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Federal Employees and the Gift Rules

Public service is a public trust, and Federal employees are obligated as public servants to act with integrity and impartiality when undertaking official responsibilities.  The gift rules are designed to help employees avoid the appearance that they are using public office for private gain or that they are making biased decisions. The gift rules cover situations when an non-governmental source gives a gift to a Federal employee and when a gift is given to a Federal employee by another Federal employee.

Gifts from Outside Sources (5 CFR 2635 Subpart B)

Employees are prohibited from soliciting or accepting any gift  from a prohibited source or given because of the employee’s official position unless the item is excluded from the definition of a gift  or falls within one of the exceptions.  A prohibited source is defined as any person who:

  • Seeks official action by the employee's agency;

  • Does business or seeks to do business with the employee's agency;

  • Conducts activities regulated by the employee's agency;

  • Has interests that may be substantially affected by performance or non-performance of the employee's official duties; or

  • Is an organization a majority of whose members are described above

What is a gift?

The term "gift" includes any gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance, or other item having monetary value. It includes services, as well as gift of training, transportation, local travel, lodgings and meals, whether provided in-kind, by purchase of a ticket, payment in advance or reimbursement.


There are some items that will not be considered gifts. Among these --

  • Soft drinks, coffee, donuts, and other modest refreshments offered other than as part of a meal

  • Items of little intrinsic value which are intended solely for presentation, such as greeting cards, plaques, certificates, and trophies;

  • Anything paid for by the Government, secured by the Government under Government contract, or accepted by the Government in accordance with a statute;

  • Anything for which the employee pays market value;

  • Most rewards and prizes in contests open to the public;

  • Commercial discounts available to the general public or to all Government or military personnel;

  • Loans from banks and other financial institutions on terms generally available to the public; and

  • Payments under pension and similar employee benefit plans.

  • Free attendance to an event on the day an employee is speaking or presenting information on behalf of the agency


Some of the more common exceptions to the gift prohibition allow employees to accept --

  • Unsolicited gifts with a value of $20 or less;

  • Gifts clearly given because of a family relationship or personal friendship;

  • Free attendance at a “widely attended gathering”

  • Discounts and similar opportunities and benefits available to all Government employees;

  • Certain awards and honorary degrees;

  • Gifts based on outside business or employment relationships.

  • Social invitations to free events from persons other than prohibited sources; and

  • Informational materials, including writing, recordings, documents or other records that are educational or instructive in nature.

Limitation on Exceptions

Even if a gift falls within one of the exceptions to the gifts rules, an employee is not necessarily free to accept it. None of the exceptions may be used If an employee:

  • Accept a gift in return for being influenced in the performance of an official act;

  • Solicit or coerce the offering of a gift;

  • Accepts gifts so frequently as to create an appearance that employee are using public office for private gain;

  • Accept a gift of vendor promotional training in contravention of applicable procurement policies; or

  • Accept a gift in violation of any statute.

Considerations for Declining Otherwise Permissible Gifts:

  • Reasonable person standard
  • High market value; timing; whether the donor has interests that can be substantially affected by the employee’s official duties; whether acceptance provide the donor with disproportionate access to the employee

Disposition of Prohibited Gifts

  • Return 
  • Share perishable items in the office
  • Destruction is permitted of tangible items worth $100 or less.

Gifts Between Employees  (5 CFR 2635 Subpart C)

 A Federal employee may not --

  • Give or solicit for a gift to an official superior; or

  • Accept a gift from a lower-paid employee, unless the two employees are personal friends who are not in a superior-subordinate relationship.


General exception. This exception would allow gifts given, for example, on Christmas, a birthday, or a return from vacation, provided that they consist of --

  • Items other than cash which, considered together, are worth no more than $10 for each occasion;

  • Personal hospitality provided at a residence;

  • Gifts to a host or hostess given in connection with the receipt of personal hospitality; even if the cost of the customary gift is in excess of $10;

  • Food and refreshments shared in the office; or

  • Leave sharing as permitted by Office of Personnel Management regulations.

Special Infrequent Occasions

A second exception permits the giving and accepting of appropriate gifts recognizing special, infrequent events provided that the events are --

  • Occasions of personal significance such as marriage, illness, or the birth or adoption of a child; or

  • Occasions that terminate a subordinate-official superior relationship such as retirement, resignation, or transfer.

 Of course, even if a gift from a subordinate to his superior falls within one of the exceptions, it would still be impermissible if it were coerced by the superior.