The holidays are a wonderful time to share good feelings and sometimes that includes gifts. But you don’t want your seasonal gift to result in a January gift for plaintiffs’ lawyers.
Now is a good time to look at your policies on giving and receiving gifts and remind employees of their application to the holiday season. Here are some suggestions:
- Never solicit a gift. The subtle “I am sorry but I don’t recall receiving your holiday cheer this year” is as subtle as Lady Gaga is conventional.
- Check your policy to see if you can accept gifts. There may be a prohibition or requirements, for example, donate to a charity.
- Even if you can accept gifts, some gifts may collide with other policies. For example, some vendors and suppliers may give a bottle of wine or other alcohol as a gift. Yet, many employers prohibit alcohol in the workplace. Address head on: If you are given a gift of alcohol, do not open or consume at work—take home the day of receipt.
- Make clear that there should be no gifts of a sexual or suggestive nature. Yes, managers have given subordinates gifts from Victoria's Secret. These same managers send Valentines cards to their subordinates, too. What are they thinking? Yes, I am giving them the benefit of the doubt by using the word “thinking.”
- Consider placing limits on the dollar value of gifts that can be given or received, if you have not done so already. Gifts that are expensive may suggest something is expected in return. You don’t want your employees giving or receiving Jimmy Choo shoes, Python golf clubs or trips to Bermuda.
- Consider requiring employees to report gifts that have a likely value above a certain number, for example. Many employers already have such a requirement so it is simply a question of reminding employees of the application of the rule to the holiday season.
- Make explicit that there can be NO gifts to elected or appointed officials. A gift to the EEOC investigator assigned to your case may result in a referral to the justice department.
- When giving gifts, think about the card that goes with it. If you know someone celebrates a holiday, it is fine to refer to the holiday. If I know someone celebrates Christmas, I always wish them a Merry Christmas, just as I appreciate when someone who knows I celebrate Hanukkah wishes me the same. But if you don’t know, don’t guess, stereotype or assume; play it safe with “happy holiday.”
- Remember, not all employees celebrate holidays at same time of year (or celebrate holidays at all). Legal and employee relations considerations require that we consider time off (now or at other times of the year) on days other than when our offices close.
- Of course, the greatest gift to a plaintiffs’ lawyer can be harassment and other claims that arise from a holiday party. You can still have fun at holiday functions without making plaintiffs’ lawyers rich. See article I wrote for BusinessWeek on this issue here.
Finally, I cannot avoid taking advantage of the opportunity to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. Consider for a friend or loved one the gift of life: an older shelter cat or dog that may not survive without you! Too many precious creatures are euthanized every day. Please save one.
This blog should not be construed as legal advice, pertaining to specific factual situation or establishing an attorney-client relationship.
For more on employment and the law, visit SHRM’s Legal Issues page at http://www.shrm.org/legalissues/Pages/default.aspx.