Ethics Law Information

Conflict of Interest Documents

Gifts Public Employees May Not Accept

Public employees are prohibited from soliciting or receiving anything with a value of $50 or more for or because of the public employee’s official position, unless it is authorized by statute or regulation. See § 23(b)(2)(i). A gift is given because of an employee’s official position if it would not have been given had the employee not held the status, authority, or duties associated with the employee’s public position.

  • Example: Members of the planning board, conservation commission, zoning board of appeal, and the board of health are sent gift certificates worth $50 from a construction company for “all their hard work over the last year.”
  • Example: The school district’s maintenance staff offers free landscaping and painting services to the superintendent for his home.

Public employees are also prohibited from accepting anything worth $50 or more for or because of any official act that the public employee has performed or will perform in the future. See § 3.

  • Example: A developer has concluded a meeting in the public employee’s office during which they discussed an upcoming permit application. A week later, the public employee is invited to play golf at the developer’s club which costs $50 or more. The developer offers to pick up the cost. The two individuals do not socialize and have not played golf together until now. The permit application is pending.
  • Example: A business association’s representatives regularly meet at the State House with legislators who specialize in association issues. A few weeks after a significant association bill has been approved by the Legislature, and news reports indicate that the Governor will sign it, association representatives offer the bill’s sponsors tickets to a concert. The face value of each ticket is $50 or more.

Public employees are always prohibited from accepting corrupt gifts, commonly known as bribes, regardless of value. See § 2.

  • Example: A highway inspector may not receive money or anything else, regardless of value, from a vendor in exchange for lenient inspections of the vendor’s work and timely processing of the vendor’s paperwork.

Gifts Public Employees May Accept

The conflict of interest law does not prohibit public employees from accepting certain gifts. Some examples are listed below.

Gifts worth less than $50. If a gift is worth less than $50 and is not a bribe, it may be accepted, but a disclosure may be required. See 930 CMR 5.07.

Gifts worth more than $50. If a gift is worth more than $50 and is not a bribe, it may be accepted under certain circumstances, including the following:

  • Gifts unrelated to official action or position. Generally, a public employee may accept a gift that is unrelated to official action or position. For example, in most cases, a public employee may accept a wedding gift from an old friend. Usually, no disclosure is required, unless the public employee recently took action regarding the giver or is called upon to take action regarding the giver soon after receiving the gift. See 930 CMR 5.06.
  • Retirement gifts. Retirement gifts of substantial value given in anticipation of retirement may be accepted from the public as long as they are appropriate to the occasion and not a reward for a specific official action but instead reflect general goodwill. There are no restrictions on retirement gifts given after a public employee has retired. See 930 CMR 5.08(10).
  • Travel and event expenses. Travel and event expenses, including the cost of admission to a conference or event, which are paid, reimbursed or waived by outside sources, may be accepted by public employees for work-related purposes under certain circumstances. In some situations, disclosures must be filed and/or approved in advance. See 930 CMR 5.08(2)-(6).
  • Unsolicited perishables. Unsolicited perishables such as a fruit basket may be accepted on behalf of a public employee’s agency if shared with all agency employees and/or the public, to the extent possible, thereby making them available for public rather than private use. See930 CMR 5.08(11).
  • Class gifts to teachers. A public school teacher may accept gifts during the school year totaling up to $150 if a gift is identified as being from the class and the names of the givers and amounts given are not identified to the teacher. No disclosure is required. A teacher receiving a class gift may not knowingly accept additional gifts from the parents or students who participated in the class gift. See 930 CMR 5.08(14).