My roommate recently regaled me with tales from her pharmaceutical company’s holiday party, complete with lots of food and booze and entertainment. I was rather envious at the time because I was busy making baked goods for my office’s potluck holiday party.
In the government, we certainly don’t have lavish parties during the holidays or any other time of year. We have all kinds of rules in the government and, during the holiday season, the most important rules pertain to gift giving and parties.
First and foremost, supervisors are not allowed to accept gifts from subordinates. For example, I am prohibited from giving a gift to my mentor (Great! That’s one less person on my shopping list!). In addition, my colleagues and I are prohibited from soliciting money for a supervisor’s gift. I guess that these rules are in place to prevent my attempt to curry favor with and win preferential treatment from my supervisor.
By contrast, it is okay for supervisors to give gifts to subordinates. When explaining these rules to me when I first started my fellowship at the NCI, my mentor said, “I can give you gifts, but don’t expect that to happen because I don’t like to shop.” Excellent! There’s no need to feel indebted to a generous gift giver here.
As for peers and colleagues, we can certainly exchange gifts (small item of less than $10 or a holiday card). When employees are friends outside of work, then the rules do not apply, but gift exchanges should happen somewhere other than the office and certainly not on any government property.The holiday parties I have attended have all been potluck events either at the office or at a colleague’s house. Our government rules say that it is also acceptable to require attendees to contribute a small amount of money toward the food and supplies (~$10). In general, bringing food for the whole office, instead of individual gifts, is the easiest option for those who want to be generous during the holiday season.
At our holiday parties, there may be a gift swap, with the option to opt out of the exchange, of course. This year, my office decided that the gift swap theme would be an office desk toy, with a spending limit of $20.
If a company wishes to do business with the NCI and drops off a fruit basket to a particular government employee, then the gift must be shared with the entire office to enjoy. Money or gift cards can never be accepted.
In addition to federal employees, these rules also apply to postdoc fellows and contractors. All of these rules are in place to eliminate any actions which could influence or appear to influence NCI research. These rules are also in place to protect the integrity of NCI’s work.
Here are additional resources for rules about gifts:
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Government.
Wenny Lin, PhD, MPH, is a fellow in the Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program at the National Cancer Institute. Prior to joining the Nutritional Epidemiology Branch in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics, Wenny earned her MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health in 2009 and her PhD in Cell & Molecular Biology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2008.