Holiday Reminder – Acceptance of Gifts

December 13, 2010 | Bulletin, Ethics

To: All CUNY Employees and Faculty

From: Frederick P. Schaffer

Re: Holiday Reminder – Acceptance of Gifts

During this holiday season, please be reminded that in keeping with the New York State Commission on Public Integrity’s (NYSCPI) guidelines interpreting the Public Officers Law, CUNY has established a zero tolerance policy regarding gifts of any value, from prohibited sources.

The previous $75.00 limit on gifts was eliminated and the law now only permits gifts of nominal value, which has been defined as ‘regular cup of coffee’. Accordingly, as a CUNY employee you may not solicit or accept gifts, of any value, either directly or indirectly, from any prohibited source, regardless of whether the gift was intended to influence or reward you. For purposes of this memorandum, prohibited sources, such as vendors, students, parents, or publishers,  include not only those persons and business entities with which CUNY or its constituent Colleges are doing business, but also those persons and business entities interested in doing business with CUNY, or its constituent Colleges, or who have a history of doing business with CUNY or any of its constituent Colleges in the recent past.

In addition, gifts from CUNY subordinates to CUNY supervisors (this term includes managers, directors, deans, and all executive staff titles) are strictly prohibited. Such gifts violate § 74 (f) of the Public Officers Law:

An officer or employee of a state agency, member of the legislature or legislative employee should not by his conduct give reasonable basis for the impression that any person can improperly influence him or unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his official duties, or that he is affected by the kinship, rank, position or influence of any party or person.

Such activity may give an appearance of impropriety or give others a reasonable basis for the impression that someone can improperly influence you or that you are affected by kinship, rank, position, influence of person.

Supervisors may give modest gifts to their subordinates as tokens of their appreciation.

CUNY Faculty

All CUNY employees, including faculty at the senior and community colleges, are covered under the New York State Public Officers Law. Any gifts or “tokens” of appreciation received by faculty from a prohibited source (such as students and publishers) may constitute an acceptance of unauthorized gift and a violation of the Public Officers Law. For more information please see the “Ethics Bulletin: Gifts to Faculty” – 2009 memo available at CUNY website under Ethics at: http://www.cuny.edu/about/administration/offices/la/ethics/gifts-to-faculty-9.14.09.pdf

Attached, please see NYSCPI’s specific gift information about what you can and cannot accept.

For additional ethics information, please visit the NYSCPI website at:  http://www.nyintegrity.org/education/lib.html.  If you have any questions regarding this requirement and how it may relate to you, I encourage you to ask before you act and contact your Campus Ethics Officer (please see CUNY Office of General Counsel/Ethics for listing of  College Ethics Officers). If you receive such a gift, please send it back to the person/entity along with the sample letter, attached, and a copy of “A Private Sector Guide to the New York State Ethics Law” publication also available on the New York State Commission on Public Integrity as stated above.

The Commission on Public Integrity


The New York State Ethics Commission issued Advisory Opinion No. 94-16, describing (1) those gifts that may not be offered to or accepted by State officers and employees, and (2) those gifts that are acceptable. The Public Employee Reform Act of 2007 further restricted gifts to those of nominal value.

What You Cannot Do

You are prohibited from soliciting or accepting any gift of more than nominal value if it would constitute a substantial conflict with the proper discharge of your State duties, or when it could be reasonably inferred that the gift was intended to influence you or could reasonably be expected to influence you in the performance of your official duties or was intended as a reward for any official action. If you knowingly and intentionally do so, you are subject to a civil penalty of up to $40,000 plus disgorgement of value of the gift, or being criminally charged with a Class A misdemeanor.

What You Can Do

The following can be accepted:

  • reasonable and customary presents given on special occasions (weddings, retirement) from CUNY colleagues;
  • gifts given by someone based on a family or personal relationship with you;
  • an invitation to attend personal or private events with no connection to the State;
  • meals received when you serve as a participant or speaker in a job-related professional or educational program and meals are available to all participants;
  • modest items of food and refreshment offered other than as part of a meal;
  • unsolicited advertising or promotional material of little intrinsic value;
  • most awards and plaques presented in recognition of your service;
  • rewards or prizes given to competitors in contests or events, including random drawings open to the public;
  • under some circumstances, meals, entertainment or hospitality, but not travel or lodging, from a disqualified source when your participation at an event is for a State agency purpose and related to your official duties–that is when your participation will further agency programs and the event is widely attended.

If you receive the offer of a gift, you should consult with your agency ethics officer or other designated agency official to determine whether it is permissible to accept it.

Applicable Rules

  • A gift may be in many forms, including money, loan, travel, meals, refreshment or entertainment.
  • The value of a gift is the retail cost to purchase it; the value of a ticket entitling you to food, refreshments, entertainment, etc. is the face value of the ticket; if no value is indicated, the value is the actual cost to the giver.
  • The offer of reciprocity, or even actual reciprocity, does not reduce the value of a gift given to you.
  • You may not designate a friend, family member or entity (for example, a charity) to receive a gift that you cannot receive.

The Commission on Public Integrity

In September of 2007, the State Ethics Commission and the Temporary State Commission on Lobbying merged to create the Commission on Public Integrity.

The Commission undertakes investigations of alleged violations of the law within its jurisdiction upon complaint or upon its own initiative. Complaints may be made anonymously.

The Commission has the power to subpoena witnesses and require the production of any relevant books or records.

The Commission encourages individuals, State agencies, private firms and others with questions about the application of the law to particular situations to seek advisory opinions. These opinions provide guidance and direction concerning applications of the law.

More information is available at the Commission’s website at www.nyintegrity.org or by calling the Commission at 518-408-3976. E-mail inquiries may be sent to cpi@nyintegrity.org. The Commission’s offices are located at 540 Broadway, Albany, NY 12207.

The New York State Ethics Commission issued Advisory Opinion No. 94-16, describing (1) those gifts that may not be offered to or accepted by State officers and employees, and (2) those gifts that are acceptable. The Public Employee Reform Act of 2007 further restricted gifts to those of nominal value.