Q. The holiday season always brings with it the well-intended holiday gifts to our employees and, in some cases, to our clients, vendors and suppliers. How do I address the appropriateness and potential abuse of these gifts without being viewed as Scrooge?
A. The answer to this question lies within your company culture and policies, industry regulations and governmental laws, e.g., the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which impacts the way U.S. companies do business at home and abroad by ensuring that proper controls are in place to address potential bribery and unfair business practices. If your company is based and/or operates internationally, other governmental regulations may apply. Ensure you have a company policy that is supported by HR, Business Operations, Security, and Legal for guidance and support. Regardless of what rules govern your company, there are some things you can do help ensure compliance while supporting the spirit of giving. Your Code of Business Conduct or Rules of Conduct should serve as good resources for most of the questions that will arise.
Consider the following:
Be sure to take the time to inform your employees of the dos and don’ts of gift receiving and giving. Use your company intranet and/or newsletter to help explain why compliance is so important. Give them direction on where and how to address any conflicts that may arise, Be preemptive and send your vendors and suppliers (in some cases your clients) a company approved letter stating your company’s position as it relates to the giving and receiving of gifts. Be sure to provide them an unbiased vehicle to address their questions or concerns.
Be prepared to consistently address the questions that are most common; such as: Is it okay to send and/or accept special occasion (holiday, birthday or anniversary) cards? How about trinkets (pens, mugs, notebooks)? Can I receive or give lunch from or to a vendor or client? Is it acceptable to take my client out for dinner; can I invite the spouse, what if I include some entertainment? How about if I sponsor a party for my largest client or if I throw a party for all my clients? What if one of my vendors offers to sponsor a party or event for me and/or my staff? The questions and answers go on and many are dependent upon your business type and governing rules.
So what to do if after all this, someone still receives a work related gift? Take the time to develop and have a process in place to address these situations. Make it easy for your employees to be compliant. Arrange for a process to return gifts to the giver to include shipping and an approved letter from the company explaining the process and thanking them for their thoughtfulness and understanding. Make arrangements with local charities to pick up gifts that are not within guidelines and are not amenable to return (for example, food); be sure to send a company approved letter to the giver.
Enforcement of rules is tough enough without dissention in the ranks because of perceived or real inconsistencies in rule application. While there will always be special circumstances, do your best to apply consistency. Thank all those who come forward and make the effort to be compliant.
Answer provided by Ken Kasten, Security Executive Council Emeritus Faculty member.