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When a gift is a gift and not a bribe

When a gift is a gift and not a bribe


Elizabeth Maxwell considers the law on giving and receiving gifts in the workplace

MP scandals are never far from the headlines. In July Theresa May came under the spotlight after receiving £226 worth of luxury hosiery and an Anya Hindmarch travel bag shortly after taking office.

Normal government rules prevent ministers from keeping gifts that cost more than £140 for fears it could create a conflict of interest and be a breach of anti-bribery guidelines. Ms May was well-advised at the time but what is the true position on the giving and accepting of gifts in the workplace?

Employees are subject to the same level of scrutiny as our parliamentary representatives and it’s more important than ever to get this right.

When the Bribery Act 2010 came into effect in July 2011, it was considered one of the toughest pieces of anti-bribery and corruption legislation in the world and thrust the activities of employees across a whole variety of sectors into the spotlight.

The Act was introduced to address concerns that the giving of corporate hospitality, gifts, and expenses could amount to a criminal offence. That’s all well and good to begin with, but in many ways the Act can be difficult to interpret because there is no legal definition of ‘gift’, ‘corporate hospitality’, or ‘expense’. Businesses have to decide on their own parameters and incorporate them into company policies.

Marks and Spencer’s policy, for instance, allows the acceptance of low-value token gifts such as branded pens, stationery, and mouse mats produced purely for the purpose of being given away from an existing supplier. A gift which is given in a country where the custom of exchanging presents is conventional must be brought back, registered, and entered into a raffle for charity. Any other gift must be refused by staff.

The Bank of England similarly takes a cautious approach. Employees are entitled to keep gifts up to a value of £30 with permission from their division head. Any recipient of a gift worth £100 must receive permission from the secretary of the bank. Likewise, Associated British Foods employees require approval from a line manager before an employee can accept a gift worth more than £50 or any hospitality invitation that exceeds £100.

To avoid falling foul of the Act, companies need to make sure their anti-bribery and corruption polices are clear, accessible, and training provided to staff. It is important to prohibit gifts, hospitality, or expenses which can be seen to give someone a financial or other advantage. It’s always a good idea to impose an upper limit on gifts and to make sure that anything received is declared.

Fear not, however – the days of corporate entertainment are not gone forever. Introducing the Act, the former justice secretary Ken Clarke sought to assure companies that they could continue to take clients to events such as Wimbledon and the Grand Prix, so long as the hospitality is reasonable and proportionate. Business professionals can still go out for dinner with clients and continue to accept gifts providing they fall within the limit stated within company policy.

Or, if the gift falls outside the limit but you are taken with it, then take a leaf out of Ms May’s book. She liked those tights so much, she ended up buying them herself.

Elizabeth Maxwell is an employment solicitor at Thomson Snell & Passmore