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gifts, benefits and hospitality framework
Always refer to the PDF of this product for the definitive or authorised version.
This is the text of the Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality Policy Framework.
The giving and receiving of gifts and hospitality are commonplace and pleasing experiences in everyday life. Gifts may be offered to say thanks for good service, reward a special achievement or celebrate an important event. In business, gifts may be offered to build relationships, mark the opening of a joint venture or to further professional development. In most cases, these gifts will have been offered without an ulterior motive or any expectation of reciprocity. Hospitality may be provided to welcome guests, facilitate the development of business relationships or to celebrate achievements. Why then do we need a policy on gifts, benefits and hospitality?
The Victorian community trusts that public sector employees will perform their duties impartially. They can only do this if their personal interests don't conflict with their public duty. Accepting gifts can give the impression that an employee will favour a particular person or organisation when making decisions or taking action. This may not be the intention of either the employee or the donor but impressions are important. Impressions are also important when the public sector provides hospitality. All public sector employees should strike a balance between the responsible use of public resources and the benefits that may be delivered to their organisation and, ultimately to the community they serve. It is also necessary to guard against any perception that hospitality is being used to solicit benefits or encourage other forms of unethical or dishonest behaviour.
In many cases it is easy to identify offers to politely decline, or the boundaries for the provision of hospitality. Expensive gifts or lavish hospitality come to mind. In other cases it is not so clear cut. Employees need practical guidance to help them navigate a course between not risking the requirement for impartiality, and not inadvertently causing offence or embarrassment.
The Code of Conduct for Victorian Public Sector Employees gives guidance on how this might be done. Employers will want to reinforce this guidance with information about their organisation's own particular circumstances. This Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality Policy Framework incorporates minimum requirements for all public officials – from junior employees to chief executives and board members – and minimum accountabilities for the leaders of public sector organisations. It also provides tips on how to develop policies that reflect an organisation's needs and risk profile.
Public Sector Standards Commissioner
1.1 meeting community expectations
The community expects high standards of integrity, impartiality and responsible use of public resources from Victorian public sector employees and directors of public entities. They are expected to:
- earn and sustain public trust;
- be honest, open and transparent in their dealings;
- make decisions and provide advice without bias;
- avoid any real or apparent conflicts of interest;
- use their powers responsibly;
- report improper conduct;
- seek to achieve best use of resources; and
- submit themselves to appropriate scrutiny.
Public trust depends on honest dealings. Employees and directors must not accept gifts, benefits or hospitality from people seeking to influence their decisions unfairly. When providing hospitality, employees and directors need to ensure that it reflects prudent use of public resources and does not compromise the real or perceived integrity of recipients. There should also be a clear 'line of sight' between the hospitality provided, its benefits to the organisation and the government, and ultimately to the community.
1.2 existing guidance
The integrity, impartiality and accountability values in the Public Administration Act 2004 are reinforced in the codes of conduct that the Public Sector Standards Commissioner has issued for directors and employees.
The Directors' Code of Conduct warns directors not to use their position to seek an undue advantage for themselves, family members or associates. They must decline gifts or favours that could cast doubt on their ability to apply independent judgement. This also requires directors to be mindful of their public position when accepting or refusing offers that may be made outside their capacity as a public official.
Similarly, the Code of Conduct for Victorian Public Sector Employees warns employees not to seek or accept gifts or benefits for themselves or others that could reasonably be perceived as influencing them. In relation to the provision of hospitality, the Code of Conduct requires that employees seek value for money, use resources in the most effective way possible, and behave in a manner that does not bring the public sector into disrepute.
Other documents give examples of situations where accepting a gift might lead to a conflict of interest. The Victorian Public Service Executive Employment Handbook says non-state government funded travel should only be approved where there is no conflict of interest or perception of improper influence.
In its guide on the Conduct of Commercial Engagements, the Victorian Government Purchasing Board recommends that unusual or exceptional invitations from any party with a declared or known interest in a project should not be accepted.
Additionally, employees must never accept money or anything easily converted to money such as shares. It is an offence punishable by up to ten years imprisonment under the Crimes Act 1958 and other legislation to bribe a public official.
1.3 about the policy framework
This policy framework builds upon the existing guidance in relation to the acceptance and provision of gifts, benefits and hospitality. It sets minimum requirements and accountabilities for the Victorian public sector, defines commonly used terms, and provides a guide for reviewing and developing policies.
This section of the policy framework outlines key terms that commonly appear in gifts, benefits and hospitality policies.
Asset register is the register of assets held or managed by a department or public body under the Financial Management Act 1994. Significant gifts accepted on behalf of the public sector organisation or the State of Victoria should be recorded on the asset register.
Audit committee responsibilities usually include assuring the adequacy of the organisation's risk management framework, operational performance of business units, and integrity of management reporting.
Benefits are preferential treatment, privileged access, favours or other advantage offered. They include invitations to sporting, cultural or social events, access to discounts and loyalty programs, and promises of a new job. While their value may sometimes be difficult to quantify in dollars, they may be highly valued by the intended recipient and therefore used to influence their behaviour.
Bribes are money or other inducements given or promised to employees to corruptly influence the performance of their role. Bribery of a public official is an offence punishable by up to ten years imprisonment.
Conflicts of interest occur when an employee's private interests conflict with their public duty. Employees have a duty to always resolve a conflict in the public interest, not their own. This may mean that they decline a gift or transfer the gift to their employer's ownership if this is identified as being in the public interest.
Employees are the directors, chief executive and all other employees of a public sector organisation.
Gifts are free or heavily discounted items, intangible benefits or hospitality exceeding common courtesy that are offered to employees in association with their work. Gifts may also be provided by organisations to, for example, a visiting delegation from another jurisdiction. They may be enduring such as a work of art or consumables such as a box of chocolates. They range in value from nominal to significant and may be given for different reasons.
Gifts declaration is the form an employee uses to declare reportable gifts. Information on the form is either transferred to a gifts register or filed on a central secure file. If there is no gifts register, the audit committee audits the declarations on file. A model declaration form is provided at Appendix B.1.
Gifts register is a register of reportable gifts. It records the date a gift was offered, information about the donor and recipient, the nature of the gift, its estimated value and how it was handled. A designated person maintains the register, which is reviewed by the organisation's audit committee. If maintained in an electronic format to enable search and analysis, the register is protected from unauthorised changes. A model register is provided at Appendix B.2.
Hospitality is the friendly reception and treatment of guests, ranging from offers of light refreshment at a business meeting to restaurant meals and sponsored travel and accommodation. Hospitality may be offered to a public sector employee. It may also be provided by public sector organisations in three situations:
- 'Official State hospitality' is that hosted directly by an elected official and not a public sector organisation. This may include some diplomatic, consular and ceremonial activities, state contributions to the Australian system of honours and awards and the conduct of community cabinets. This type of hospitality is exempt from this policy framework.
- 'Official hospitality' refers to the hosting of diplomatic and foreign government officials, community representatives and/or people from the private and academic sectors by public sector organisations, and state-sponsored events. The persons attending these events are usually from organisations other than those within the Victorian public sector although public sector employees may attend to accompany a Departmental secretary or executive and/or Minister and liaise with attendees.
- 'General' hospitality' is usually that provided by public sector organisations, often in the workplace and often involving internal stakeholders or fellow public sector employees. General hospitality can be provided for a range of purposes, from providing sustenance at a lengthy meeting through to celebrating achievements. Modest hospitality includes light refreshments such as tea or coffee offered as a courtesy and light meals such as sandwiches served at a business meeting held over meal times. It also extends to more generous forms of hospitality such as catered meals at functions, meals at restaurants, and may include the provision of alcohol. Depending on the nature of the hosting organisation's business, sometimes recipients of general hospitality may be external stakeholders or business partners.
Host is the person, office holder or organisation which authorises, organises and pays for an event. Responsibilities of a public sector host include initiating the event and approving decisions, for example in relation to cost, selecting invitees, ensuring the event runs smoothly and meets its objectives, and facilitating relationships between invitees.
Lobbyists communicate with public officials to influence government decision-making, including the making or amendment of legislation, the development or amendment of a government policy or program, the awarding of a government contract or grant, or the allocation of funding.
Official business is work that is consistent with a public sector organisation's functions and objectives, and an employee's role. A departmental Secretary may be asked to accompany a Minister on official business. Senior staff may be asked to attend the official opening of a government sponsored project or to take part in a study tour of institutions to develop government policy. These activities constitute official business, do not have a private benefit and would not ordinarily be recorded as a reportable gift.
Public ledger records transactions on the public account. If an organisation decides to sell a gift it has accepted then the proceeds must be recorded on the public ledger.
Reportable gifts are those that must be recorded, typically on a gifts declaration form and/or a gifts register. At a minimum, reportable gifts include accepted gifts, benefits and hospitality that exceed a nominal value. They could also include gift offers of any value, whether they are accepted or not. The gifts may have been offered to an employee directly or extended to them as a guest of their partner or other close relation.
Value is the estimated or actual value of a gift in Australian dollars. It is also the cumulative value of gifts offered by the same individual or organisation within a 12-month period. Significant gifts may warrant independent valuation.
- Nominal value refers to the value of a gift offer. It is used to determine whether an offer, if accepted, is a reportable gift. Typically a threshold between zero and $150 is set to determine nominal value, depending on the organisation's perceived level of risk and the type of gifts that it considers may be accepted without compromise. Irrespective of dollar value, a gift offer that could create a reasonable perception that an employee could be influenced must be refused.
Venues are locations used for official and general hospitality. They vary and can include physical spaces such as Government House, departmental and agency meeting rooms, public facilities such as town halls, and private facilities such as hotels and reception centres.
A gifts, benefits and hospitality policy must reinforce the Victorian public sector values of impartiality, integrity, and accountability. The policy of every public sector organisation must reflect the minimum requirements shown in Figures 1, 2 and 3.
Figure 1: Minimum requirements for all Public Officials accepting gifts, benefits and hospitality
- Do not solicit gifts, benefits or hospitality.
- Refuse all offers of gifts, benefits or hospitality that could be reasonably perceived as undermining the integrity and impartiality of their organisation or themselves.
- Refuse all offers of gifts, benefits or hospitality from people or organisations about whom they are likely to make decisions involving:
- tender processes;
- licensing; or
- Refuse all offers of money or items easily converted to money such as shares.
- Refuse bribes and report bribery attempts to the head of the public sector organisation or their delegate and to Victoria Police.
- If unsure about how to respond to an offer of a gift, benefit or hospitality of more than nominal value, seek advice from a manager or other appropriate organisational delegate.
Figure 2: Minimum requirements for all Public Officials – providing gifts and hospitality
- Ensure that any gift or hospitality is provided for a business purpose in that it furthers the conduct of official business or other legitimate organisational goals, or promotes and supports government policy objectives and priorities.
- Ensure that any costs are proportionate to the benefits obtained for the State, and would be considered reasonable in terms of community expectations.
- Ensure that when hospitality is provided, individuals demonstrate professionalism in their conduct, and uphold their obligation to extend a duty of care to other participants.
The heads of public sector organisations must adopt the minimum set of accountabilities shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3: Minimum accountabilities for Heads of Public Sector Organisations
Heads of public sector organisations:
- Establish and regularly review policies and processes to respond to offers of gifts, benefits and hospitality, including multiple offers from the same source.
- Establish and regularly review policies and processes to provide guidance on the provision of gifts or hospitality, both internally to staff and externally to business partners and other stakeholders.
- Promulgate and establish awareness and compliance with gifts, benefits and hospitality policies from all members of the organisation – from front line employees to board directors and chief executives.
- Reinforce to all members of the organisation that a breach of gifts, benefits and hospitality policies could constitute a breach of binding codes of conduct and result in disciplinary action.
- Ensure that records are kept of accepted gifts, benefits and hospitality of more than nominal value and that such records are subject to regular scrutiny, including review by the organisation's audit committee.
- Ensure that hospitality expenditure is recorded and reported in accordance with whole of government financial management, accountability and reporting requirements.
This section of the policy framework provides guidance to public sector organisations for developing and reviewing their gifts, benefits and hospitality policies. Public sector organisations are encouraged to exercise discretion when deciding how to apply this policy framework, so long as policies adhere to the minimum requirements and accountabilities outlined in section 3 of the framework.
4.1 giving certainty
Victorian public sector employees, particularly those who have regular contact with members of the public or with private business may be offered gifts in the course of their work and be uncertain of how to respond.
Having a policy that is publicly available to employees, clients and contractors removes uncertainty, and avoids the potential for misunderstanding and embarrassment. The policy can address when it is appropriate to accept a gift and when it should be declined, and how to declare, record and handle gifts. The policy can be reinforced in brochures, contracts and other organisational documents. A simple test such as the GIFT test shown in Appendix A may be helpful in reminding employees of the important things to consider when making decisions.
In addition, public sector employees should be mindful of public perceptions and sensitivities in relation to the use of public funds for the provision of gifts and hospitality. To build and sustain public trust, a public sector organisation should develop a policy that establishes clear parameters to assist employees to:
- identify when it is appropriate to provide hospitality;
- identify when it is appropriate to provide gifts;
- ensure that the costs are proportionate to the benefits obtained for the state, and would be considered reasonable in terms of community expectations;
- ensure that, when participating in events, employees and their guests behave in a manner that does not bring the public sector into disrepute; and
- ensure that the organisation's responsibility to extend a duty of care to participants, and adhere to the provisions of the Code of Conduct are upheld.
Directors, chief executives and other members of the senior management group have an important role to play in modelling the behaviour they expect of their employees. Written policies and role models help to create certainty about how to respond in different situations. They help to define the culture of an organisation.
Employees should seek advice from the head of the public sector body or their delegate if they are uncertain of how to respond to an offer or make decisions in relation to the provision of hospitality. The Chair of the Board may seek advice from the portfolio Minister or their delegate. Directors and chief executives may seek advice from the Chair of their Board. Secretaries of government departments may seek advice from the Public Sector Standards Commissioner. Heads of an Administrative Office may seek advice from their departmental Secretary. Seeking advice does not abrogate an employee's responsibility for making the right decision.
4.2 assessing and managing risk
Policies relating to the provision and acceptance of gifts, benefits and hospitality should take account of an organisation's functions, the types of roles its employees perform and the likely contact with business, clients and members of the public.
The following should be considered when developing organisational policies:
- In what circumstances might a gift be offered to an employee and when if at all can it be accepted?
- Are there particular roles or work units that are at greater risk of being compromised than others?
- Will different risk management strategies be necessary for different parts of the organisation?
- Is there legislation, or government policy, prohibiting or impacting upon the giving or acceptance of gifts and/or hospitality in certain situations?
- Do complaints or disciplinary cases involving the offer or acceptance of gifts identify risks for the organisation to manage?
- Are there ways of mitigating the risk without causing offence or embarrassment?
- In what circumstances might the organisation provide a gift? Under what circumstances would this be appropriate? When would it be inappropriate?
- In what circumstances might hospitality be provided? Under what circumstances should hospitality not be provided?
- To what extent are business relationships contingent on the provision of appropriate hospitality? Would the non-provision of hospitality be detrimental to business relationships?
- How would you explain your decision in relation to the provision of hospitality publicly, or to those to whom you are accountable?
- Would case studies and scenarios help explain the type of situations employees may face at work?
The risk to impartiality and integrity may differ throughout the organisation. High risk areas may need more stringent approaches to managing risk, such as a more regular review of the gifts register. Low risk areas may only require an annual review.
Each organisation will need to think about the situations in which gifts might be offered and the potential for compromise. Even inexpensive gifts can give an impression of bias in some circumstances. For example, a purchasing officer may appear to favour a particular contractor if he or she displays their marketing material.
4.3 deciding on the type of policy
4.3.1 policies that ban the acceptance of all gifts and / or the provision of hospitality
In their dealings with one another, businesses and public sector employees potentially have conflicting goals. Businesses want to build their clients' loyalty to their products and services. Employees want to remain impartial in their actions and decisions. Accepting or providing gifts and hospitality may make this difficult.
A policy of not accepting gifts avoids the risk of compromise and is simple to administer and understand. It may be adopted when the organisation has a high risk profile or very little likelihood of receiving gifts.
Such a policy may be appropriate if, for example the organisation has no requirement to liaise with external business partners, or whose role requires that risks to public perception be avoided at all costs; for example organisations with integrity, regulatory or quasi-judicial functions.
The policy must be well publicised and include strategies for declining gifts without causing offence or embarrassment. This can be done through:
- broadcasting the policy in brochures, posters and other publicity;
- referring to the policy in contracts and other corporate documents;
- suggesting a polite way of declining the gift in person and explaining the policy;
- suggested wording for letters returning a gift that has been delivered to the office;
- alternative means for clients to express their appreciation to front line staff such as a clearly sign-posted feedback box, or a donation to the organisation's fundraising appeal; and
- explaining the policy to conference organisers at the time of accepting a speaking engagement so that the host knows not to offer a gift in appreciation for the presentation on the day.
4.3.2 policies that allow the acceptance of some gifts and / or the provision of some hospitality
Many organisations may find that a total ban on gifts and hospitality is impractical or unrealistic. They may have frequent contact with clients, foreign dignitaries and members of the public, a low risk profile and a high probability of receiving gifts.
Liaison with external business partners or stakeholders may also be intrinsic to the fulfilment of the roles and functions of some organisations. The provision of hospitality may be part of doing business, or facilitating other stakeholder groups to work together to achieve outcomes for the benefit of the community.
Those organisations must safeguard impartiality, integrity and accountability by:
- deciding which gifts can be accepted and which must be declined;
- having a transparent process for declaring, recording and handling gifts;
- deciding on the extent, scale, cost and nature of the gift and/or hospitality that can be provided and to whom; and
- having a transparent process for recording and reporting on hospitality expenditure.
The rest of the policy framework looks at these points in more detail.
5.1 tokens, mementos and small gifts of appreciation
Stationery such as pens or pads handed out to everyone attending a conference or expo may generally be accepted. They are inexpensive and intended to serve as a reminder of the event. They often have the company's logo printed on them.
Employees may receive small gifts of appreciation such as a box of chocolates from their clients for the work they have done. These gifts are generally acceptable if the appreciation is being shown for a service provided, and declining the gift could cause embarrassment or offence.
The worlds' stage
The world's stageMatthew had spent the past week composing and then rehearsing his presentation for the international conference on sustainable development. As Matthew makes his closing remarks, the audience applauds and the MC steps forward to thank him for an engaging presentation, and presents him with a bottle of moderately priced wine.
What should Matthew do?
The MC is presenting Matthew with a bottle of wine to say thanks for his presentation. Refusing the wine could embarrass the MC. The offer is being made publicly. Matthew's organisation categorises such gifts as nominal value and does not require them to be recorded on the gifts register. Matthew could accept the wine.
5.1.2 modest hospitality
Light refreshments such as tea or coffee offered in the course of a business meeting at the organisation's premises may be accepted. These will have been offered as a courtesy and to make the guest feel welcome. Similarly light refreshments such as finger food at an opening ceremony or sandwiches at a conference may be accepted. In all cases the hospitality should be proportionate to the occasion. Modest hospitality offered as part of official business is not a reportable gift.
5.2 transferring gifts to the employer's ownership
5.2.1 representing the employer
When employees attend a conference either as a participant or speaker or apply for an award in recognition of their public sector work, they are representing their organisation. The employer has paid for the employee's costs; their time, labour or accommodation. Any benefits accruing from the employee's activities belong to the organisation. This includes door prizes, fees for speaking and financial grants. The employer would record any revenue from fees and grants on the public ledger and, in the case of the grants, may choose to fund the employee's further work or development.
5.2.2 ceremonial and other significant gifts
International delegations may offer ceremonial gifts on behalf of their country to an employee. Ceremonial gifts of significant value become the property of the organisation and are recorded on the asset register. If they are of cultural significance they may be offered to an appropriate public institution such as the Melbourne Museum, National Gallery of Victoria or similar organisation. Organisations may decide to donate other significant gifts, or the proceeds from their sale, to charity.
A sense of occasion
An international delegation is on a study tour of educational institutions in Victoria. They meet with a number of senior staff over three days to discuss approaches to learning. At the conclusion of the tour they present Michelle, the organiser, with a jade brooch. The brooch is independently valued at more than $2,000.
What should Michelle do?
The gift is from an international delegation that is expressing its appreciation for the assistance given to them. Refusing the gift could cause offence. Michelle should accept the gift on behalf of the State of Victoria, record it in the gifts register and add it to the assets register.
5.3 declining gifts and hospitality
5.3.1 the relationship between the recipient and donor is crucial
Some employees perform roles that necessarily call for greater scrutiny. Members of an Accredited Purchasing Unit or those involved in purchasing goods and services must not accept gifts from contractors, particularly when a tender has been advertised. Inspectors must not accept gifts from people seeking licenses. Those who award grants must not accept gifts from applicants. Policy makers must not accept gifts from lobbyists. In each of these cases the employee has the power to make a decision in the donor's favour and could be influenced by the gift.
All in the family
Nicole is a project manager who is just about to advertise a major public tender. Her partner David receives an invitation for him and a guest to attend the AFL Grand Final in the Biz Inc Corporate Box. Biz Inc is likely to submit a tender in response to Nicole's advertisement.
What should Nicole do?
The gift is being extended to Nicole as David's guest. The gift is of significant value. Accepting the gift could compromise Nicole and the tender process. She is prohibited from accepting gifts from contractors. Nicole should politely decline the offer. David can choose not to attend, or to attend alone or with another guest.
5.3.2 alternatives to sponsored travel and accommodation
Public officials may receive offers of sponsored travel and accommodation to attend a conference or to participate in an industry familiarisation tour. Such offers should generally be declined because of the potential for a conflict of interest. However, if attendance at the conference or the industry familiarisation tour is considered to be in the public interest then the employee's organisation could pay for the travel and accommodation instead.
5.3.3 gifts and hospitality that do not have a public benefit
Public sector organisations are encouraged to require their employees and managers to consider whether there is a public benefit to attending private functions in an official capacity. Where there is no clear public benefit, organisations' policies should ordinarily require that an invitation is declined. This is especially the case when their attendance at the function could be perceived as an endorsement of the company or product.
5.3.4 repeat gifts and attempted bribery
Public sector organisations are encouraged to be alert to repeated offers of gifts from a single source. The cumulative value of the gifts over a year may be quite high. In addition, when accepting gifts becomes a habit or even an expectation, public officials are likely to be compromised, and be in breach of the relevant Code of Conduct.
Employees must immediately report to the head of the public sector organisation or their delegate and to Victoria Police any attempt to bribe them or their colleagues with money or other benefits. Public sector gift policies might also explicitly encourage employees to report any colleague who tries to solicit a bribe.
Hospitality or the giving of gifts is often provided to welcome guests, facilitate the development of business relationships, further public sector business outcomes and celebrate achievements.
6.1 gifts and hospitality provided to external guests
Victorian public sector organisations may provide hospitality for the purposes of:
- receiving guests (for example a visiting delegation from another jurisdiction, or hosting a meeting held over lunch time);
- facilitating relationships between third party organisations that are in the interests of the State (for example, an event where community sector organisations can meet business organisations to establish partnerships);
- celebrating the opening of an event, exhibition, or the establishment of a new public body; or
- launching an initiative (for example, the launching of a new community awareness campaign).
When developing organisational policies about whether to provide hospitality under particular circumstances, public sector organisations should ensure that employees consider the likely benefits to the organisation and to the state. Employees should seek to uphold, and where possible, enhance the reputation of the public sector. The following questions may be helpful prompts:
- Will the provision of hospitality foster the conduct of public sector business?
- Will the provision of hospitality help to promote or support the government's policy objectives?
- In providing hospitality, can we be sure that the reputations of both the public sector and the external guests are upheld?
An organisation may provide a gift for the purposes of making guests feel welcome and provide a reminder of the visit.
When developing policies relating to the giving of gifts, public sector organisations should ensure that employees consider the likely benefits to the organisation and state. The gift should normally be symbolic, rather than financial, in value.
6.2 catered functions for staff
For a range of reasons, Victorian public sector organisations may occasionally provide catered activities for employees. These include:
- as part of a larger staff-related event, for example a training course, workshop, planning day seminar or conference; and
- to recognise an organisational or individual staff achievement (for example the successful completion of a project or the retirement of a long-standing member of staff).
Catering an event for staff can be an effective means of celebrating achievements or promoting particular behaviours and is consistent with common business practice. In deciding whether the organisation should pay for all, some or none of the costs associated with the staff event, they should consider:
- the extent to which the event will contribute to organisational objectives by, for example, reinforcing particular values or motivating staff;
- whether there have been multiple recent events that would result in perceptions of excess should further events be funded; and
- the need to balance the positive benefits of public recognition with community expectations in relation to modest and prudent expenditure by public officials.
A fitting farewell
Susan's executive director has had a distinguished career with the organisation and is about to retire. Susan has been asked to arrange a farewell function and has been allocated a small budget from organisational funds to support the celebration. Susan remembers that many long-standing operational staff retired in the previous year and that most were celebrated with a modest morning or afternoon tea, often funded by staff. Susan is concerned that a funded celebration for the departing executive director might offend those who attended the farewells of their operational colleagues.
What should Susan do?
Susan should consult her organisation's policies and discuss her concerns with her manager. Sometimes a funded celebration is appropriate, for example if it allows for promotion of the organisations values or achievements.
Susan might consider holding the event at a time of day likely to attract less need for catering so as to enable the budget to fund a larger event. This would also permit invitations to be extended to greater numbers of staff at all levels within the business.
6.3 providing gifts to staff
An organisation may wish to recognise significant staff achievements and provide token gifts as part of:
- reward and recognition programs or events; and
- celebrating length of service milestones and/or retirements.
A token, such as a card and/or flowers, may also be sent to family members to acknowledge an employees' contribution to the workplace in the event of their death. Doing so can also assist their colleagues with their bereavement.
Celebrations of events such as birthdays, marriages or the birth of children should not be funded using public monies.
Any organisational policy addressing the provision of organisationally funded gifts needs to be applied consistently across the organisation.
6.4 overarching considerations
6.4.1 determining the type of hospitality to be provided
When deciding on the type of hospitality to provide, a balanced judgement should be made between the costs incurred and the potential benefits accrued to the State of Victoria; and whether the proposed hospitality is in line with community expectations.
If an event or meeting is significant enough in duration, and extends over usual meal times, it is generally considered a courtesy to provide modest hospitality such as tea, coffee or a light meal. This type of hospitality usually has a low cost per head, is in line with community expectations, and may be required by employees' employment provisions.
Wherever possible, a sufficient break in proceedings should be encouraged to enable participants to seek their own refreshments if available within the vicinity. Where possible, internal meetings attended by employees should not be scheduled to conflict with meal times.
The following, or similar, questions may be useful in an organisational policy to help staff decide the type of hospitality to be provided.
- What is the main purpose of the event for which hospitality will be provided? Who will participate, eg. the organisation's own employees, other public sector or public service staff, or external business partners? Would failure to provide hospitality be detrimental to business or stakeholder relationships?
- What is known about the prevailing culture and business practices of external participants?
- What is known about previous experiences of, and expectations around hospitality provided by public sector organisations?
- Will the costs of the hospitality provided be proportionate to, and less than, the potential benefits?
- Is it necessary to hold the event or meeting over a meal time or at a time of day when hospitality might be expected?
- Is it unreasonable or impractical to schedule a break in proceedings to enable participants to leave and seek more substantial refreshments of their own volition?
A golden opportunity
Jason is a director at a public sector research institute. A major conference is being hosted nearby and Jason has been told by the conference organisers that a number of high profile patrons that will be present are seeking to donate funds for research. The organisers suggest that Jason presents at the conference to publicise the research institute and that he should arrange a dinner afterwards with some conference participants who may be potential donors.
What should Jason do?
Jason could agree to hosting a dinner for potential donors after the conference providing he consider the likely return on investment and the outcome of previous donor activities. He would be concerned to establish a direct link between the dinner and desired business outcomes.
Jason could select a venue that is keeping with the "public sector brand", authorise a reasonable, but modest budget and monitor the arrangements put in place for the event.
6.4.2 containing costs
An organisational policy on the provision of hospitality may prescribe dollar value limits. Alternatively, to ensure longevity of the policy, an organisation may wish to set a number of parameters that will inherently contain costs such as those suggested in the box below.
Parameters for cost containment
- Where possible, events should be held at a time of day least likely to attract expectations of, or a need for, hospitality.
- Any event should not exceed two hours in duration.
- Public sector venues should be selected in preference to private venues. External venues should only be used if required, and where value for money can be demonstrated. Perceptions are also important; sometimes a modestly priced venue can be perceived as excessive, if for example it promotes an image of luxury.
- Catering should be proportionate to the number of attendees.
- The size of the event and number of attendees should be aligned with intended outcomes.
- Catering should be procured at competitive rates and avoid inclusion of more expensive menu options.
Getting away for the day
Natalie is the unit administrator for her branch and has been asked to organise a workshop for the team. The purpose of the workshop is to develop a strategic plan for next year. The director is keen to hold the workshop at an external venue to take time out from phone calls and emails. Staff have suggested going to the local winery where there is a restaurant for lunch, and including a social activity at the conclusion of the day.
What should Natalie do?
Natalie should consult with the director to obtain an indicative agenda for the workshop. If the agenda permits, Natalie could hold the event during the afternoon, beginning after lunch, to minimise the need for hospitality. She should consider the perception of a public body using a winery as a venue and select a more modest venue close to the office.
For sustenance purposes, Natalie can schedule a short break in the middle of the afternoon and consult her organisational policies for advice on where to purchase catering. A modest afternoon tea is an acceptable expense for a staff workshop. Natalie can advise staff that they are welcome to organise a social, personally-funded team-building occasion following the conclusion of the workshop (and the work day).
Any policy on the provision of gifts and benefits should remind hosts of the requirements of their organisation's procurement policies. The policy should assist hosts to follow any internal approval procedures and financial delegations.
6.4.3 provision of alcohol
The supply of alcohol at any event can lead to increased risks, including the risk of anti-social behaviour and risks to the reputation of both individuals and the organisation alike.
When developing policies for the provision of hospitality, organisations should include advice relating to the provision of alcohol. Organisations must consider their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, the Liquor Control Reform Act 1998 and the relevant Code of Conduct.
It is recommended that decisions relating to the provision of alcohol are made on a case-by-case basis. The following parameters may be useful, but can be adapted by public sector organisations.
parameters for the provision of alcohol
- Any event where alcohol is served should be held at a time which minimises the risk of employees returning to work impaired by alcohol. For example, if normal office hours are worked, the event should be held in the late afternoon or early evening.
- Any event should not exceed two hours in duration.
- No more than two standard drinks per person should be provided.
- The provision of alcohol should be incidental to the overall level of hospitality provided.
The policy may be an opportunity to remind staff of their obligations under the relevant Code of Conduct and that employees must not be impaired by alcohol whilst in the workplace or whilst representing the organisation.
Saying thank you
It is the end of summer and the end of a difficult fire season. Lesley is the human resources manager for a regional catchment management authority and has been asked to arrange a function to thank staff who assisted fire fighting efforts. The event will also be used to announce the winners of the annual achievement awards. As the office does not contain a room large enough to host the event, Lesley asked a local hotel for quotes. The hotel has offered catering packages with an open bar with options to have a 2, 3 or 4 hour event. The quotes are reasonable in price.
What should Lesley do?
Lesley should consult with her manager and discuss that even though the quote is of good value, the open bar may bring a risk of excessive alcohol consumption at the event.
Lesley and her manager may decide to hire a local hall as an alternative and purchase catering with no alcohol included. If they decide to hold the function at the hotel they should limit the consumption of alcohol in advance by not having an open bar, limiting the duration of the event to 2 hours and only providing on average two standard alcoholic drinks for each guest.
Lesley and her manager can offer staff the opportunity to continue their celebration in a new location at the culmination of the event should they wish.
7.1.1 declaring and recording gifts and hospitality received
Public sector organisations' gifts, benefits and hospitality policies determine which gifts are reportable. At a minimum, reportable gifts would include any accepted gifts of more than nominal value. They could also include gift offers of any value, whether they are accepted or not.
Leaving on a job plane:
After an exhausting day of site visits, Chris gladly checks in at Sydney Airport for the 8pm return flight to Melbourne. To her surprise the check in attendant offers to upgrade her economy seat to business class.
What should Chris do?
Chris didn't seek the upgrade nor does she manage the travel contract. The upgrade is worth $230. It is being offered because the economy seats are overbooked but there are still seats in business class. Chris can accept the upgrade but must register it on the gifts register.
Gift declarations and registers are useful tools for declaring and recording reportable gifts. The employee records the details of the offer on a gifts declaration form, including the decision taken to accept or decline the gift. Most policies require that gift declarations are authorised by a manager or organisational delegate. The details are then transferred to a gifts register. Significant gifts are also recorded on the assets register.
Part-time directors may want to record any reportable gifts on the gifts register of each public entity on which they serve. This would mean that each public entity has a complete record of the offers made to their directors. Information on gifts registers is not shared between public entities.
The organisation's audit committee reviews the gifts register or the gifts declarations on file to assure the organisation that there is transparent reporting of accepted gifts, benefits and hospitality, and there is no evidence of attempts to improperly influence the decisions or actions taken by its employees.
Organisations may also choose to report on the existence of their gifts policy and register in their annual report.
7.1.2 recording and reporting the provision of hospitality
Public sector organisations have reporting and recording obligations which help to ensure transparency and accountability. These include record keeping obligations under the Public Records Act 1973, and obligations arising from the Financial Management Act 1994 to ensure that public funds are appropriately authorised and incurred in accordance with business needs, and captured in the financial records. The public also has a right to access documents relating to the provision of hospitality under the Freedom of Information Act 1982.
At a minimum, public sector organisations should ensure that records relating to the provision of hospitality such as approval forms, and records relating to procurement and expenditure are readily accessible. In addition, it is good practice to consider how any business intelligence gained through the provision of hospitality is documented and shared across the organisation.
Front cover text
Take the GIFT Test.
Back cover text.
take the GIFT test
The GIFT test is a good reminder of what to think about when deciding whether to accept or decline a gift, benefit or hospitality. Take the GIFT test and when in doubt ask your manager.
Giver: Who is providing the gift, benefit or hospitality and what is their relationship to me?
Does my role require me to select contractors, award grants, regulate industries or determine government policies? Could the person or organisation benefit from a decision I make?
Influence: Are they seeking to influence my decisions or actions?
Has the gift, benefit or hospitality been offered to me publicly or privately? Is it a courtesy, a token of appreciation or highly valuable? Does its timing coincide with a decision I am about to make?
Favour: Are they seeking a favour in return for the gift, benefit or hospitality?
Has the gift, benefit or hospitality been offered honestly? Has the person or organisation made several offers over the last 12 months? Would accepting it create an obligation to return a favour?
Trust: Would accepting the gift, benefit or hospitality diminish public trust?
How would I feel if the gift, benefit or hospitality became public knowledge? What would my colleagues, family, friends or associates think?
Reference should be made to pages 22 and 24 of the PDF of this product for a copy of the model gift and register.
Front cover text.
Take the HOST Test.
Back cover text.
take the HOST test
The HOST test is a good reminder of what to think about when deciding whether to provide hospitality or gifts to staff or stakeholders. Take the HOST test and when in doubt ask your manager.
Hospitality: To whom is the gift or hospitality being provided?
Will recipients be external business partners, or employees of the host organisation?
Objectives: For what purpose will hospitality be provided?
Is the hospitality being provided to further the conduct of official business? Will it promote and support government policy objectives and priorities? Will it contribute to staff wellbeing and workplace satisfaction?
Spend: Will public funds be spent?
What type of hospitality will be provided? Will it be modest or expensive, and will alcohol be provided? Will the costs incurred be proportionate to and less than the benefits obtained?
Trust: Will public trust be enhanced or diminished?
Could you publicly explain the rationale for providing the gift or hospitality? Will the event be conducted in a manner which upholds the reputation of the public sector? Have records in relation to the gift or hospitality been kept in accordance with reporting and recording procedures?
Crimes Act 1958 (www.legislation.vic.gov.au )
Financial Management Act 1994 (www.legislation.vic.gov.au )
Freedom of Information Act 1982 (www.legislation.vic.gov.au )
Information Privacy Act 2000 (www.legislation.vic.gov.au )
Liquor Control Reform Act 1998 (www.legislation.vic.gov.au )
Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (www.legislation.vic.gov.au )
Public Administration Act 2004 (www.legislation.vic.gov.au )
An Auditor is an Auditor ... Right? (www.iia.org.au )
Code of Conduct for Victorian Public Sector Employees (www.ssa.vic.gov.au )
Code of Conduct for Victorian Public Sector Employees of Special Bodies (www.ssa.vic.gov.au )
Conflict of Interest Policy Framework (www.ssa.vic.gov.au )
Directors Code of Conduct and Guidance Notes (www.ssa.vic.gov.au )
Ethics Framework (www.ssa.vic.gov.au )
Ethics Framework Planner (www.ssa.vic.gov.au )
Good Practice Guide on Governance for Victorian Public Sector Entities (www.ssa.vic.gov.au )
Good Practice Guidelines: Conduct of Commercial Engagements (www.vgpb.vic.gov.au )
Victorian Public Service Executive Employment Handbook (www.ssa.vic.gov.au )
D.3 learning and development
Ethics Resource Kit (www.ssa.vic.gov.au )
Good Governance of Public Sector Entities through e-Learning (www.ssa.vic.gov.au )
Managing Conflict of Interest e-Learning Guide (www.ssa.vic.gov.au )
Victorian Government Procurement Training Resources (www.procurement.vic.gov.au )
[Separate document from the above]
Always refer to the PDF of this product for the definitive or authorised version.
The Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality Policy Framework is a document that sets minimum requirements and accountabilities for the Victorian public sector, defines commonly used terms, and guides the review and development of organisational policies.
The policy framework provides guidance on developing policies in relation to accepting gifts, benefits and hospitality and was revised in April 2012 to include advice on the responsible provision of gifts and hospitality.
The Public Sector Standards Commissioner has a role in promoting high standards of integrity and conduct in the Victorian public sector. He does this partly through issuing codes of conduct and other materials such as the Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality Policy Framework. The codes of conduct detail how staff can demonstrate impartiality when they are offered gifts, benefits or hospitality, and how they can demonstrate accountability when providing hospitality . The Policy Framework builds on the guidance in the codes of conduct.
The Policy Framework applies to every organisation in the Victorian public sector. Those organisations differ markedly in their risk profile, contact with contractors, foreign dignitaries and members of the public, and probability of receiving gifts. The Policy Framework is therefore broad in scope and poses a series of questions for organisations to consider when drafting or reviewing their own policies. Your organisation's policy shows how offers of gifts, benefits and hospitality will be handled in your organisation.
The Policy Framework requires you to review your organisation's current gifts, benefits and hospitality policies against the minimum requirements for individuals, the minimum accountabilities for public sector body heads, and the guide for policy development and review. Your organisation's policy must be consistent with the Policy Framework.
A consistent approach to handling offers of and providing gifts, benefits and hospitality in the Victorian public sector will strengthen public confidence. The minimum requirements and accountabilities:
- balance consistency with flexibility
- clarify what is expected of individuals and public sector body heads
- require all members of an organisation - from employees to chief executives and board directors - to comply
- establish mechanisms for reviewing the acceptance of gifts, benefits and hospitality
- provide advice on recording and reporting the provision of hospitality.
The minimum requirements apply to everyone in an organisation, from front line staff to chief executives and board directors. The minimum accountabilities apply to public sector body heads including departmental Secretaries and heads of administrative offices and public entities.
There are nine minimum requirements:
Requirement 1 - Do not solicit gifts, benefits or hospitality.
Requirement 2 - Refuse all offers of gifts, benefits or hospitality that could reasonably be perceived as undermining the integrity and impartiality of their organisation or themselves.
Requirement 3 - Refuse all offers of gifts, benefits or hospitality from people or organisations about whom they are likely to make decisions involving:
- tender processes
Requirement 4 - Refuse all offers of money or items easily converted to money such as shares.
Requirement 5 - Refuse bribes and report bribery attempts to the head of the public sector organisation or their delegate and to Victoria Police.
Requirement 6 - If unsure about how to respond to an offer of a gift, benefit or hospitality of more than nominal value, seek advice from a manager or other appropriate organisational delegate.
Requirement 7 – Ensure that any gift or hospitality is provided for a business purpose in that it furthers the conduct of official business or other legitimate organisational goals, or promotes and supports government policy objectives and priorities.
Requirement 8 – Ensure that any costs are proportionate to the benefits obtained for the State, and would be considered reasonable in terms of community expectations.
Requirement 9 – Ensure that when hospitality is provided, individuals demonstrate professionalism in their conduct, and uphold their obligation to extend a duty of care to other participants.
There are six minimum accountabilities:
Accountability 1 - Establish and regularly review policies and processes to respond to offers of gifts, benefits and hospitality, including multiple offers from the same source.
Accountability 2 – Establish and regularly review policies and processes to provide guidance on the provision of gifts or hospitality, both internally to staff and externally to business partners and other stakeholders.
Accountability 3 - Promulgate and establish awareness and compliance with gifts, benefits and hospitality policies from all members of the organisation – from front line employees to board directors and chief executives.
Accountability 4 - Reinforce to all members of the organisation that a breach of gifts, benefits and hospitality policies could constitute a breach of binding codes of conduct and result in disciplinary action.
Accountability 5 - Ensure that records are kept of accepted gifts, benefits and hospitality of more than nominal value and that such records are subject to regular scrutiny, including review by the organisation's audit committee.
Accountability 6 – Ensure that hospitality expenditure is recorded and reported in accordance with whole of government financial management, accountability and reporting requirements.
The GIFT and HOST tests provide a concise and easy to use summary of all guiding principles in the policy framework. They are presented in postcard form and remind
employees of what to think about when deciding whether accept or decline a gift, benefit or hospitality, or provide gifts or hospitality.
GIFT stands for:
- Giver - Who is providing the gift, benefit or hospitality and what is their relationship to me?
- Influence - Are they seeking to influence my decisions or actions?
- Favour - Are they seeking a favour in return for the gift, benefit or hospitality?
- Trust - Would accepting the gift, benefit or hospitality diminish public trust?
HOST stands for:
- Hospitality: To whom is the gift or hospitality being provided?
- Objectives: For what purpose will hospitality be provided?
- Spend: Will public funds be spent?
- Trust: Will public trust be enhanced or diminished?
The revised Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality Policy Framework does not require you to establish a separate register of gifts or hospitality provided. However, the framework does require that records relating to the provision of hospitality, such as approval forms and records relating to procurement and expenditure are readily accessible. This will help ensure compliance with legislative requirements including the Public Records Act 1973, the Financial Management Act 1994 and the Freedom of Information Act 1982.
The minimum accountabilities require your organisation to keep a record of accepted gifts, benefits and hospitality of more than nominal value, so that the records may be regularly reviewed. This can be done through either a gifts declaration form or a gifts register. It is customary for employees who have been offered a gift to fill in a gifts declaration form. The details on the form are either transferred to a gifts register or, if no gifts register exists, the forms are stored securely on file.
A gifts declaration or gifts register records the date a gift was offered, information about the donor and recipient, the nature of the gift, its estimated value and how it was handled. At a minimum, organisations record accepted gifts of more than nominal value. However depending on their risk profile, they may also decide to record accepted gifts of any value and/or gifts that are declined.
Nominal value refers to the value of a gift. It is used to determine whether an offer, if accepted, is a reportable gift. Typically a threshold between zero and $150 is set to determine nominal value, depending on the organisation's perceived level of risk and the type of gifts that it considers may be accepted without compromise. Irrespective of dollar value, a gift offer that could create a reasonable perception that an employee could be influenced must be refused.
The audit committee reviews the gifts register or the gifts declarations on file to assure the organisation that there is transparent reporting of accepted gifts, benefits and hospitality, and there is no evidence of attempts to improperly influence the decisions or actions taken by its employees.
An attestation is the signed and dated form public sector body heads complete annually attesting to the operation, review, promulgation and scrutiny of appropriate gifts, benefits and hospitality policies and processes in their organisation and, in the case of departmental Secretaries, in their portfolio.
The attestation formalises transparency and scrutiny processes for the acceptance of gifts, benefits and hospitality.
Departmental Secretaries and heads of special bodies make an attestation to the Public Sector Standards Commissioner. Heads of administrative offices and public entities make an attestation to the relevant departmental Secretary.
[Separate document from the above]
Always refer to the PDF of this product for the definitive or authorised version.
Secretaries of Departments
I [INSERT NAME HERE] ,
Secretary to the Department of [INSERT NAME OF DEPARTMENT HERE]
- my Department has policies and procedures in place that are consistent with the minimum requirements and accountabilities outlined in the Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality Policy Framework issued by the Victorian Public Sector Commissioner;
- staff are informed about these gifts, benefits and hospitality policies and procedures;
- the audit committee reviews the operation of the policies and procedures at least once a year to ensure transparent reporting of accepted gifts, benefits and hospitality; and
- I have sought attestations in 2013-2014 from the heads of all administrative offices and public entities in my Department's portfolio to the operation, review, promulgation and scrutiny of appropriate gifts, benefits and hospitality policies and processes within their organisation.
Send your attestation to the Victorian Public Sector Commissioner:
Post: 3 Treasury Place
For more information read:
- The Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality Policy Framework for the Victorian Public Sector – Revised April 2012 at http://www.vpsc.vic.gov.au.
- The Premier's Circular No. 2012/02 at http://intranet.vic.gov.au/.
Heads of Special Bodies
I, , (name and position title) of
(name of organisation)
- my organisation has policies and procedures in place that are consistent with the minimum requirements and accountabilities outlined in the Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality Policy Framework issued by the Victorian Public Sector Commissioner;
- staff are informed about these gifts, benefits and hospitality policies and procedures; and
- the audit committee reviews the operation of the policies and procedures at least once a year to ensure transparent reporting of accepted gifts, benefits and hospitality.
Send your attestation to the Victorian Public Sector Commission:
Post: 3 Treasury Place
For more information read:
- The Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality Policy Framework for the Victorian Public Sector – Revised April 2012 at http://www.vpsc.vic.gov.au.
- The Premier's Circular No. 2012/02 at http://intranet.vic.gov.au/.