The season of giving is upon us again. It’s a hectic time for some and for others, a chance to kick back and enjoy the fruits of the year. For business owners, company directors (particularly in larger companies that have corporate ethics) it’s a tough time of the year, a time when they can often be misconstrued as a Grinch. There’s nothing worse than telling an employee they can’t accept a terrific gift.

Throughout the year, your employees may have worked hard with a supplier. In turns they may receive a gift in the post from the supplier by way of a thank you. This is where the problems can start. Is this a ‘good Santa gift or a bad Santa gift’? The festive season is also a season of giving and receiving of gifts. If you’re an employer, do you know what your employees are receiving? Even more worrying is ‘why they are receiving them?’ In most cases, it’s from a supplier and is simply an honest no-strings-attached ‘thank you for the business’; a recognition for the year. Others though may have a more insidious purpose. So how can you be sure a gift is just a gift; and a business doesn’t fall foul of the Government’s Anti-Bribery Act? There are a number of factors to consider.

1. First, understand what constitutes a bribe.

The Anti-Bribery Act says this: “. . . giving someone a financial or other advantage to encourage that person to perform their functions or activities improperly or to reward that person for having already done so.” So, depending on your needs at a particular time, this could mean almost anything, the reason why you should be careful to observe your employees receipt of gifts.

2. Does the gift come with an expectation?

This is an easy one. Situations occur, particularly when contracts are up for renewal in the new year, where it’s tempting for a supplier to offer an inappropriate gesture to a client in an attempt to sway a decision. In more corrupt environments, it could be a direct offer – “we’ll give you something of value (as a gift) if you give us what we need”. How many times in the past have you heard stories of officials being treated to lavish hospitality and then discovering that the very same hosts were awarded a contract, sometimes unexpectedly? Unfortunately, in some spheres, this happened all too often and the officials involved get caught in a deadly web of corruption that spirals out of control.

3. Timing is everything

In simple common sense terms, does the gift or offer of hospitality conveniently coincide with a major deal or acquisition?  A simple test: explain the situation to a responsible individual not connected with the project and see if they have one of those “hang on a minute” moments. If you feel that it’s not appropriate to do this, then maybe you already have your answer. Again, a little common sense goes a long way.

4. Was somebody specifically targeted with the gift?

Sometimes, gifts can be given appropriately to the members of a team who, from a supplier’s perspective, have helped in the success of a project, because they did the work or made the work possible at an operational level. This is typically the level where the working relationship exists between supplier and client. However, depending on commercial sensitivities, especially where renewing business is at stake, the gift may be given to a person in a superior position, not somebody immediately connected to the day to day activity, but certainly one who could impact the likelihood of renewal. If this is the case, then one might question the ethics and motivation behind this. You might also like to consider the immensely damaging impact that this would have on team morale, especially if they found out that the gift was given secretly.

5. Is the gift proportional to the situation?

Another common sense situation, but one that still raises an eyebrow or two. Employees act on behalf of the company and so it’s not unreasonable to expect gifts or hospitality to be modest in nature and especially not personalised. There have been plenty of high profile cases over the past year concerned with alleged corrupt officials from well known professional bodies who have received lavish gifts, holidays and other entertainment, even though they are entrusted with the ethics of their profession. As they saying goes; “Be sure your sins will find you out”.

How To Ensure All Gifts Come From a Good Santa?

Have a clear policy on receiving gifts and hospitality. Even if it’s very simple. Most companies in the UK probably won’t be particularly exposed to serious bribery issues. Having a simple policy that explains the issues, what they can lead to, and expectations on the employees,  will go along way. If necessary, spell out what is an appropriate gift or hospitality and what is not. A little common sense can go a long way. The government recognises this too and points out that the policies that a company needs to have in place should be proportional to the risk of bribery. In many instances, your own accounting procedures and managerial oversight is sufficient, along with a note to employees reminding them of their responsibilities to be ethical in the pursuit of business and in diligently fulfilling their roles.

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Bad Santa - 5 tips to ensure a corporate Christmas gift isn’t more than just a gift

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The season of giving is upon us again. It’s a hectic time for some and for others, a chance to kick back and enjoy the fruits of the year. For business owners, company directors (particularly in larger companies that have corporate ethics) it’s a tough time of the year, a time when they can often be misconstrued as a Grinch. There’s nothing worse than telling an employee they can’t accept a terrific gift.

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