When is a Christmas gift classed as a bribe?

Wednesday December 6, 2023

You’ve navigated the Christmas party (and still managed to have fun!), you’ve refereed the competing requests for annual leave, resisted the temptation to eat your bodyweight in mince pies…

But what’s this? Your procurement manager has received a lavish hamper, bottle of champagne, and lots of posh chocolates from various suppliers while the rest of the team have nothing.

It’s a final festive challenge for you to handle. So how should you manage it?

 

Gifts vs bribery: appreciating the context

You don’t need to be Santa to know that gift giving at Christmas is common; but in business, gifts and hospitality may be offered throughout the year, and to various degrees.

At the extreme end of the scale is outright bribery, where a supplier or other stakeholder is trying to gain undue influence – say to win a contract or obtain favourable terms, for instance. There are many victims of this type of action including, potentially, your own company.

You could suffer financial loss or reputational damage, and there are laws that protect against bribery so there is legal risk, too.

In the middle, there is overly generous gift giving, where gifts may be given in good spirit and not really be influencing any important decision making, but they are a bit much. Perhaps as in the scenario highlighted earlier, they all go to one person which causes discord in your team.

Then, at the other end of the scale there are those trivial gifts that don’t really hold any relevance to anyone other than putting a smile on the face of the person who received it. Often, a figure of £10 is put on the value of such gifts, but there is no law that specifies this should be the amount.

 

Creating gift guidelines or an anti-bribery policy

Reflecting on the above, most businesses will benefit by being on the front foot with this issue and having some kind of policy or guidelines.

Smaller SMEs are unlikely to be vulnerable to the legal and other risks of big bribery, but as your business gets larger and/or more complicated the risk grows. And any business with a team will find it helpful to provide clarity to staff over where lines are drawn.

A full-blown anti-bribery and corruption policy should include:

  • The prohibition of bribery and corruption in any form
  • An explanation of how you’ll manage the risk
  • The reasons why your policy is necessary
  • Detail on how bribery and corruption will be avoided
  • The rules and procedures which you settle on for if or how a gift should be received
  • Provision for managing conflicts of interest
  • Whistleblowing procedures

This may be overkill for smaller businesses, but that does not mean you should do nothing.

A simpler policy which sets out your views on receiving gifts, including the value at which they are disclosed, whether the recipient is free to accept them and keep them personally, ways in which they could be allocated fairly amongst your team and what happens if the policy is broken is a good minimum standard to implement.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure your policy is well communicated around your business.

 

Ideas for sharing gifts

If one person is the focal point for gifts into the company and you want to make it fairer, there are plenty of ways in which you can do so. If it is chocolates or a hamper they could simply be distributed around the team; or as leader you could subjectively hand them out based on what you know individuals like; or you could share them more randomly with a lucky dip.

 

Help with gifting policies

For help with any employment policies in your business, including an anti-bribery or gifting policy, please contact your local HR Dept office. We can efficiently create one that works for your business and is legally compliant, helping your team enjoy gifts at Christmas as well as any other time of year.

 

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