Ethical rules for federal employees governing gift acceptance for events such as conferences also apply to virtual events, the Office of Government Ethics has said in guidance responding to questions it has been receiving as such events have increasingly been held online.
“In short, ethics officials should analyze virtual events under the same framework as in-person events. If a virtual event has monetary value and an exception to or exclusion from the gift rules does not apply, employees should not accept invitations to such events if the invitation is offered by a prohibited source or because of the employee’s official position,” it says.
For example, it said that if event organizers charge a fee to participate, employees may not accept free or discounted participation if the invitation is from a prohibited source—a party with a financial interest in an agency’s actions or the employee’s duties—or offered because of the employee’s official position, unless an exception or exclusion to the gift rules applies.
Among those exceptions is one for widely attended gatherings which is “highly fact-specific” involving how many people are involved, the level of the agency’s interest in the employee’s participation, and more, it said. Other exceptions include if the event has a market value of $20 or less, events of a social nature, award presentation events, and more. Employees should be sure the event “satisfies all requirements” for an exception, it adds.
Events that are free, or that involve “free informational presentations that are live streamed or on-demand and open to the public” generally would not be considered gifts. However, even for them gift-acceptance policies could arise if the event involves items such as books that have monetary value but are presented free to participants.