Employees need clear guidelines regarding the parent company’s implicit norms or protocol for giving and accepting gifts/hospitality from vendors, clients, dealers, suppliers, business associates and other key contacts. What should these include?

A company policy, states a detailed essay on the ethicalcorp website, should spell out the need to seek approval from their line manager or someone more senior, recording it in a gifts and hospitality register. Sometimes gifts of a high value might be required be donated to charity or to the company. Gifts of high value can then be auctioned at the end of the year to raise funds for charity, for instance.

Guidance is usually found in a company’s code of ethics or gift and hospitality policy. This will outline the company’s position on gifts and hospitality, what constitutes gift giving and hospitality and set out good practice for employees. A gifts and hospitality policy needs to be consistent with all other aspects of an organization’s ethics program in encouraging high standards of honesty and integrity in decision-making and behavior.

How can companies support staff? Many companies take a zero tolerance approach to gift and hospitality giving and receiving. However, this isn’t always the most practical approach and can mean employees find themselves in awkward situations having to publically decline the gift or hospitality.

This is particularly true for employees of multinational companies operating in countries where gift giving is an important cultural tradition and instrumental in building professional relationships such as the giving of red envelopes for Chinese new year. Some companies have opted not to implement a global blanket ban, but rather they have set out locally determined limits for the value of gifts and hospitality that may be given or received. Additional policies might be put in place when it comes to public officials, such as lowering the value limit on gifts/hospitality or requiring employees to obtain management approval, regardless of the value.

So, there’s no need to be a Grinch. Communicate your gifts and hospitality policy to employees and others you do business with; encourage employees to consider the ethical implications before giving and receiving gifts; and offer additional support for those who work in cultures with different gift-giving norms. A clearly spelt policy regarding do’s and don’ts of gifting will save people embarrassment and, potentially, your organization’s business reputation!

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