary action taken if the rules are breached. You may want to add the acceptance or giving or anything that could constitute a bribe to your list of gross misconduct offences in your disciplinary procedure if you don’t already cover this.
- Tight financial controls, especially regarding purchasing decisions
- Better due diligence on agents and business partners and careful management of these
- Procedures to check that the rules are being followed, and a process to review these as necessary.
With the Christmas period fast approaching, employers must make sure that if they are giving or receiving gifts, they are doing so without any hidden agenda. It is also important to note that you are equal, fair and inclusive to all when selecting to offer gifts to your employees. Failure to be inclusive of everyone on the team may lead to a discrimination case.