HR · 10 August 2018

The dos and don’ts of giving gifts at work

giving gifts at work
Giving gifts at work can have a positive impact on an organisation, providing it’s done with consideration and professionalism

The practice of giving gifts to colleagues and clients is becoming an increasingly frequent occurrence in the workplace. Make sure you’re aware of these important considerations.

Although gift-giving activity is predominately centred around the Christmas holiday period, it is also common to see gifts distributed at other times of the year in celebration of birthdays, work anniversaries or the closing of an important business deal.

With this in mind, there are several factors employers must think about the next time they consider giving a gift to someone at work.

Many employers choose to reward staff with gifts at Christmas or to celebrate impressive results at the end of the financial year. In these instances, employers should make sure that all staff are provided with the same gift, or at the very least gifts of the same monetary value, so as not to show favouritism.

In a similar vein, employers should also refrain from purchasing gender specific gifts or making assumptions on what type of gifts certain employees may favour as this can easily offend.

Although it is often considered a safe option for a work gift, employers should avoid purchasing alcohol for staff or clients as this may not always be welcome, especially by those with particular religious beliefs. For this reason, shopping vouchers tend to be a popular choice, as they give the recipient the freedom to spend it as they please.

Employers should decide if gifts will be available to all staff or if they are to be considered a performance related bonus, and therefore only eligible for employees under certain circumstances. If it is to be the latter, then some criteria must be agreed ahead of time to determine who will be eligible and who won’t.

However, when doing so, it is important to make sure any criteria does not exclude employees unnecessarily as this would leave the employer open to claims of favouritism and discrimination.

Secret Santa

Secret Santa is a regular feature of most workplaces and is a good way of cultivating a sense of camaraderie and team spirit with staff being encouraged to exchange inexpensive gifts during the Christmas period.

However, prior to implementing this, it is important to lay out appropriate ground rules, such as introducing a price limit which may help encourage wider participation. With this being said, staff must not be forced or harassed into taking part nor should they be subjected to any less favourable treatment for refusing to do so.


Birthdays are another occasion where gifts may be exchanged at work and as expected come with their own set of pitfalls. Employers should encourage staff to avoid the temptation or gifting humorous birthday cards or presents to one another, especially if they allude to an individual’s age, gender, or some other protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

Gifts of this nature can easily offend and in extreme cases result in claims of bullying or discrimination being directed at the employer. It is common for collections to take place at work in order to raise money for an individual’s birthday gifts.

In these instances, employers should ensure all staff have an opportunity to contribute to the collection, whilst at the same time making sure individuals do not feel forced into donating money.

Danger of bribery

Employers should also consider the danger of bribery when it comes to issuing or receiving gifts from clients. Although it is a common practice in certain industries, employers should keep in mind that gifting should be used to show gratitude and must not be used to influence individuals to act in a certain way, such as to renew important business contracts.

Rules surrounding bribery are governed by the UK Bribery Act 2010 and employers who fail to follow this could be subject to criminal procedures.

To protect themselves, employers should create a clear workplace policy on bribery which explains to staff what items can and cannot be accepted. Many employers also choose to create a gift register in which gifts or corporate hospitality over a certain amount are recorded to increase transparency and guard against misuse.

In some cases, it may be hard to determine the value of certain gifts, such as corporate hospitality tickets to a major sporting event. Therefore, as a rule of thumb employers are advised not to accept any gift they do not feel they will be able to reciprocate in the future.

Overall, giving gifts at work can have a positive impact on an organisation, providing this is done with consideration and professionalism. Many employers see this as an integral way of building client relationships and creating a positive company culture.

However, employers would do well to avoid any gifts which are personal or overly expensive whilst always being open about any gifts they do receive to remain clear from potential bribery accusations.

Kate Palmer is head of advisory at Peninsula HR

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Kate Palmer CIPD is the head of advisory at law firm Peninsula and is a member of its senior leadership team. She joined in 2009 having held a senior HR manager's role in another large company. With a specialist background in facilities management in the NHS, Kate offers a wealth of employment law experience. She's an expert negotiator - one notable case was with the NHS's trade unions over terms and conditions in the Agenda for Change pay system.

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