As most of you are probably aware, as state employees we are required to comply with the Illinois State Officials and Employee Ethics Act (Ethics Act). http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs5.asp?ActID=2529&ChapterID=2. However, you may not be aware that Illinois Executive Order 15-09 (January 13, 2015) further restricts gift acceptance beyond the limitations within the Ethics Act.
What is a gift and who are prohibited sources?
Gifts are defined by the Ethics Act to include, among others, tickets to sporting events, hospitality, specially discounted merchandise or services, entertainment, loans, reimbursement of travel expenses, gratuities, food, drink, cash, and certain honoraria for speaking engagements. Prohibited sources are people or businesses that do business or seek to do business with the University. In most instances, but not all, prohibited sources are vendors.
What does the law say?
Per the Ethics Act, University employees and those family members living in their household with them, are restricted from soliciting or accepting gifts of any sort from prohibited sources, unless the gift falls under one of the exceptions provided within the law.
What are the exceptions?
A full listing of exceptions to the gift ban are listed in the Ethics Act. For more information regarding EO 15-09 and the resulting changes see the Spring 2015 Ethics Matters communication at: http://illinois.edu/emailer/newsletter/79296.html. The following list of exceptions has been modified to account for EO 15-09 and the way it has changed how the gift ban exceptions apply to us as university employees.
- If the gift is an opportunity, benefit, or service that is available on the same conditions as the general public (such as a cellular phone discount given to all state employees, with state employees being considered the general population).
- If the employee receives a gift and pays market value for that gift (to a charitable organization of their choice), they may keep the gift.
- If the employee receives a gift as support for a political organization or candidate, or in the form of a contribution that is in compliance with the Election Code.
- If the gift is of Educational Materials and Missions: this is the exception that would apply to vendor-paid travel, site visits, and conference fees. For this exception to apply, it must: 1) have a close connection to your university employment; 2) benefit the university, as opposed to you individually; and 3) be approved in advance of travel through the University Ethics and Compliance Office – https://www.ethics.uillinois.edu/forms/educational_materials_and_missions. Note: no advanced approval needed if the only expense being covered by a prohibited source is 1) a single copy of an academic publication or software in the employee’s area of responsibility or 2) a full or partial waiver of conference registration fees for employees serving as conference speakers, committee members or invitees of the conference host.
- If the gift is given by a relative of the employee.
- If the gift is given by a close friend of the employee, provided the reason for the gift is completely separate from University business. Please note in the case of close friends, the existence of a longstanding relationship must be easily proven.
- If the gift is in the form of food and/or beverage provided as a de minimis meal or refreshment at a business meeting or reception attended by the employee as part of their university responsibilities.
- If the gift is food, refreshments, lodging, transportation or other benefits, resulting from outside employment activities that are completely separate from University business.
- If the gifts are given between state and/or University employees and/or agencies. This would include retirement and holiday gifts, provided appropriate funding sources were utilized for their purchase.
- If the gift was bequested to, inherited by, or transferred at death to any employee.
There are two other exceptions listed within the Ethics Act that were made obsolete for state employees with the signing of Executive Order 15-09 on January 13, 2015.
- Employees can no longer solicit or accept gifts from a prohibitive source, even if the cumulative value is less than $100 per calendar year, with the exception of students whose employment is a direct result of their enrollment (e.g., medical residents, student workers, graduate assistants, teaching assistants).
- Food and beverage under $75 per calendar day can no longer be accepted, with the exception of student employees whose employment is a direct result of their enrollment (e.g., medical residents, student workers, graduate assistants, teaching assistants). Only food or beverage provided as a de minimis meal or refreshment at a business meeting or reception attended by the employee as part of their university responsibilities (see exception #7 above).
What should I do?
When offered a gift from a prohibited source, employees must do one of the following to comply with the law:
- Return the gift to the giver;
- Keep the gift but make a 501(c)(3) charitable contribution equal to the market value of the gift; or
- Donate the gift itself to a 501(c) (3) charitable organization of your choice.
Things to Consider
Keep documentation (cancelled check or copy of tax receipt) to show compliance with the law. If you violate the Ethics Act, you would be subject to internal disciplinary action, if applicable, and may also have to appear before the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission (EEC) for an administrative hearing. The EEC can impose fines of up to $5,000 for violations of the Ethics Act.
Who to Contact with Questions
Feel free to contact me or the University Ethics and Compliance Office with any questions regarding gift acceptance at:
- Phone: 866-758-2146
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: www.ethics.uillinois.edu