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CALGARY, Alberta – You could call it the grinch policy, but savvy employers insist a code governing holiday or other gifts makes good sense and at the very least can help avoid embarrassment. With the holiday season in gear, it’s a policy credit unions will find helpful. After all, even if the head of information technology is honest and wouldn’t be swayed in deciding on a source for the next batch of servers, it simply doesn’t look good if he or she accepts an all-expense paid trip to an expensive resort from a current or potential vendor. Unfortunately, according to Wayne Amundson, head of Association Xpertise, many nonprofits haven’t worried about this issue. “They don’t tend to have lots of policies, and this (a gift policy) is something that would be even less likely to be included,” he says. “They probably wouldn’t be as cognizant of the need for it as a for-profit organization.” It can be a bit of a slippery slope, he continues. Gifts may start out as low-value items from a supplier looking for an opportunity. Once that vendor senses an employee might be influenced, the value can accelerate to items such as hard-to-get sports tickets. The employee starts to lose perspective and objectivity. A lot depends on the position the employee occupies. Buyers who can influence purchases would be of particular concern. Event planners may be offered preview trips that are basically paid vacations. “To not have a policy means these things could be happening, which could put the organization at risk. All these free things come with a cost, because somebody’s paying for it,” Amundson warns. Even something as simple as a prize drawing for members, with staff eligible because they are also members, can raise problems. “Recently this happened at a co-op where there was a drawing for Stanley Cup playoff tickets,” Amundson recalls. “It’s a very big co-op, supermarket size. I noticed a whole raft of employees (at the drawing). I mentioned something to the manager. He basically said staff are members as well. If they wanted to do something for employees, they would have been better off to pull two tickets and have a separate drawing. “This issue can extend to board members as well. I’ve seen various situations where board members are catered to even more than employees on the basis the board will look kindly on various elements where the board rather than staff will be making decisions.” Letting the entire workforce enjoy a gift, such as a generous food basket, can be more appropriate than one person taking the basket home. When a supplier takes an employee to lunch, it may be proper to specify that the credit union will reciprocate at the next lunch so nobody is indebted. Drafting a policy can mean wrestling with gray areas as those writing the policy try to decide how something would be perceived as well as how it might actually affect the actions of staff. The policy should be in the employee handbook, and rules governing board members should be incorporated in the board’s conflict of interest guidelines. “It’s best to be proactive, and it’s very important the rules start from the top. You can’t put in place a policy that restricts a middle manager from accepting a $15 lunch while the CEO enjoys a weekend at a fishing lodge,” Amundson says. -

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