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Holiday Hotline: Gift Giving

by Jennifer Shaw and Melissa Whitehead | | December 18, 2023

For many, December is a joyful time of year, full of parties, dinners, and decorations. Yet those same festivities make December a busy time of year for us at Shaw Law Group, as we field all kinds of holiday-season-related questions from our clients. This year, we’ll share some of those questions with our faithful blog readers in a December series we’re calling the “Holiday Hotline”! Today, let’s talk about gift giving!

Dear SLG: Our employees enjoy exchanging gifts, but some of our managers say they feel uncomfortable when their subordinate staff give them presents. Any tips?

Unless you are a federal government agency (all of which prohibit supervisors/management from accepting gifts from subordinate employees), California law does not govern this issue. Still, supervisors and managers understandably worry about appearances of favoritism if, for example, a subordinate employee gives them a more expensive gift than other employees, and later is promoted. Also, you don’t want employees to feel obligated to give leaders gifts, which can lead to significant morale issues.  For these reasons, we often recommend either prohibiting gift giving “up the org chart,” or limiting such gifts to a specific value (e.g., $20), and ensuring voluntary participation.

Dear SLG: You won’t believe this. One of our supervisors thought it would be “hilarious” to give a female staff member a joke bottle of “PMS Pills” as a holiday gift, with a card saying, “Hope this helps you smile more in the office, haha!” Help – what do we do?

Uh oh.  Unfortunately, this is not an usual situation.  First, this is a good time to remind everyone in the workplace about respect and professionalism. They need to understand that your EEO policies, which prohibit harassment, discrimination, and retaliations, apply to giving gifts.  Also, if you do not know all of the relevant facts related to the gift, you should conduct a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation. Of course, the supervisor’s intent in giving the gift is irrelevant to determining whether his behavior violates organization policies, but you should consider intent when deciding the appropriate response, which must be appropriate to deter him from engaging in any similar conduct in the future.  Sometimes a counseling memorandum and training is enough.  If the supervisor has a pattern of this kind of behavior, though, more serious discipline, including termination, may be appropriate. 


Want to learn more tips on how to approach the holiday season in your workplace? Join us next week for the fourth and final installation of “Holiday Hotline”!

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