my company wants me to return a gift from a client, interviewer said I need a better answer, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My company wants me to return part of a gift from a client

I work for a large, well-known organization in the United States. I recently finished up a job with a client who I’ve worked closely with for the last two years. He sent me a very kind hand-written note thanking me for all of my hard work on the project and enclosed four one-day tickets to a major theme park (owned by his parent company) as a token of his thanks. I was surprised and delighted by both the note and the generous gift.

My company has a compliance plan that requires us to disclose gifts received in excess of $250, which the total face value of the tickets does. In order to comply with this policy, I emailed the appropriate people, letting them know that I had been given the tickets. My company’s compliance officer emailed me back telling me that while the gift does not sound unreasonable under the circumstances, she recommends I return two of the tickets to my client in order to stay under the $250 limit.

I understand my company’s compliance plan exists to eliminate the appearance of conflict of interest. But frankly, I’m upset. For two years I worked very hard on this job, regularly going above and beyond, and my client recognized that with a nice gift. (My company, on the other hand, didn’t recognize my work at all.) I could’ve easily not reported receiving the tickets and most likely never have been found out. Instead, I did the right thing, and even though there is no conflict of interest (I am not in a position to affect my company’s business partnership with my client at all) and there is leeway in the compliance plan for the officer to approve the gift (I re-read the plan to make sure), they’re telling me to return the tickets anyway. I am a top performer in my company, regularly receiving excellent performance reviews, but this entire situation is making me feel unappreciated and demoralized. What is your take on the situation?

I totally get why you’re frustrated, but this is part of the deal with compliance rules. It’s reasonable for your company to be more worried about avoiding the appearance of conflict of interest than they are with whether you get to keep all four tickets. We can debate whether or not they’re being too rigid here, but they’re coming from a reasonable place.

That said, you said that the compliance officer “recommended” returning two of the tickets, which sounds like maybe there’s leeway for going back to her and saying, “I hear your concerns. In this case, I think keeping all the tickets could be justified because of (reasons) and I worry about offending the client. It looks like the compliance plan doesn’t strictly prohibit this. Are you okay with me doing that?”

But if she’s not, I really, really wouldn’t take it personally; that’s just how this stuff works. A compliance officer’s decision has pretty much zero to do with what kind of appreciation and recognition your company thinks you deserve. It sounds like you might have other reasons to feel unappreciated by your company, but don’t let this be one; that would be giving it more weight than is warranted.

2. Interviewer told me I need a better answer to what I’ve been doing while I’m unemployed

I had an interview this week. It went very well overall, but at one point the hiring manager asked me how I’ve spent the nine months since earning my masters last spring.

The truth is that I’ve been job hunting without much luck. I’m in a field that’s known as being hot right now, but I am not a conventional candidate for the positions I’ve been applying for. I didn’t want to say directly that no other employers have expressed interest in me, so I said this: “I’ve been job hunting a lot, but I haven’t found the right fit yet. I’ve also been building my technical skills by reading papers on teapot heat transfer and practicing with teapot design tools.” Both are true.

This manager said, “That’s it? You’re going to need to come up with an answer to that.” It seemed like he wanted me to tell him why nobody had hired me yet. Or maybe he thought I might have had a position that I left off my resume after it ended poorly? Are there other good ways to frame extended job searches so that hiring managers don’t assume there’s something wrong with me?

Your interviewer sounds like a bit of a jerk, so I wouldn’t get too thrown off by what he said.

That said, I’d rather you remove the “job hunting a lot” from your answer, since it can make hiring managers worry that there’s a reason no one has hired you (to be clear, this is silly, but it can be human nature). Instead, how about this: “I’ve been taking my time looking around because I want to make sure I find the right fit. Meanwhile, I’ve also been studying teapot heat transfer, which I’m fascinated by because of X, and playing around with teapot design tools like Y and Z.”

3. Dealing with a habitually late low-performer when others come in late too

I am new to HR management and am the first HR manager my company. Time is of the essence with our business and so we emphasize punctuality, despite people’s exempt pay status. We have a habitually late low-performing employee who is under performance review and a few other habitually late (although not as much) employees who are otherwise stellar performers. These top performers also work after hours, and the low-performing one does not. How does one go about handling this without being perceived as showing favoritism/unfair treatment in the workplace?

It’s totally reasonable to treat high performers differently than low performers; in fact, you should differentiate by performance. People performing at a high level have earned different levels of trust, autonomy, assignments, and recognition.

If your low-performing employee asks why other people are allowed to come in late when he’s not, you can say, “We want everyone here on time, but certainly people can earn more leeway when they’re regularly working long hours and performing at a high level.”

4. Company I’m interested in hired someone who plagiarized code

I was recently laid off and am now looking. I was looking at this one company when I realized that they have a guy working there who I’d worked with before at another company. This guy was fired for stripping the GPL (GNU General Public License) header from some code and submitting it as his own. In fact, I was the one who noticed it wasn’t his style and found the code he’d supposedly written with a quick Google search. Otherwise the job looked like it might be a good fit, but if they have a guy there who has in the past blatantly plagiarized code, is that a big enough red flag to not bother applying?

I wouldn’t assume that. It might mean they don’t check references very thoroughly, or it could mean that he convinced them he’d genuinely learned from the experience and changed his ways. If you’re otherwise interested in the job, I’d apply. If you get an interview, you can pay particular attention to how thoughtful and rigorous they are about who’s on their staff, and other signals that you get about how they operate.

5. Grrr

If you had a manager who wanted you to do something against your initial inclination, which of IBM’s elements would work best on you? Why?

Come on now. If you’re going to send me your schoolwork to do for you, at least disguise it better than that.

{ 388 comments… read them below }

  1. Stephanie*

    #5: Wow. Especially with the lag in replying sometimes–what if you didn’t get back before the assignment was due? :)

      1. knitcrazybooknut*

        Alison was sent a question by a student who needs an answer for their homework assignment, not someone who needs an answer for workplace application.

    1. DMented Kitty*

      I was like, “what the heck does ‘IBM’ have to do with this blog?” lol – wow, not even a smidgen of an attempt of an effort… it reminds me of people who copy your homework verbatim and not even try to change it up a bit. :P

  2. FiveByFive*

    #1 Sorry OP, I’m sure that does feel crappy. But to go with Alison’s answer – how well do you know the compliance officer? A quick check-in with her, in person, might help you suss out if her email “recommendation” is just her means of doing CYA in writing, but nobody is going to ever bother following-up if you returned the tickets.

    1. LW1*

      I don’t know the compliance officer at all. She is a lawyer who works in a different branch of my company in a different city who has no idea who I am or what I do. And I think that’s part of the problem for me. Because the compliance plan allows for a compliance officer’s discretion in determining if a gift over $250 can be kept, I feel like if she knew me and what I do it would be obvious that there’s absolutely zero conflict of interest if I kept the tickets. Instead, by recommending I give two back, I totally feel like it’s a CYA by my company.

      1. College Career Counselor*

        CYA is often the default setting for lawyers, who are trained to look at liability and risk potential. If there’s a _chance_ (no matter how small) that you could expose the company, then why would you?

        I agree with the advice to go back to the compliance officer and say that your understanding is that there’s leeway and ask for approval since there is no conflict of interest given your role. But if the answer is “no,” I’d also accept that.

        1. A Bug!*

          Yup, CCC speaks the truth here. The lawyer has no particular reason to exercise discretion, probably because she doesn’t see any risk associated with rejecting gifts but she sees plenty with allowing them.

          LW1, there’s a lot that initially rubs me the wrong way about your mention of the fact that you wouldn’t have been found out if you hadn’t disclosed the gift as part of the reasoning in support of your keeping them. But I think your point was actually that an overly-strict rejection policy discourages disclosure in a general sense, not that you wouldn’t have disclosed if you’d known what the result would be?

          So you might have that discussion with the compliance officer. If disclosing a gift in excess of $250 all but guarantees that the recipient is going to be asked to return all or part of it, then that would tend to create a situation where employees are discouraged from disclosing, and there’s no practical way of catching non-disclosures reliably. For that reason, the company should be very hesitant to reject disclosed gifts unless there’s a fairly strong appearance of impropriety, and should tend to err on the side of keeping gifts that fall below a certain value, both individually and cumulatively. (That is, an employee who receives one gift of a $450 value over a two-year period shouldn’t be subject to the same level of scrutiny as an employee who regularly receives $250+ gifts or who receives a $1,000+ gift.)

      2. Meg*

        As a compliance person, she probably doesn’t care whether if you examined it, you would see that there is no conflict of interest. She is probably considering rules like the UK Bribery Act, which prohibits commercial bribery and which applies to many companies outside of the UK. At my company, we have a much lower gift threshold, and you likely wouldn’t be able to keep even one of the tickets. It may be that your company has a default position of no gifts over $250 unless there is a business explanation for the gift (like a trade show in an expensive city where they take you out to a show after a business dinner).

      3. Pwyll*

        I was a compliance officer in my previous life. Try not to take things personally regarding the officer not knowing you: in large enough organizations the ethics official isn’t supposed to know the requestor to ensure the answer is consistent and impartial. And to be fair, all compliance activities are CYA by definition. ;-)

        That said, most compliance folks I’ve worked with are very clear in the response letter as to what they want you to do. So, if you’re getting a response that “encourages” you to return 2 tickets, but does not say that you are prohibited from accepting them or that you MUST return them, usually that means the officer is telling you that it’d be a lot less of a hassle for everyone if you returned them but that you’re not required to. In fact, perhaps there’s something in the executive office that would make the company accepting this gift appear improper, even if you weren’t aware or a part of it.

        There’s also a cynical aspect of this, in that going above the policy limit in some organizations requires lots of paperwork and sign-off by an executive. It’s possible they’re simply trying to get across to you that it’s more work (for them) for you to accept anything over $250. If that’s the case, I think Alison’s advice is spot on: you can respond with reasons as to why you should be allowed to accept this over the policy limit because you are entirely removed from the contracting decision process, you don’t want yourself or the company to appear ungracious, the tickets are an in-kind gift and didn’t cost them any money (this is generally a losing argument, but may not hurt in combination with the others), you want to ensure you are continuing to foster a positive relationship with the gifting official on behalf of your company for future business etc.

      4. Bwmn*

        I completely understand why this is frustrating – but all I can say is that a lawyer doing CYA is an infinitely less personal way this can go.

        I work for a nonprofit, and when I first started one of our corporate donors offered me one of their main products as a thank you gift. I was told to decline as its value was too high. I later learned that my boss (who told me to decline) had accepted this as a gift the year previously. The during an HR training a year later when they were going over the “bribes” section – I asked what valuation was acceptable for gifts because I knew different staff in our office used different levels at different times. Received pushback from HR on defining that and telling me to just use my judgement, but finally was told the valuation cap was $75. Which as it happens is more than the gift I was told to decline.

        So now instead of having the opportunity to receive the main product/attractive gift from this company, I continue to receive a stream of mugs and other branded stuff because going back to ask for a “better” gift seems beyond ridiculous and petty.

        I get that this is irritating and all of that – but I think that seeing this as personal just isn’t helping. These lines in the sand are created arbitrarily because at the end of the day, companies really do not want their employees using their judgement.

      5. Big10Professor*

        If you do decide to push back a little, call her instead of putting it in an email. She is far less likely to okay it in writing.

      6. Ro*

        Having worked with our own compliance officers I can tell you that whether they know you or not doesn’t matter much. These are lawyers and rule followers employed to protect the company from risks. If anything, take heart in knowing this decision was 100% not personal. And even if they did know you and know how awesome you are they’d still likely be obligated to make the same decision.

    2. Dr. Johnny Fever*

      In my company, if I am given a gift higher than $25, I must disclose or return. UK Bribery Act, US AML regulations, and other financial concerns. Any impression of impropriety cannot be shown.

      Someone sends me a bottle of Santa Margharita Pinot Grigio, I’m good. Send me a magnum of fine aged champagne? Sorry, I have to return it.

  3. Cambridge Comma*

    LW1, I wonder if there’s any milage in the argument that the theme park tickets likely do not have a value of $250 to the company giving them to you, as the theme park is owned by them.

      1. Doriana Gray*

        Nah, that argument won’t fly. I work in a risk management/compliance capacity, and the value of the gift is what it retails for – doesn’t matter if the owners of the park didn’t pay for them. If OP’s company’s compliance manual is written anything like the one where I work, that argument would be a non-starter.

        1. Koko*

          Exactly – the rule exists so that the person receiving the gifts isn’t compromised or tempted to give preferential treatment to the gift-giver. The value of the gift to the recipient is what you would expect to increase that risk, not the price the gift-giver paid for it.

      2. Observer*

        It doesn’t make a difference. The key, for all of these things is either face or sale value. It makes no difference what it cost the company.

      3. BananaPants*

        Nope. The value of the gift in this context is what it would cost for the employee to buy them. It doesn’t matter that they were almost certainly comped tickets.

    1. Adam V*

      I’m pretty sure they probably have to go with the standard of “what would it cost for someone off the street to purchase the item”.

      Plus, devaluing a gift this way is exactly how you get into compliance issues! What’s to stop a company from coming to an employee and saying “by the way, we’ve got this old 2015 Ferrari, it’s *so old*, it’s got 500 *whole* miles on it… we were about to sell it to a local dealership for $249… oh, wow, that’s right below your gift limit, isn’t it? That’s such a strange coincidence! Would you like it? And on a *completely unrelated* note, I feel you were a little harsh on our audit, and wondered if you might be willing to take a second look at a few of those items.”

  4. Three Thousand*

    #5 I’m sure there was more to the actual email than what’s posted here, but I’m amusing myself with the thought that someone just sent this question in with no context whatsoever.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This was it! No context, no anything other than what’s here. And in fact, weirdly, when people send me school assignments, this is how they always come in. (Or maybe those are the only ones I catch and the others are more cleverly disguised — who knows.)

      1. Three Thousand*

        Wow. That’s a whole new level of lazy. I have to guess it’s a numbers game where if you spam as many people as you can, you might actually get an answer from someone.

          1. Bookworm*

            What? You can be assigned Lord of the Rings as homework? I went to the wrong school.

            Actually, I guess that’s not too crazy. But I would have preferred that to Tristram Shandy.

            1. Kelly L.*

              I never got assigned LOTR, but I did get assigned The Hobbit once. (We had some extra time at the end of the semester, and the teacher said we’d read it “for fun.” Teenage me felt betrayed when we had quizzes and tests on it anyway, lol.)

                1. Gandalf the Nude*

                  We also read The Hobbit but in 7th grade. Personally, I think the back half was a bit too dense for 12 year-olds. I might have liked it more if I’d read it a bit later.

                2. Tris Prior*

                  My third grade teacher had no idea what to do with me, as my reading level was, well, way above 3rd grade. So she made me read “The Hobbit” and do homework and take tests on it. That was WAY too young to read it, in my opinion. To this day I cannot stand Tolkien.

                3. Hermione*

                  I read it in 7th grade, and hated it – I wonder if I’d read it later if I’d have liked it more.

                4. Dr*

                  I read it on my own when I was in 4th grade. I know I missed a lot, but it actually got me really into Tolkein and fantasy in general. Probably helped I wasn’t forced to take tests on it.

                5. T3k*

                  I must be in the minority. I read The Hobbit for fun in 9th grade (chose it off a list of allowed books for a reading assignment) and I didn’t like it very much.

                6. Muriel Heslop*

                  Like Tris Prior, my third grade teacher assigned it to me because I was an advanced reader. I hated it. Maybe I would enjoy it now, but I suspect I will never know.

                7. Kyrielle*

                  For me it was The Once and Future King in fourth grade. Hated it. Haven’t tried to read it again to this day.

                  I encountered Tolkein much later and on my own terms and still bounced hard – not that I don’t like his stories in theory, but his prose is very dense and I found it hard reading.

                8. Windchime*

                  Clan of the Cave Bear!?? In 9th grade! I assume the teacher who assigned it to you had never read it before. Wow.

                9. A Cita*

                  I was in the play version of The Hobbit when I was 7. I was one of Thranduil’s elves and a jailor of the dwarves.

                  So, I wasn’t assigned this, but my mother being a writer pushed books on me heavily and I was required to read and discuss Dune….at age 8. Dune. I was in tears. I thought I was so dumb because I just didn’t get it. Though I like the imagery a lot. I’ve never read Dune since. I have PTSD from Dune.

                10. Cath in Canada*

                  @Tris Prior: I read a lot of books way too young, for the same reason – my reading ability far outstripped my chronological and emotional age! AND I grew up in a house stuffed to the seams with all kinds of books, with no parental restrictions on what we could read (both parents were teachers).

                  The Hobbit wasn’t ruined for me – I read it when I was 8 or 9 and loved it, and have read it many times since, taking different things from it at different ages – but Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights were well and truly ruined. Other books, including Dune, 1984, and Brave New World, intrigued and baffled me; I read and enjoyed those ones again when I was older.

                11. One of the Sarahs*

                  Re Clan of the Cave Bear, when I was 14? a friend found one of Julie Burchill’s books (Ambition?) in our school library. Her ouvre at the time was “bonkbuster” (no idea how that translates into American…. Sextravaganza?) and it was handed around pretty much everyone in the year group… Decades later I still have some ridiculous mental images that pop into my head at inappropriate moments…

                12. Dr. Johnny Fever*

                  @One of the Sarahs – that reminds me of 9th grade when my best friend and I checked out Delta of Venus on cassette tape.

                  We thought it was about Greek mythology. Um, it’s not.

                  We listened to half of the first story, shut the tape off, then didn’t take them back. We were afraid to be seen with them. Finally, the library contacted her parents for fines, they found the tapes, and brought them over for my parents to hear.

                  I was no longer allowed to go to the library alone without an adult to approve my selections. That included school research.

                  As soon as I got to college, I bought the book :)

                13. Snork Maiden*

                  I read Clan of the Cave Bear in seventh grade. Which was also when we started sex education classes. It was…an uncomfortable time. But I did learn how to make awesome forts!

                14. EvanMax*

                  I also had a very uncomfortable reading of Clan of the Cave Bear in seventh grade. Why is this a thing that happens?

              1. Elizabeth West*

                We had The Hobbit too, in high school. I read it aloud to a friend who has eye problems. I kind of wish I were born later, though; it would have been much more fun to read it now and do Andy Serkis’s Gollum voice.

                1. Cath in Canada*

                  Heh, a colleague once came into the office kitchen looking haggard and declared “I’ve made a terrible mistake”. When we asked him what it was, he said “I started reading Lord of the Rings to my kids last night, and I used a different voice for every character! Now I have to do the whole trilogy like that!”

              2. irritable vowel*

                Assigning something like Clan of the Cave Bear would be awesome in a school district that forbade sex ed.

              3. DMented Kitty*

                We had to write a book report on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Grand Inquisitor on 6th grade. :/

                My book report was a dozen pages long, but I got the highest grade in class! :D

            2. OfficePrincess*

              We were assigned the whole trilogy in 9th grade, but had to power through it in about a month so we would finish before the movie came out (so no one would be able to cheat with the movie I guess?). It was brutal. I always liked to read on my own and was a fast reader, but I never liked fantasy, and it was just too far outside the realm of what I was used to reading to be able to speed through. And of course the teacher acted like it was some special treat.

              1. Kiki*

                My 11th grade English teacher assigned War and Peace plus a paper due Monday, for our weekend assignment. BUT she let us opt for the abridged version if we wrote an extra five pages. Good times.

                1. Editor*

                  Really? My college professor assigned War and Peace and told us to read 50 pages every night without fail in order to keep up. Assigning that book over a weekend sounds like some kind of weird hazing, as in, somebody made me do this once so I am making my students do it to.

                  When my daughter was in high school, there were a couple of English teachers who assigned long reading projects at the last minute. I never understood that. You teach the same novels in the same sequence from year to year and you can’t assign them in advance? #fail

            3. Amadeo*

              Right? I had to read Danielle Steel. It’s been the one time ever in my schooling where I had a righteous fit at the teacher and so did my mother.

              I ended up still having to read it. Obviously 20 years later I am still mad.

                1. Amadeo*

                  OMG I was ticked! I hate romance, I have always hated romance. I accepted the Robin Cook book with mild discomfiture and read it without much fuss but even as the meek little 15 year old I was I wanted to throw the Steele book back at this teacher. My classmates loved it of course because raunchy NSFW scenes.

                  I worked in the library, I knew we had better sets, like Mice and Men, Lord of the Flies, Prince and the Pauper and so on.

              1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

                I signed up for a community college class on Interpersonal Communications.

                When the textbook list came out, one of the required texts was Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.

                I should have taken that as a clue. The class was miserably bad and I withdrew right before the option was gone. I still have that damned book – I can’t bring myself to take it to Goodwill nor can I bring myself to burn it.

            4. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

              I managed to take no less than 3 classes in college (one in undergrad, 2 for grad school) that had LotR on the reading list. Which was good for me, because I ended up writing my master’s thesis on it.

            5. moss*

              I took a class called “Lewis and Tolkein” in college, which pretty much ruined Narnia and Middle Earth for me because I got to hear how Oh So Catholic both authors were are look at all this Christianity everywhere. I had no idea.

              1. saf*

                Did you go to GW and take Dean Rutledge’s class? I LOVED that class! But we read LotR and the Space Trilogy. So probably not the same.

                Although, oddly, Tolkien, the Englishman, was Catholic. Lewis, the Irishman, was protestant (Church of Ireland).

              2. Cath in Canada*

                I had a great conversation with a friend once about the whole Aslan = Jesus thing, and she said that in her house, Aslan was an awesome Sikh warrior thankyouverymuch, I could ask her Dad if I didn’t believe her.

                I knew about the religious analogy when I read the books, but successfully ignored it.

              3. Panda Bandit*

                I never thought C.S. Lewis was all that religious because of how much partying he put into his books. There always seemed to be a push to be wild and free and that is just the opposite of religion to me.

            6. SophieChotek*

              Hmm I missed out on LOTR and The Hobbit.
              I did have to read The Odyssey, The Illiad, Jane Eyre, The Grapes of Wrath, The Lastof the Mohicans and…for crying out loud, Babbit in sixth/seventh grade.

          2. Bowserkitty*

            This is hilarious!!! I had no idea it existed…and I wish I had gone to a high school that assigned LOTR as required reading.

            1. A Cita*

              For the uninitiated, Galadriel is the good sister of the evil but beautiful Queen Beruthiel, who imprisons the Fellowship of the Ring in the forest of Lothlorien. In the book, Galadriel frees them from her sister’s clutches. It’s a small but memorable part, and Blanchett lobbied hard for it.

              The London Sunday Times actually wrote that. Dying!

          3. auntie_cipation*

            Since I haven’t read LOTR, I have to ask — is the trap because this site gives a wrong synopsis? That’s the only explanation I can think of but sometimes I need things spelled out for me, lol.

            I skimmed the first few paragraphs, but since I don’t know the story I’m unable to tell which parts are accurate or not.

            1. Cassandra*

              The first few paras are fairly accurate, I suspect to offer false reassurance to people who actually read the first few chapters of the book before quitting.

              Then it diverges. Wildly and often hilariously.

              1. Snowing*

                I haven’t read/watched the movie in a while so at first I was confused…it seemed fairly accurate (with some facts/relationships wrong) but i definitely recognized the wild diversion.

      2. Apollo Warbucks*

        “When people send me school assignments, this is how they always come in”

        Does that happen often?

          1. Lily in NYC*

            Somewhat similar – I used to have to answer emails that came into our general ‘” email address on our website (I hated it so much). I usually got one or two emails a week from students trying to get me to do their research for them. It’s weird because we are a quasi-governmental agency and not historians, but the emails were almost always the same: “Hi, I’m writing a paper and need you to send me the history of XXXXXX (something sort of related to what we do) in NYC from 1700 to the present.” At first I was nice about it and would try to point them to better sources, but then I started getting annoyed and would just say something like: “We are not a historical society and we don’t have time to do your research for you”.

            1. Naomi*

              When I was a kid, I remember having a project where part of the assignment was actually to write to the consulate of the country we were studying and ask them for information on whatever specific topic we were writing about. I think the teacher even told us what to write in the letter.

              Now I have to wonder how the consulate felt about it. Maybe it’s cute when it’s an eight-year-old doing it. And this was in a time before Wikipedia.

              1. Another Lawyer*

                I’m sure consulates have elementary school level research (travel guides, super basic fact sheets) at their ready disposal, though!

              2. TootsNYC*

                for Iowa History in 6th grade, we had to compile scrapbooks w/ brochures from tourist attractions around the state, so we had to send off letters asking for them, and enclosing stamps, etc., etc.

                Once I forgot the letter and just sent the return envelope, and the tourist place sent me the brochure anyway, because they got to many of those requests, they knew what was going on.

                It was really kind of stupid, and what a chore for the tourist places! But atl east they didn’t have to do more than stuff the envelope.

              3. bkanon*

                The girls in my Brownie troop each had to call several places for a particular badge and ask a list of questions. By the time I called, it was obvious several of those businesses were getting verrrrrrry weary of answering. I believe the troop leader got a Very Firm Discussion about her inefficiency – thirty little girls all repeating the same questions. We did group questions after that.

              4. Lily in NYC*

                LOL, I wrote to Fonzie for a school project once and I got a “Fonz for President” button that I wore every day for a few months (I was a little kid). The best part is that I became good friends with his stepson in college and Fonzie visited and took us out to dinner and I got to tell him that I still had the button. He was just the nicest guy ever.

                1. Effective Immediately*

                  Yes! The college kids kill me. I work for a somewhat controversial organization, and I get constant requests from them both via email and in person such as, “I have a paper due at 3, can you give me all of your data on [x] RIGHT NOW”

                  No, no I can’t.

              5. Charlotte*

                We had to do the same thing in 7th grade! I was working on a scrapbook (a circle book) and got a bunch of brochures from the Kenyan consulate. It was really neat, and I loved it. Before the internet took off, when we had the CIA factbook and very few other sources at our fingertips compared to today.

            2. Msquared*

              I have a friend who does very specific work at a nonprofit and recently got an email from someone identifying themselves as a doctoral candidate writing their dissertation. This person asked my friend to send them copies of articles relevant to their dissertation research “in a format that I can just open from my email”.

          2. Windchime*

            I don’t know if it happens anymore, but I used to see this all the time in coding forums. People would just shamelessly post their programming assignments. They wouldn’t even attempt to make it a real-world problem.

              1. Wendy Darling*

                …in fact when I have a question about how to do part of an assignment in my Coursera programming course and I google it I inevitably find my exact question re: the exact same assignment on StackExchange. I usually try not to look because that’s sort of cheating.

      3. bookworm*

        Hm – well, I guess the people who rely on bloggers to do their homework for them are probably a self-selecting group.

        The funny thing is, I *could* imagine you answering a question to help with someone’s schoolwork, but only if it was a more forthright approach (ie: :”We’re working on a paper about good teapot factory management. I’ve read X book and Y blog and I was confused by Z principle and wondered if you or your readers have seen it action?”)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes! It’s the “write my answer for me so that I can turn it in as mine” that gets me. And then the “I’m just going to send you the question as if you’re a question-answering robot who I don’t have to talk to like a human” doesn’t help. (Although I don’t mind when people skip the niceties with non-homework questions.)

      4. Megan*

        Next time, give a thoughtful answer and see if you can detective up if your answer is used/plagiarized – and rat ’em out. School is as good a place as any to have this sort of consequence hit ya.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Oh, interesting. I don’t think so, or at least no one has ever said that. But also, like I said above, these questions always come in with no context around them, just a bare email with the assignment question. I went back through my email and here are some recent ones. These are the entireties of the emails:

          question 1.

          Mr. Pinto wants to set up a new manufacturing plant at a suitable location. He has certain constraints, like shortage of funds, the product cannot be manufactured at moist location, requires plentiful availability of resources, and hassle free transportation services . He has four products in mind that he wishes to manufacture. Suggest a suitable plant location and layout type to Mr. Pinto considering his requirements

          In this assignment, you will identify both a problem and an issue that are affecting your life. Examples of situations could include working for an unfair boss, relationship problems, behaviors of coworkers, financial challenges, social situations, political trends, having a fear of being laid off, considering ending an unhappy relationship, experiencing behavior problems with children, or being on academic probation. Refer to Chapter 7 in The Art of Thinking


          Explain to me 4 motivational theories with examples?
          and apply those theories on an organisation of your choice !

          1. Rat Racer*

            Q1! …because apparently, in addition to being an expert in management and organizational development, you’re now an expert in manufacturing operations??

            Do you usually respond to these people and tell them to go away or do you just ignore them? (obviously, option C is to post on blog – which is very entertaining!)

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yeah, I have no idea what to tell Mr. Pinto!

              I either ignore or write back to say I don’t do school assignments for people and that I suspect that were intended to come up with their own answers.

              1. Big10Professor*

                I AM an expert in manufacturing operations, and I don’t know what to tell Mr. Pinto either. What a bizarre question.

              2. Sunshine*

                I have to give them some credit though. I never would have thought about asking a blogger to do my homework.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            I love the question mark at the end of the sentence in Q3. I cannot count how many teachers I saw in my school years use a question mark at the end of a statement. I thought I would escape that once I went to college. Nope. It goes on there, too.

            1. Ife*

              Now I’m picturing an older, balding guy in a sweater vest talking in a valley-girl accent, where every statement sounds like a question?

          3. Tau*

            2. is the one that strikes me as the most absurd. Why on earth would you go to a stranger for an answer to that, and how would you expect it to pass muster?

            (Also, what a weird assignment.)

          4. Effective Immediately*

            I have a project due next week, can I just send it to you with zero context and you’ll take care of it for me? :P

          5. Wendy Darling*

            Today I found a job ad for a temp contract position that was literally copy-pasted from the email the client company sent explaining what they were looking for. Including info about their maximum budget and stuff about which qualifications they’d be willing to skip if it’s not feasible and “Do you have any candidates who would be able to take this on?”

            So I think I know where these people go when they get out of school.

        2. Arjay*

          I took an abnormal psych class online. The professor completely disappeared for 8 weeks of the course. I reported it all the way up to the dean. And finally she showed up again, long enough to give us our final. She gave us a scenario of this woman who was institutionalized and catatonic and whatnot and wanted us to write an essay about what had happened to her. It was about as clear a scenario as Mr. Pinto’s up there, so I just made some crap up. It never occurred to me to send it to Alison for an answer!

      5. V2*

        Actually sounds to me like a joke to me, like they picked the most out-of-context sounding question they could find so it would be obvious to you it was a homework problem. Then again I maybe giving them entirely too much credit.

      6. Annie*

        I’m a long-time (wow, coming up on a decade!) volunteer with an organization that answers questions about astrophysics and astronomy. And yup, exactly this same thing happens all the time. People are completely brazen. Given my experience I’m not at all surprised that this happens to AAM!

    2. LadyCop*

      Considering all the brazen acts that get talked about here, one would think someone would know better. Then again, considering all of the acts seen here…maybe not.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Yeah, but this site generally comes down pretty hard on the anti-brazen-acts side. I think the person first read here but just sent the homework assignment to a bunch of bloggers hoping one would take the bait.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I remember Ann Landers/Dear Abby talking about this. Possibly these are the grand children of those kids?

    3. ginger ale for all*

      I work in an academic library. We have students try to get us to do their homework on a regular basis.

      1. YawningDodo*

        When I was in grad school for information science and took a class on reference services, we were required to volunteer through the Internet Public Library. What killed me was the guy who submitted three or four research requests that were all questions from his computer coding class. He had rephrased a couple of them and broken them up so any one request would like ALMOST legitimate if taken on its own, but little did he know that when we logged into the system we could browse a list of unanswered questions and see all of his requests lined up in a neat little thematic row.

        I took one of them, and did basically the same thing my classmates did: point him to a good source and tell him to stop asking other people to do his homework.

  5. Aswin Kini MK*


    Can somebody enlighten me on the IBM-part? I am not exactly sure what it means? Is IBM’s training program a benchmark for corporates in the US? Because I am sure I never heard of it in India? What is the significance of post no 5 apart from the fact that it was a lazy attempt by the OP to get some information that he/she could have googled easily?

    1. Devil's Avocado*

      It is just a copy and paste out of an online course assignment. The OP was trying to get Alison to answer a homework question for them. This is not a benchmark for corporations in the US – it’s just a specific question from a test from a specific online course.

    2. Terra*

      IBM wishes it was. They do have certification programs that they push as being alternatives to certifications in Microsoft, ISO, etc. however it seems like, in the technology sector at least, they’re sort of considered to be behind the times. Possibly they’re trying to push into general management more because of that?

      1. Bleu*

        See, the skeptic (cynic?) in immediately thinks, because of the brand name, this is not a homework assignment at all but an attempt to sneak this product/application/business onto Alison’s front page to generate evrn this much free publicity and discussion.

        1. Hellanon*

          No, it reads like an assignment/exam question. Elicit their understanding of the facts with the first part, then the “why” part gets them to expand it into an argument. Theoretically, at least. I always tried to do similar things with my reading assignments – “is Author advocating for or against the topic s/he’s discussing?”, which went pretty well until I caught a student plagiarizing his answer from the Write a Review section on the Amazon page for the book.

          Honestly, wouldn’t it take less time to write your own answer? I only wanted 2-3 sentences!

        2. Koko*

          If you click the link it seems to be some sort of system of management principles. It doesn’t seem related to the IBM computer company at all.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          It’s fairly common to discuss real companies in class and have examples from real companies on tests and homework.

          We did McD’s in one class I had over a decade ago. On my homework paper I said that the company needed to become more health conscious, add salads and so on. I got a C on that paper, the prof said I was out of touch and did not understand the fast food market. Like the rest of the students I learned to write the answer HE wanted, not necessarily what I believed to be true.

          1. Rater Z*

            When I started working for a trucking company in the south, I had to take an hour a week for a month or so on the history and culture of the company. In the test at the end of the class, one of the questions wanted us to discuss the mission statement of the company. So, I discussed it. Turned out the correct answer was to repeat the statement word for word. I lost the job about six months later, but probably not for that test. (I got sacked over an ethical problem where I wouldn’t apply a tariff rule in an improper way in which it would cost the shipper an extra thousand dollars a shipment.)

    3. Xarcady*

      I googled the question and it is all over the internet, in pretty much the same form, to the point where a) I’m wondering if the teacher copied it from somewhere, and b) I am amazed that an instructor in this day and age doesn’t think of googling questions to make sure students can’t just copy an answer off the internet.

      And also puzzled that the student didn’t google it and get a quick and easy answer, but went to the trouble of emailing Alison.

  6. Apollo Warbucks*

    #1 In the UK compliance is a legal matter, covered by the bribery act which applies a two stage test

    ‘intent to induce improper conduct’ is a test of whether or not gifts/hospitality can be interpreted as a bribe. Offers of gifts/hospitality must be made in ‘good faith’ and are not considered legitimate if the intention behind the offer is to advantage the individual making the offer.

    Further to that the ‘proportionality’ of any gifts/hospitality should be considered, they are less likely to be construed as a bribe where they are proportionate to the nature, scale and complexity of an organisation’s business activities.

    I think the compliance officer is wrong, the gift can’t be more than $500 in value so over two years that’s a reward of less than $5 a week. It would seem to me that accepting the tickets shouldn’t be a problem.

    I would go back to the compliance officer and tell them the compliance rules are meant to prevent bribery and corruption not stop employees accepting a reasonable and proportionate reward for a job well done.

    1. bookworm*

      I think the compliance officer is wrong, the gift can’t be more than $500 in value so over two years that’s a reward of less than $5 a week. It would seem to me that accepting the tickets shouldn’t be a problem.

      That’s interesting. I know so little about compliance that the thought of the cost of the gift relative to the amount of work that went into it never occurred to me. But now that I think about it, it seems obvious. At first I was thinking the company’s policy didn’t feel reasonable, but then the value was significant so I couldn’t put my finger on why…but I guess it must be the proportionally aspect. A $500 bribe might sway me for something that would take a few hours, but it wouldn’t convince me to do much for 2 years. I wonder if/how that factors into US regulations.

      (Unless you’re say, bribing me to munch popcorn and watch Broadchurch. Does anyone want to bribe me to do that?)

      1. Graciosa*

        Proportionate is not meant to be proportionate to the value of the business! If it did, that would mean that defense contractors bidding on multi-billion (or trillion!) dollar programs could hand out some really hefty bribes, which pretty much defeats the point of the statute.

        I think it’s also important that the business did *not* spend $5 a week (buying her a snack at Starbucks, for example?) but provided something generous enough that the LW is feeling aggrieved at having to give it up.

        For me, that’s almost the test. If the gift is so generous that you hate the thought of returning it, you probably need to.

        If the concern was really around offending the client by returning the gift, the tickets could be kept by the company but not entirely by the LW. The two that exceed the company’s compliance threshold could be given to someone else in the company or team (either reward or random drawing for which LW is not eligible).

        1. Meg Murry*

          Yes – this is what I was going to suggest. Is the policy written such that an employee can’t accept more than a $250 gift from a supplier, or that the company can’t accept more than a $250 gift from the supplier? If the rule is $250 per employee – does OP have any other co-workers that helped on this project, and could she give 2 tickets to that person (or 1 each to 2 or 3 other employees)? Or the other 2 tickets could go into some kind of division wide raffle, etc.

          I’m guessing OP wants to keep all 4 tickets because she has a group of 4 people she wants to take (her family, her besties, however) and it would be annoying to be only able to use 2 of the tickets and then have to pay another $200 to take all 4 people for her “free” gift. But that is rule, unfortunately, and it’s not worth getting in trouble at work over a loss of less than $500 tickets that she never had a week ago.

          I think OP is getting caught in the letter of the policy (you told me to report it, so I reported it! Now you say I have to give it back?!?) and not the spirit of the policy, which is not to accept such a generous gift.

        2. Bookworm*

          Well, no, I’m not suggesting that anyone give away gifts proprotional to the value of the company – sorry, I’m not sure why that’s what came across.

          I’m more thinking about the time vs. money. For example, could OP have accepted 2 tickets last year and then 2 tickets again this year? It amounts to the same thing as the one-time gift.

          I’m just curious to think about how things like this small gifts are monitored over time for long term projects, and how people make a decision about when the clock “resets” so to speak. Obviously a line has to be drawn somewhere.

    2. MK*

      As far as I can tell from the letter, this is not a legal matter, but one of company policy. Whatever the legal standard for compliance, corruption or proportionality, this company has a rule that their employees may freely accept gifts up to 250$ and that anything over that has to be reported to HR. What I am not clear on is what happens next; I find it odd that the HR person offered a suggestion, I would assume that it’s their job to direct the employee on what they should do. Maybe they find it ambiguous and gave this advice as a sort of compromise. Frankly, I don’t entirely blame them: I think four tickets for a theme park shouldn’t be a big deal, but a gift of over 250$ does come across as rather excessive. Maybe they are being over-cautious, but I don’t agree that they are all that unreasonable.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        +1. I have no idea what the law is, but different agencies I’ve worked at have had quite different views on what and how much it’s possible to accept as a gift from a vendor or client.

      2. Apollo Warbucks*

        The company policy could be in place to help with legal compliance, and I only mentioned it to provide some background to my understanding of accepting gifts in a business context.

        The policy says gifts over $250 must be declared, which they were it doesn’t mean the OP can not keep the gift after declaring it. A gift of up to $500 is that much in the context of a two year business relationship.

        1. Doriana Gray*

          The policy says gifts over $250 must be declared, which they were it doesn’t mean the OP can not keep the gift after declaring it.

          At my company, you certainly could not keep the gift after declaring it. We have a compliance reporting policy of $50 (financial institution here). I had a manager who, some years ago, worked with a law firm for a couple of years on training and development matters. They wanted to thank her for her hard work (and I’m sure wanted to induce her into making them a priority) so, knowing she was pregnant, sent her over $1,000 in gift cards to a popular baby retail store.

          She reported the gift to our corporate office as we’re told to do, and she had to send it back. The firm then asked for her home address so they could send the gift cards there, and she never worked with that firm again.

          We have company compliance guidelines for a reason. I’m not sure what industry the OP’s in, but in every industry I’ve been in that have had these procedures (e.g. law, financial institutions), when it’s suggested that you return a gift from a client or vendor, you return it. It may seem like no big deal to accept, but these things can turn into bigger issues down the road so it’s best to avoid even the appearance of impropriety at all times.

          1. Kate R. Pillar*

            Flabbergasting that a law firm – of all places –
            1) would not be aware of potential compliance issues with a gift like that
            2) would, after being enlightened on that point, try to “circumvent” the rules like that.

          2. Apollo Warbucks*

            $1,000 is a large cash gift and I can see that it could not be accepted, in the OP’s case it’s hospitality that is being provided which is different in nature to a cash gift.

            At my last company (a regulated financial services firm) the policy stated gifts over a certain value could only be accepted with the approval of the lead partner. As I said below “Compliance is subjective and isn’t something that can be achieved by adhering to an arbitrary set of rules.” There is room for critical thinking around these issues and more importantly whoever is ultimately responsible for the decision needs to tell the OP clearly what they should do with the tickets.

            1. Doriana Gray*

              But as someone else pointed out above, those tickets could be converted to cash. If the client had instead taken OP and three of her friends and/or family members to their theme park to say thanks for her hard work, that would be a totally different situation – and one my company wouldn’t bat an eyelash at. Anything that can be converted to cash (or, in the case of the gift cards, is essentially cash) is a problem.

              There is room for critical thinking around these issues and more importantly whoever is ultimately responsible for the decision needs to tell the OP clearly what they should do with the tickets.

              I agree with you. The fact that OP wrote in and asked if it was fair that her company is making her return two of the tickets makes me think that even if she used the word “recommended” in her letter, it really wasn’t a suggestion, especially since OP said, “they’re telling me to return the tickets anyway.” The compliance officer should have been clear and firm in her response – “Yes, two of those tickets need to go back in order for you to be under the $250 threshold and this is why.” Since she wasn’t, I’d absolutely recommend the OP follow Alison’s script when asking whether there’s any room for negotiation. But if there’s not, OP should not let this be her hill, you know? Return the two tickets to the client with a nice note explaining why she couldn’t keep the whole gift, and maybe the client can offer to take her out for a meal or something later to make up for it.

              1. Meg*

                Right, at my employer, OP1 and her three friends/children could be hosted by the client as long as they were accompanied for at least part of the day. If OP1 wants to keep the tickets, OP1 might want to consider asking whether this is possible and if so, ask compliance whether it would be permissible.

              2. mskyle*

                Ah, but could they be converted to more than $250 worth of cash? The *face value* is over $250 (let’s say they’re $100 each, since the OP is allowed to keep two) but realistically there are often discounts and sales on theme park tickets and the face value is not necessarily related to the resale value.

                1. Doriana Gray*

                  Compliance matters generally don’t parse the issue when it comes to discounts and sales – what is the general retail value of the item without discounts/sales. That’s the value of the gift. If it’s over the threshold, that’s it.

            2. Observer*

              There certainly is no room for telling the compliance officer that they are wrong.

              Possibly Alison’s wording might work, but that’s as far as I would risk it.

          3. Bailey Quarters*

            The other concern is that this it may fly counter to international anticorruption laws. If your business does any business internationally, that could cause problem with compliance.

            1. Doriana Gray*

              This is my current company’s biggest concern. We do a ton of business internationally, have offices in the UK and Singapore, and we have to go through yearly anti-corruption training.

            2. BenAdminGeek*

              Yup, at OldJob we even had rules about who we could take out to dinner (eg. the client couldn’t bring a spouse along) because that can cause issues- each dinner isn’t too costly, but you’re taking the client and 25 family members out, so it’s still a big spend.

          4. Erin*

            Although it was your company policy (and prerogative) to not keep the gift after declaring, if I’m reading the OP’s letter right, that isn’t the case with her company. They have to declare it, then it’s up to the compliance officer’s discretion from there.

            I also work at a financial institute and have found it has much stricter rules regarding things like this because of FINRA and so forth. So I’m not surprised at all your company has tighter guidelines for this where there’s no room for leeway. As you said, we don’t know the OP’s industry, so we can’t really take that into context either way.

            For what it’s worth I think that law firm story is really sketchy and inappropriate.

        2. LawBee*

          the policy as reported to us by the OP. Crucial distinction. I’m not saying or intending to imply that the OP is misrepresenting the policy, just that there’s a lot of commenting and interpretation of a policy that none of us has actually read.

            1. Erin*

              Yeah, I basically read even from her original statement that she’s reviewed the policy, which is clearly in writing.

              Side note: I think I’ve commented on this one letter more than any other ever. Apparently I feel strongly about it, haha. I will pull back now so as not to pile on with comments. Good luck, OP. :)

      3. Graciosa*

        We deal with lots of companies that have $25 limits. This is enough to let you take them to lunch or a very modest dinner in a not-too-expensive location, but that’s about it.

        Government has some rules that are even more amusing. There are different rules depending upon whether the food requires a utensil to eat (as opposed to passing hors d’oeuvres with cocktails).

        The result is that you can feed someone the equivalent of a meal as long as it is done in bite sized pieces without sitting down.

        1. AnotherFed*

          But you must put out the cup with $1 in it so that we can throw in quarters for the coffee/soda.

          The ethics rules do not make sense, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to put them on one holiday-theme printout and wondering why we’re confused!

        2. One of the Sarahs*

          As a Civil Servant, I really appreciated one of the Local Authorities I worked with who gave me a mug and a very cheap box of chocolates to say thank you, because they knew I’d have compliance issues with pretty much everything else.

      4. Amadeo*

        The state I work for has a pretty similar ethics policy (law?) about accepting gifts in your position with the state. I don’t remember what the limit is, but you certainly can’t accept them from anyone bidding on providing services to the university, especially if you are in a position to influence or make that decision.

        1. BenAdminGeek*

          OldJob basically counseled us never to give anything to a government employee in case it looked bad :)

    3. neverjaunty*

      I’m pretty sure every bribe-taker ever characterizes the bribes they got as “a reasonable and proportionate reward for a job well done”. And over and over, people who take bribes argue that it’s ridiculous to suggest they possibly could have been swayed by goodies. Going to the compliance officer and telling her she doesn’t understand the law or company policy is not a winning argument.

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        To be a bribe there has to be a quid pro quo, this situation comes no where near being a bribe and to suggest otherwise is foolish.

        Who is suggesting going to the compliance officer and telling her she doesn’t understand the law or company policy?

        The policy will allow for discretion and I am suggesting the OP ask for that to be used so they can keep the gift they were given

        1. neverjaunty*

          Well, you were, based on your parsing of UK law despite the LW stating he is in the US. Maybe go back and read your comment again?

          1. Apollo Warbucks*

            Do you seriously think I intended to imply UK law applied in the US? That’s just bizzar.

            All im doing is providing my thoughts on the issue based on my personal experience there’s a blend of legal and policy issues to consider. The OP could take the points I raise to start a discussion with the compliance officer framing the gift in the manner I outlined might well encourage the company to allow the OP to keep the gift.

    4. Observer*

      I don’t know anything about the UK and this type of compliance, but I can tell you that in the US you would be completely wrong.

      For one thing, there are all sorts of compliance issues – federal, state, and even commercial (which those companies institute to protect their contracts and / or eligibility with government entities).

      For another, every single set of compliance regulation looks at the size of the gift without reference to the length of the relationship or project the gift is related to. There are many jurisdictions where $50 (or even less) once a year presents a problem, even $50 is less that $1 per week.

      The last compliance training I took mentioned that you can buy someone a coffee, and possibly lunch during a project, if you stick to something basic like pizza or a sandwich, but don’t go for a nice dinner.

      If the company were to contravene any of these rules, the consequences could have a severe impact on the company. Just NOT worth it.

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        I had made the assumption there was the possibility of some discretion being used in this case as the OP wasn’t told to give back the tickets straight away and LW1 comment at 8:37 am confirming that the policy allows for discretion.

        1. Observer*

          The fact that discretion might be available does not mean that it would be appropriate for the compliance officer to use it in this manner in this case. And, the issues that you bring up – eg the fact that it’s only $5 per week, etc. are just not issues that any good compliance officer is going to look at.

          1. Apollo Warbucks*

            It might not be appropriate for the OP to keep the gift, but having a discussion might lead to it being used.

            My point about it being $5 a week is mean to show how trivial the gift is the context and value of the gift are both important in determining if it’s ok to be kept by the OP.

            At the very least he OP should get a clear answer from the compliance officer about what to do, and if that means send the tickets back then they should do that.

            1. LawBee*

              But as someone upthread (I think) pointed out, it’s not $5 a week. It’s a one-time gift valued in excess of company policy. Period. The policy presumably doesn’t state the the value of the gift should be balanced against the context or anything else. This isn’t a gray-area policy. Were I the compliance officer and someone came to me with this particular argument, my response would be that yes, it sucks to have to give up something, but the policy exists for a reason and it’s not to screw over employees – it’s to protect the business.

              1. Apollo Warbucks*

                I agree with you that the rules exist to protect the business and they can tell the OP to give the tickets back, but the compliance officer said the gift wasn’t inappropriate. It’s also been said the policy states to disclose gifts that’s not the same as giving them back, and why does the policy allow for dissection, surly that implies in some situations it might be ok for the OP keep the gift.

                1. LawBee*

                  There apparently isn’t anything notable about this gift that would bring it under an exception to the rule. That’s where the discretion comes in. Let’s say that the dollar limit was $300, and you received a gift valued at $302 – that might be an exception to the rule. Or it might not. Either way, it’s the compliance department’s decision.

                  What is the OP’s ultimate goal, keeping two tickets or having her company recognize her work? What actions in this instance will further that goal? Those are the questions she should be asking. If she’s more interested in keeping the tickets, then sure, talk to the compliance officer. But I wouldn’t use the $5/week argument because it’s not relevant, that’s not how the policy is written, and that argument – if granted – effectively nullifies the entire policy.

                  If her goal is to get her company to appreciate her hard work, I’m going to say that this isn’t the way to do that.

                  Honestly, the example that comes to mind is a mother telling her child “I suggest you get that room clean” and the child not doing it because “it was just a suggestion, Mom.” That’s not going to fly. (Note, I am not calling the OP a child, or you – but it’s the same reasoning.)

                2. Apollo Warbucks*

                  I’m finding it hard not to see this as an overly ridged interpretation of the policy. There’s is nothing wrong with the gift so in my view the OP should be allowed to keep it and it should only be turned down if and when it’s likly to cause a conflict of interest.

                  Maybe it’s a cultural thing, I’ve only worked in two offices with this sort of policy and they both seem very relaxed in comparison to most of the comments on here.

                  If the gift can’t be kept the compliance officer needs to be more direct, and use language like “you must return two tickets” or “company policy doesn’t allow you to accept all four tickets” There’s no room for a soft or mixed message.

    5. Stranger than fiction*

      That’s really interesting. I also wonder if it makes a difference if the business they were doing with client is finished, like this project was a one-time thing, or if there’s going to be ongoing business with this client. If this one project was it, I would think the company has more leeway in allowing her to keep it.

  7. RG*

    Lol at #5: come in dude, is probably less effort to use Google than to email Alison and wait for a response.

    1. Newsie*

      Legitimately, if Alison can Google the link, so can that person. Alison’s link is the second result. Sigh…

    2. blackcat*

      Maybe the students thought that the CourseHero answer would immediately trip the plagiarism software while a shiny new answer from Alison wouldn’t?

      To which I say, maybe. It depends on the length of time between when Alison would post an answer and the student turned it in. If it was more than a few days (eg, long enough for Google to index the new post), then this method would *still* trip the plagiarism software.

  8. Brooke*

    Re: the $250 gift limit – I work for a defense contractor and our gift limit is $25 and BOY is that enforced. So be glad you’re entitled to something beyond some cookies in a tin ;)

    1. Christy*

      Hah, for real. I’m a fed and I think our limit is $10. In practice it means you can take a pen and a coffee, but really you shouldn’t take the pen, and you should only take the coffee in their building.

      1. hermit crab*

        Haha yeah, we’re allowed to accept small gifts a couple times a year, but when our federal clients visit our office we can offer them, like, one teabag each.

        There’s also a specific line in our contracts about not performing “personal services” (for example, we can’t go get a client’s drycleaning or something), which is totally reasonable but we joke around about it a lot. “Oh, dear, I’m not sure I can pick up those pens you dropped on the floor. Might be PERSONAL SERVICES!”

      2. Arjay*

        Going in reverse a little, we could bring food to a client (doughnuts/bagels/etc.) and expense it, but if we ate a doughnut out of the two dozen, the whole amount had to come out of our per diem instead.

      3. Cath in Canada*

        I helped to organise a conference a couple of years ago, and I had to figure out the value per person of the vendor-sponsored coffee and cake break and then work out a way for the US federal employees in attendance to pay for their own. So much hassle! I tried to just send them to Starbucks instead, but the break wasn’t long enough.

    2. MechE31*

      I worked at a company who had representatives from the government supervising our work. They couldn’t drink a cup of coffee from our coffee pot without “paying” for it. It was all honor system based and actually created some issues figuring out what to do with the money they gave us.

        1. AnotherFed*

          No, because anyone smart would give away federal toilet paper just to get rid of it. It’s not like it’s absorbent.

    3. Not Karen*

      Yeah; technically at OldJob we weren’t even allowed to take the free t-shirts from a conference because they were paid for by the company who ran the conference.

      1. BenAdminGeek*

        I had a client that brought their own notebooks to our meetings because they weren’t allowed to accept anything, and even using our notebooks counted as a gift. On the plus side, I ended up with a bunch of cool notebooks that the sales team purchased for them and couldn’t use!

    4. Stranger than fiction*

      A couple of jobs ago, I believe they had a $30 limit, but they way they got around it was to have the Sales dept. share whatever was sent to an individual employee. I remember some champagne was sent once, and they busted it out and we all had a small glass of champagne with our usual friday donuts. Beyond that, I don’t really have any experience with this.

  9. Aswin Kini MK*

    @Devil’s Avocado:
    Thanks for the clarification.

    For a moment, I thought I was not aware of an industry trend.

  10. Silver*

    #1 I worked for a government funded organisation for many years and any gift worth more than $50 had to be reported. If the value was too high we had to turn it over to the organisation or return to the supplier. There was a register of gifts kept by the Head of the Divisions office that could be turned over to FOI or senate inquiries if requested. We always made suppliers aware of these restrictions when gifting came up (around xmas or after a deal was done).

    I now work in a commercial org and we have rules against offering inducements to government employees that require several levels of approval before we can even take a govt funded client to lunch. This is pretty normal and there may even be anti-corruption laws in play.

    1. Random Lurker*

      I worked for a public Corp where we couldn’t even accept a thing over $25. It was a new policy enacted shortly before I started. I saw first hand the aftermath of trying to clean up suppliers and vendors who were not the best fit, but were chosen based on something as minor as a nice meal out or tickets to a sporting event. It was a mess. Trust me, it really changed my perspective on compliance.

      It is because of that experience that I’m a little annoyed that LW1 seems to expect she should keep this, even though there is a policy saying no. Why is “doing the right thing” a reason for an exception? You’re still getting 2 free tickets worth $250, which is pretty awesome – not everyone gets a reward for their hardwork. I think the acknowledgement would be far more valuable to me than a trip to a theme park.

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        Compliance is subjective and isn’t something that can be achieved by adhering to an arbitrary set of rules.

        The policy doesn’t say no to keeping the gift, it says gifts over $250 must be disclosed, and the OP has done the right thing in declaring the tickets. The purpose of reporting gifts is for transparency and so that management can take a view of the propriety of the gift or hospitality, it is not a blanket ban on accepting them.

        1. LBK*

          I don’t think we have the full text of the policy here, so I don’t know if you can say with absolute certainty that the disclosure element isn’t followed up by a ban on taking gifts over that amount. In fact, I think it probably is, as implied by the OP saying “there is leeway in the compliance plan for the officer to approve the gift.” To me, that suggests not being able to keep the gift is the standard and allowing her to keep it would be an exception. As someone who probably has as much info about the situation as the compliance officer does, I’m not convinced by the OP’s argument, which is basically “It’s not a conflict of interest because I said it isn’t.”

          1. Solidus Pilcrow*

            I was thinking along the same lines, LBK. We don’t have the full policy here to evaluate.

            I’m also thinking that the compliance officer was probably doing the OP a favor by letting her keep part of the gift. Most gifting policies I’ve come across are all or nothing. If the gift was for $500, then the entire thing has to go back, not give back half to come back down under the limit.

            1. Apollo Warbucks*

              but in this case gift can easily and readily be broken down into units and part of the gift could be kept without breaching the policy so taking the whole thing would be overly harsh.

              1. Solidus Pilcrow*

                In a previous workplace (financial sector), the fact that the gift could be broken down wouldn’t matter. If a client gave me 5, $100 gift cards and the limit was $250, they wouldn’t tell me to give back 3 and keep the remaining 2, they would tell me to give back the entire gift.

                Granted, this is one example of policy. Just pointing out that compared to other places, she’s lucky to be able to keep half the gift instead of giving the whole thing back.

                Yes, it stings to have to give back half the tickets. However, 2 tickets is better than 0 tickets.

          2. Apollo Warbucks*

            You are right we don’t have the full text of the policy but I reasoned that the policy allowed for discretion as the compliance officer only recommend returning the gift and they said they didn’t think the gift was unreasonable in the circumstances. This is in line with my personal experience of gifting and hospitality policies in my current and previous jobs

            Further to that the OP posted the following comment:

            February 19, 2016 at 8:37 am
            I don’t know the compliance officer at all. She is a lawyer who works in a different branch of my company in a different city who has no idea who I am or what I do. And I think that’s part of the problem for me. Because the compliance plan allows for a compliance officer’s discretion in determining if a gift over $250 can be kept, I feel like if she knew me and what I do it would be obvious that there’s absolutely zero conflict of interest if I kept the tickets. Instead, by recommending I give two back, I totally feel like it’s a CYA by my company.

            and finally the OP isn’t making the argument, “It’s not a conflict of interest because I said it isn’t.”

            The OP is saying that for the work done and in the context of the relationship the gift is not inappropriate or disproportionate and wasn’t given with the intention to unduly influence or manipulate her into doing something for the company who gave the tickets to her.

            1. LBK*

              Instead, by recommending I give two back, I totally feel like it’s a CYA by my company.

              But that’s the whole point – at least from my impression, the purpose of these policies is to avoid the mere appearance of impropriety, whether impropriety actually exists or not. Doing it to CYA sounds like a perfectly valid reason to me.

              Not to derail onto a political debate here, but Hillary’s speaking fees seem like a relevant example. You don’t even have to prove that she did anything nefarious or corrupt as a result of receiving them – simply stating that she got paid by a bank is enough for people to raise the question and draw negative inferences from it.

              Likewise, even if the OP can conclusively prove that her decision-making wasn’t influenced by receiving this gift, it can still look bad, especially if there’s ever a decision down the line where she does have to choose between this client and another. She’ll never be able to make a decision related to this client again without the question of whether her judgment is impacted by the gift.

        2. Graciosa*

          I think the leeway may be intended to allow for more expensive gifts in very different situations from the LW’s.

          For example, upon signing an important new deal, the CEO’s might exchange some useless crystal or silver things (etched or engraved) at the signing ceremony that cost much more that $250. These will be displayed in the respective company’s lobbies or executive waiting area or something, and are generally equivalent (so each company could have paid for it’s own and it’s really the gesture and not the cost).

          I totally understand that this kind of a situation calls for a waiver.

          The tickets in this case don’t seem to me to meet that standard (but not my call, it’s the compliance officer’s).

          Although if I were the compliance officer, the LW’s pleas to keep the tickets would make me more certain that they need to be returned because clearly the gift was important to the LW and having an effect.

      2. Jimbo*

        Those rules are in place for a reason. OP #1 might not be a decision maker at the company now but she could be someday. We use a horrible consulting company at my current job because they buttered up a former supervisor who is now the director. The company is awful and overpriced yet we bring them in for every new project. We don’t have compliance rules at this job so there is no limit to what they can give him – fancy dinners, expensive nights out drinking (and knowing him, I would assume strip clubs), prime seats at NFL games, etc.

        You see enough of that and it makes you realize why companies have such strict compliance rules. It’s tempting to say “well, that example doesn’t apply to me” but they didn’t apply to my director years ago when it started either.

        1. RobM*

          Looking at it the other way, if you’re in a similar position to that director and you are pushing business the way of one particular company because you honestly believe them to be the best choice (and I’m not doubting your claims that isn’t the case here), then having a firm compliance policy that you stand behind rigorously insulates you from such accusations.

          I’d like to think I’d never give up my integrity or even risk appearing to do so, but certainly, it would take much more than $500 worth of tickets to tempt me.

        2. BenAdminGeek*

          Exactly. LW1, I know you don’t feel like a decision-maker, but we all are. I’m certainly not important at my company, but I could still make decisions on if something can be coded at below-market hours (saving the client money), or how to submit my hours in certain scenarios. And down the road, I might have true decision-making abilities. The reason the policy exists is so in 2025 when you’re a VP and a contract comes across your desk, you represent your company’s interests first.

          In reality, our impressions of people do color our work for them, but the goal is to limit that.

          Also, when I worked at OldOldJob (who now has a big amusement park company as a client….), there was a big scandal with bribes and also a lot of “grey areas” of people taking clients to fancy dinners, etc. It all got blown into a big media frenzy, and everyone got lumped in, even low-level folks who didn’t do anything. But they got treated just like the bigwigs who were hiring “midget strippers.”* It’s sometimes about avoiding any appearance of a conflict, so that all future dealings allow the compliance officer to show the bright line.

          *I really wish I was joking about this :(

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Hiring midget strippers. I never realized there was an interest of that type. I guess I have been living under a rock or something.

          2. BenAdminGeek*

            Yeah, I remember reading about it and being so skeeved out at the exploitative tone of this- obviously hiring people for a “let’s laugh at them” moment with a client. I sometimes can’t imagine what runs through people’s heads.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        This could be misplaced frustration. LW indicates that her company does not reward effort, this is her only reward.

        While all the comments on gifting are very informative, I would not be surprised if the comments do not console OP that much. The issue about the tickets is a symptom, it’s not the core problem. The core (ongoing) problem is that the company does not recognize OP’s hard work. Even IF OP got to keep the tickets it is still roughly a $400 bonus for all that work. Not much of a bonus if you ask me. And worse yet, it did not even come from her employer the one who benefited the most from her hard work.

        OP maybe the actual question is do you want to continue on in this company or do you think you should move on to greener pastures?

        For me I would frame it this way in my head: If I continue to pursue this, I am basically arguing for a $400 bonus from someone who is NOT my employer because my own employer will not recognize my work at all. Even IF I win this one, I still LOSE. I still have an employer that does not recognize my efforts.

        1. Doriana Gray*

          For me I would frame it this way in my head: If I continue to pursue this, I am basically arguing for a $400 bonus from someone who is NOT my employer because my own employer will not recognize my work at all. Even IF I win this one, I still LOSE. I still have an employer that does not recognize my efforts.

          And that right here is the crux of the whole thing. Personally, I’d be using my connections with the client to network and then leave for another company. But that’s just me.

        2. JustALurker*

          Agreed! It seems that the real issue for OP is that as a top performer who consistently went above and beyond for their client (to the point that the client sent a thank you and a gift) and complies with company policy not only is she not acknowledged by her own company, she is told to give back half of the only acknowledgement/appreciation she did receive. This seems like more than a compliance issue.

  11. Kathlynn*

    in regards to number 3, Always check your local law. For example, in BC Canada, firing a low performer for cellphone use would be “without cause”, if you let your high performer use their phone (assuming they have the same title and same agreement). Better to treat the performance part not the behavior, if you can only choose one.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s useful to point out that things are different outside the U.S., but assuming the OP is in the U.S., there’s no law that prohibits treating some employees differently than others, as long as you’re not basing it on race, sex, religion, disability, or other protected class.

      1. RobM*

        I do think it’s poor practice to treat people differently though, or I should say, to make that the lens through which issues are dealt with. If someone’s performing poorly then discipline them for that. It doesn’t matter _why_ they’re performing badly, and focusing on this avoids a whole potential set of issues that can arise from giving the appearance of treating some members of the team differently.

        Make the discussion and any consequences relate to their poor performance, not their lateness.

        1. Artemesia*

          I really disagree. People who are high performers might quite rationally be allowed to telecommute, have flexible hours, not check in as often and take more time off — because they are high performers you don’t need to micromanage. Poor performers who good off when not being supervised should quite rationally not have those perks. To make everyone have to conform to particular hours or other restrictions because Bob can’t self manage is demoralizing to everyone else. Of course Bob should be eventually fired if he doesn’t become more productive but treating everyone like Bob because Bob is a giant baby is unfair.

          1. neverjaunty*

            The problem comes in a couple of places – where the reason for the rules is not consistent with the perks, and when “higher performer” means “boss’ favorite”.

            1. Adam V*

              True, but in such an environment – where you’re an equally-high (or higher) performer compared to your coworker, yet only the coworker gets the perks – you can figure it out pretty quickly and find a new job where the playing field is more level. Many companies would love to hire a high performer whose main criteria for looking at a new employer is “don’t play favorites”.

        2. T3k*

          I think it’s more to do with the LW keeping the low performer from trying to use the “well, Mary and Tim show up late too, why aren’t you reprimanding them?!” card because they may be petty and do just that.

        3. Effective Immediately*

          I disagree as well. Sometimes what is fair is not what’s equal.

          Unions often operate this way (equal treatment across the board) and in my experience, that can cause serious morale problems and bigger issues. Firing an employee in a very bad home situation who is frequently late but otherwise a stellar performer is much, much harder for me than firing an employee who is also frequently late because they were on an all night bender and falls asleep on their shift. I’ve had both situations crop up in my management career, and if I could turn back time, I would fight even harder than I did to keep employee #1 (a fight I ultimately lost).

          Sometimes “boss’s favorite” is pejorative, but sometimes it means you just actually do the best job. I think a quick way to kill morale dead in the water is to not attach meaningful perks to being a high performer, and negative consequences to being a low performer. These kind of “soft” consequences don’t take the place of good management (like addressing performance issues as they arise), but I think there needs to be equally strong positive enforcement for good performance as there is negative enforcement for poor performance.

          1. LBK*

            Sometimes “boss’s favorite” is pejorative, but sometimes it means you just actually do the best job.

            Totally agree. Not to say that there aren’t bosses who play favorites without good reason, but in every scenario I’ve seen where favoritism is claimed, it seems pretty clear that that person is the favorite because they’re the best employee – of course they’re going to get preferential treatment. What’s the point of putting in extra hard work if you’re still going to be held to the same standards as the lowest performer in the department?

      2. Creag an Tuire*

        It is a standard clause of most CBA’s, though the OP probably would’ve mentioned if that’s a factor.

        Mind you, if I were the manager in this situation, I’d zero in on the fact that Bob McSlacker appears to be working -fewer hours- than his colleagues, regardless of how some folks are flexing those hours outside standard office hours.

    2. LQ*

      This depends on what you are going for here too. Someone fired for using their cellphone would be most likely to get Unemployment benefits in most states (your state may vary) but it is perfectly legal to fire them. They just have a safety net.

      I know sometimes people confuse things that get you unemployment with things that are illegal. You can have an unemployment case found against the employer but it is not illegal.

      1. Creag an Tuire*

        In my state, you can explicitly still get unemployment if you were let go for poor performance — it’s only “gross misconduct” that nixes you.

  12. Anon for Snark*

    If you had a manager who wanted you to do something against your initial inclination, which of IBM’s elements would work best on you? Why?

    Well, constantly layoff people and threaten the rest, gut employee pension programs, expect employees to work 80 hours per week, while giving huge bonuses to CEOs is the usual MO. Why?

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Haha. Do they still have to wear navy blue suits? I had an interview their around 1992 or 1993 and I was encouraged to wear a navy blue suit, but before the interview I got another offer and accepted it. I remember my Dad was mad I didn’t wait and go on that interview, but hey I was like 22 and just wanted a job already.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        OH! I think Anon was talking about N*C*R*, they did the same exact thing. Frozen pensions, 80 plus hour work weeks, people getting screamed at for trying to get one hour’s sleep a night, and so on.
        All these places look the same after a bit.

  13. 27540*


    I work for a large multinational based in the US and getting the tickets would be something that would be frowned upon because they could easily be turned into cash. We could go to the theme park/ball game with the supplier and vendor but aren’t allowed to accept tickets. Obviously, if it was the SuperBowl or something like that that was thousands of dollars per ticket that wouldn’t really fly either. It really is the appearance of impropriety that matters.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Yep. I’d have to give them up. I don’t know if they’d be given back, or if they’d be raffled off – there’s a couple ways the company can choose to handle it – but I don’t think I’d get to keep one, let alone all four.

      Then again, I’m not in a position where this is likely to ever become an issue. (Not only am I not a decision-maker of any sort, but also my role has no client interaction.)

      But, OP? One thing you *can* get out of those tickets is to remember, at your next performance review, to bring up the fact that this client was so pleased with your work that they sent this AWESOME note (save a scanned copy of it and/or a photocopy – you probably don’t want it in the review but you might want to reread it right before walking in to have it fresh in your mind) and four tickets that, while you weren’t able to keep all of them because of the compliance rules, are a sign of how great a job they thought you did….

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Absolutely on your last paragraph, and it makes me wonder if her boss was cc’d on her email to compliance?

  14. Jen*

    #1, I wonder if the interviewer was wondering how you’ve been spending your time. Job hunting and tinkering can’t be a 40/week thing; are there other things you have been up to you could have in your back pocket? Eg. Training for a race/marathon, renovating your house, visiting family, idk, whatever. Just a thought- but I agree that it’s a rude reaction on his part. Obviously unemployed people want to be employed.

    1. hbc*

      That was my thought as well. He shouldn’t have said something that rude, but it might have come across as if there’s been a *lot* of unproductive downtime during those nine months. OP2, maybe you can give examples of things you’ve done with those teapot design tools that would give some idea of the extent of what you’re doing. “Practicing” could be anything from “I poked around in the program and swapped out some of the pre-designed spouts” to “I designed an entire tea service from scratch.”

      Also, feel free to mention things you’re doing that are unrelated to the job you’re looking for. Volunteering at an animal shelter, reading your way through the Booker Prize winners, training for a marathon, whatever. While you’re fully entitled to lay around in your pajamas all day when unemployed, an employer might worry how long you can sustain 40+ hours a week if your default state is vegetative. Not that I’m saying that’s true for you; just make sure you don’t come across that way.

      1. Not Karen*

        Have you never been job hunting while unemployed? It’s extremely exhausting, a lot of hard work, and far from “vegetative.”

        1. hbc*

          I have been, yes, and there’s no way I could have done it for 40 hours a week for 9 months. Plus, I had more than that time “back” given that I had no commute, I probably had more like 60 hours more in my week. Maybe others can eat up that 40-60 hours a week exclusively with job hunting, but most people have extra time on their hands. They’re probably not taking piano lessons and such since funds are tight, but they’re doing *something* with it. (Of course I realize it can be demoralizing and draining, but an employer probably doesn’t want to hear that you’re demoralized and drained.)

          All I’m suggesting is to be specific. “I’ve been job hunting” can be said by the kid who checks Monster once a week. Better: “Job searching has been taking up more of my time than I thought it would, probably because I really want the right job. It takes a while to research the position and the company, address all the relevant points in a cover letter, and checking my network to see if I can find a connection.”

        2. Prismatic Professional*


          Especially if you’re tailoring resumes, doing research on the company, tailoring cover letters, preparing for interviews, etc.

      1. Us, Too*

        I suppose for some people job-hunting is a full-time job, but I don’t think that would be the case in most circumstances. I’d imagine the average job-seeker could devote a couple hrs a day on job searching without seeing significantly different results than if they spent all day every day doing it.

        There is a point at which you get no additional return for the time you spent because in the first few hours, you already applied for the jobs that are likely to actually hire you.

        1. LBK*

          Yeah, I can’t imagine what you would spend 8 hours doing one day that you would then be able to continue doing for 8 hours the next day. There just aren’t that many jobs being posted on a daily basis, unless you’re searching an extremely broad set of roles.

      2. Jen*

        I suppose if that’s the case, than the LW should provide more detail as suggested above– ie “dabbled in X and created ABC/123/etc”

        When I was unemployed, I was aggressively job hunting. I had multiple interviews a week, did 2-3 applications/cover letters a day, several networking activities a week…but even that wasn’t 40 hours. And if I had 9 months, i could absolutely not fill 40 hours/week consistently. I even did a bit of consulting work in there and it still wasn’t 40 hours.

        My husband was unemployed for 4-5 months and while aggressively job searching, also remodeled our kitchen. He needed a break from the anxiety/stress/monotony of job hunting. Plus, the job search takes time but it’s a lot of hurry-up-and-wait.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Except that interviewers really don’t want to hear that you’ve been job searching 40 hours a week for nine months, which is what I talked about in the original answer.

        1. ChelseaNH*

          I was asked this once. I said I was being picky because I didn’t want to commute beyond a certain point. I live in southern New Hampshire and don’t want to commute below Route 128. In the high tech world, there are a lot more positions closer to Boston, but commuting is a HUGE quality of life issue for me. Like, if the only job I could find was in Waltham, I’d have to consider selling my house and moving.

          1. BenAdminGeek*

            Ugh, especially since the Winter/Wyman exit is so terrible! I used to drive through there from southern NH to Norwood. It’s horrible! Good for you in being picky.

      4. Erin*

        Sure, absolutely, but I think hiring managers might want to hear more about other ways you’ve occupied your time – maybe taking continuing education courses or volunteering or otherwise keeping one foot in the door of your industry.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      I wanted to point out that the average marathon entry fee is nearly $100, and you’ll probably go through two pairs of shoes at ~$100 each during training. Renovating your house is also decidedly not cheap.

      I mean, in general, I’m all in favor of keeping busy and fit during your downtime, but I think it’s a little unreasonable for an interviewer to expect an unemployed person to have some evidence of massive productivity. Sure, it’s “free” to volunteer at an animal shelter, and you could spend a lot of time at your local library educating yourself, but if you’re down to bare bones living, maybe you don’t want to spend the gas money for those things.

      1. Jen*

        One can train for a marathon without actually running one :) Or just pick up a free exercise habit, like jogging or hiking. My real point here is that no matter what you are doing, it could be that the interviewer was curious what OP did to fill all the time in the 9 months.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          You can, but it’s kind of lame to talk about. . .unless you’ve got a really pushy interviewer like this one. In this scenario, where the OP was put on the defensive, yeah, I’d bring up that I’d been working up, detailing my car weekly, reorganizing the basement, whatever, but in general, that’s not interview-worthy stuff.
          : )

      2. T3k*

        That was pretty much me when I was trying to find a job for almost a year. I was down to so little money I couldn’t even afford to spend money on gas to drive myself to a pet shelter to volunteer (partly my fault, as I took an unpaid internship so I could graduate and thus, had no more money afterwards).

    3. OP 2*

      That might be what he was after. For me, it turns out the tinkering part typically approaches 40 hours a week all by itself. That’s why I’m in this field; I don’t get tired of this stuff. I do have examples to point at, although they’re in a folder on my hard drive instead of out on a website portfolio where somebody could look at them. It might be worth the effort to figure out how to do that, although I’m sure they’re nothing special compared to professionally produced teapots.

      I’d certainly have loved to do more travelling, shopping, and piano lessons during this period, but as AnotherAlison has mentioned, it doesn’t make financial sense without an idea of when I’ll have a reliable income again.

      Alison, thank you so much for answering my letter! Your suggestion makes sense, but I probably won’t satisfy this interviewer anyway. (He followed up on my original answer with “how many places have you applied?” which seems harder to be coy about.)

      1. Not So NewReader*

        how many places have you applied???

        WTH. This is my nightmare to sit down with someone like this. That has nothing to do with the job opening.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I think that’s actually the answer: “I’d rather talk about the role here at this company, since that’s most relevant to our time together.”

          I mean, I didn’t come to the interview for job coaching!

    4. Stranger than fiction*

      Yeah, I wonder if he’s expecting candidates to say something like “Oh, I did a 6-month stint with the Peace Corps” or something like that. I’m sure there’s people that make up all sorts of stuff, and this guy almost seems to be encouraging it, rather than accept the Op’s refreshing honest. (that isn’t to say people don’t really do such things) Or maybe he’s a privileged type who traveled Europe for a year after school and assumes most people would do something like that.

      1. LBK*

        Not necessarily. If I asked that question, I’d just want to hear something that made the candidate sound self-motivated, like they didn’t spend their whole time laying on the couch. I think plenty of people have hobbies they’d love to get into that they just don’t have the time or energy to do with a full time job. Personally, if I were unemployed I’d finally start the TV recap blog I’ve wanted to do for years and I’d get back into theater/music. I think that’s a fine answer that shows I can keep myself busy out of some internal drive to be busy (in contrast to someone who goes to work purely out of obligation because they’re being paid to do so).

  15. ok*

    #1 – It’s good to remember that you may not have say so now, but you could in the future – there is a solid reason behind the policy. But it was a suggestion not a command, so I would talk with them further. And you’ve been getting great performance reviews – that is your company recognizing your hard work.

    You could always point out that by the time you finish paying for food and the whatnots at the park, you could very well be at a loss anyway, haha!

  16. The Cosmic Avenger*

    OP#5, I can answer your question.

    Going forward, it’s time to act with robust solutions and roll out our team content marketing. This sector has artisanal skillsets. Skate to where the puck is going to be. Your colleagues are increasingly disruptive, so it’s important that we amortize accordingly. At the end of the day, the marketplace has changed. Aggregate organically or dialog.

    (Generated with the WSJ Business Buzzwords Generator. I think this is how Allison should answer all homework questions.)

        1. Solidus Pilcrow*

          And leverage.

          I originally read that as “This sector has artisanal *skillets*” (like, frying pans). I thought that fit in rather well with the chocolate teapot theme we have going here. :p

    1. Amber Rose*

      Really, because I think we must all efficiently operationalize our strategies, invest in world-class technology and leverage our core competencies in order to holistically administrate exceptional synergy. We’ll set a brand trajectory using management’s philosophy, advance our market share vis-à-vis our proven methodology, with strong commitment to quality.

      (Lyrics from a Weird Al song. There’s enough there to answer a few corporate type questions.)

    2. plain_jane*

      I really like “aggregate organically” and will see if it can legitimately be used in a meeting next week.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Uh, I don’t know why, but low hanging fruit reminds me of something else…that’s also called tea bags sometimes.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        If I worked with people who threw around buzzwords, I think I’d start using “reach around” instead of “reach out”, see if I could get it to catch on. >:D

  17. fposte*

    My state offers the option of donating equivalent value to charity in some instances. OP, what if you offer to donate the excess over $250?

  18. Blue Anne*

    #3 – I have a vivid (and smug) memory of walking into my 8th grade English class 5 minutes late, right behind a mean classmate named Caroline. As we walked in, the teacher told Caroline off for being late, but not me. She pointed at me and said “Uh hello, Anne is late too!”

    The teacher said “Yes, but Anne does all of her work and is getting an A in this class. If you miss material, it’s a problem; if Anne misses material, she probably already knows it.”

    I enjoy remembering that because I was a nerd and Caroline was always mean to me. But it has transferred to the workplace pretty well, actually! If high performers are still performing highly while sometimes being a little late, it’s not really an issue. But if lower performers are sometimes late, it might be indicative of the larger problem.

    1. themmases*

      I love this story! I was just thinking about a high school math teacher who told my parents, a little wistfully apparently, that I was always drawing and writing in his class but he supposed it was OK since I had an A. I ended up going into a quantitative field after all and I sometimes think I should email him and just let him know. :)

      1. Emmy Rae*

        Are you the girl who sat in front of me in calculus, occasionally looking up from her Martha Stewart Living mags to answer the questions correctly?

        1. TootsNYC*

          I used to sleep in Health class and wake up to answer questions correctly–because no one else was answering. And no, I never got in trouble for dozing.
          (Hey, I’d pulled an all-nighter on the yearbook, and the morning sun was shining directly on my back!)

        2. Elaine*

          I had to retake Calculus in college despite having gotten a 5 on the AP exam in high school (sort of a long story as to why). I spent most of my time in the class reading unrelated material, but the prof never called me out on it because I always knew the answers to everything and he knew I was pretty much stuck in the class despite knowing the material. My husband is a teacher at the college level and he said that if he had a student in my position he’d pretty much have handled it the same way.

      2. Allison*

        Reminds me of how I spent most of senior year pre-calculus doing sudoku puzzles. Hard sudoku puzzles, I might add. I was getting the top grade in the class, a 99% average at one point, while at least half the class was struggling with the material. But he still told me to put it away when he caught me doing it. Even then I knew it wasn’t fair, I had finished whatever exercise we were doing, but I can see how maybe he didn’t want the other students seeing me slacking off.

      3. Blue Anne*

        I wasn’t as good at math, and got put in the stupid math class in 10th grade. Then got moved back up when I was knitting through class and maintaining an A. :)

      4. hermit crab*

        Oh man, that was basically me, except it was high school chemistry and I spent most of the class designing personal stationery for myself with colored pencils and graph paper. The guy who sat next to me got called out for doodling in class once and pointed to me, and the teacher said something like, “yeah, but she has a 100% average.”

      5. ThursdaysGeek*

        Oh! I thought I was getting away with playing with my Rubik’s cube in Statistics because I was sitting in the front, and the prof threw pencils at the guys reading the newspaper because they were not paying attention at the back of the room. It was because I was getting a good grade anyway?

      6. Kristina L*

        In high school, I would read fun books (mysteries, etc.) during class, but the teachers rarely called me on it because I was doing well in class – I paid enough attention to learn. In college, I doodled in class instead and found that it helped me deal with the boredom of hearing the same thing 3 times and made it easier to pay enough attention to know when the teacher was saying something new.

    2. Muriel Heslop*

      Was I your eighth grade English teacher? I told my students things like that all the time! If you want to be treated like someone else – act like someone else. Otherwise, everyone’s a case-by-case basis.

      (I never had a mean Caroline. A mean Kelly, a mean Lucy, and a mean Lindsay.)

      1. TootsNYC*

        I told my son: Treat your teacher well, do your homework on time, and ask for help when you’re struggling. Then, if you screw up, your teacher will be more likely to cut you some slack.

        It’s about reputation.

        1. LQ*

          Horrible story with a great teacher: I finished all my work way, way early. Like nearly a year’s worth. My (horrible) dad found out and called the teacher yelling about giving me more work.

          She told me about it (with serious concern for my wellbeing) and said, I’m not worried about you not doing work, just read a book or something and give me a report. I was already reading books while others were doing the work and she never made me actually turn in the report. Yay for good teachers.

        2. Kristina L*

          “Treat your teacher well, do your homework on time, and ask for help when you’re struggling. Then, if you screw up, your teacher will be more likely to cut you some slack.” This is excellent advise for life.

      2. phyllisB*

        I went to Catholic school in the 7th grade and one of the classes was taught by a priest. He had a habit of throwing chalk/erasers at students who he thought weren’t paying attention. One day he threw an eraser at me (I was doodling in my notebook) and told me to stand up and repeat everything he had said in the last 10 minutes. I did so, and he said “Well, okay” and never bothered me again. (I made an A in his class.)

    3. Master Bean Counter*

      I had trig after lunch and the teacher always put the homework on the board at the beginning of class. I’d do the problems in 5-15 minutes then sleep trough the rest of class. She stopped trying to wake me up two weeks in when all the work came back at 100%.

    4. BenAdminGeek*

      My brother used to sleep in math class, only waking up to answer questions the teacher would ask him. His friend described it as “eerie and awe-inspiring.”

  19. BearWithMe*

    #1 Its too bad you couldn’t divide the value of the gift over the length of time you’ve been working with the client. I’m sure 4 theme park tickets divided over a 2+ year project/partnership would put them under the $250 limit.

  20. newlyhr*

    #1 Everybody likes their company’s gift rules until they get a gift. It’s not personal. It’s a rule that is there to keep things fair for all and avoid conflicts of interest. Return the other two tickets.

  21. LBK*

    #1 – I have to say, I’m not sure what you expected the outcome to be here – that because you were good and followed the rule, the company would reward you by letting it slide? That would kinda defeat the purpose of having a disclosure policy if everyone who actually followed it didn’t have to turn in any gifts over the limit, no? I just don’t see “I could have kept it a secret” as a good defense for why you should be allowed to keep it.

    That being said, I can’t see a way to return half a gift that wouldn’t be super awkward if you didn’t do it right in the moment. If the company’s going to only let you keep half, it makes more sense to me for them to confiscate the other two tickets.

    1. Erin*

      But, the rule is to disclose if a gift exceeds a certain amount; the rule isn’t that you aren’t allowed to keep the gift if it exceeds that certain amount. Further, she’s checked documentation to ensure there’s leeway with compliance matters like this, and it’s at the discretion of the compliance person (or whomever is in charge of this). She’s really not asking someone to break a rule.

      I do agree with you that the returning of two instead of all four is very odd. They’re really putting her in an awkward spot. Thanks for the gift, I’m returning half back to you, after X amount of time has gone by! Not strange or rude at all!

      1. LBK*

        But she’s already gotten the compliance officer’s discretion and the compliance officer said no. “At their discretion” doesn’t mean “will make an exception any time you ask for it”. If the OP feels she has a convincing argument that she hasn’t presented yet, that’s one thing, but just being unsatisfied by compliance’s decision on the matter doesn’t mean they’re wrong or that you’re being wronged as a result.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I think OP wants recognition for her work and this is one way she can get it. Unfortunately, the recognition is not coming from the company, so it does not really solve the core issue.

  22. Nico M*

    #1 You need to return the excess tickets, explaining the policy.

    The client should then send your boss a gift under the compliance threshold thanking them for your work. Worst case you have credit : best case they pass the gift on to you.

    1. TootsNYC*

      if I were the OP’s boss, that’s exactly what I’d be calling the client to suggest:
      “So nice of you to honor our great employee! We agree, she’s terrific. She was really touched to have her hard work recognized by you. Unfort., the compliance officer won’t let her accept all of the tickets, so she’ll be returning two of them to you. I wonder if I could be so bold as to suggest that perhaps you could send them to me as a thank-you to the team in general, and I’ll distribute to someone who’s really worked hard on your project.”

      “Oh, look, Jean–we got two more tickets for the team. I get to decide who gets them. Why don’t you take them, because you are already going.”
      Because then I look extra good to Jean–I got to give her a thank-you from me, without actually having to get the company to sign off.

      Though, I might not, if Jean had another colleague who worked nearly as hard.

  23. Not worth keeping tickets*

    While it might be nice to go to the theme park; and it, not doubt, felt great to have your hard work recognized, I would return the tickets with an explanation of your company’s policy. Apologize to the client for returning them and thank them for their kindness.

    But, if you do not return them and compliance later finds out this could come to haunt you in the future. What if, a few years from now, you apply for a promotion and they find out that you did NOT follow the recommended action of returning the tickets? That could hurt you chances for that promotion.

    As others have said, it isn’t about you personally, it isn’t about you doing “return favors” for the company. It is however, about following the compliance rules.

    Also, keep in mind, that you are not the only one in your company receiving gifts. What if others are receiving greater gifts AND doing “return favors” as a result. This news gets out and there is a company-wide investigation. Your name could very well be linked in with those who are taking brides simply because of appearance!

    For whatever it is worth, you did the right thing by reporting this to the compliance officer. It would have looked worse if you didn’t report it and someone found out later.

  24. Amber Rose*

    #1, Mom got a lot of assorted gifts over the years, but she was never allowed to keep plane tickets. Even though she worked for the airport and plane tickets were the easiest thing for the airlines to give her, and most of her projects were years or decades worth of work.

    This is not personal. If it was a gift from your own boss, that would be a reward for hard work from your company. A third party gift can’t be a reward from your company because they can’t control it. If you don’t feel you’re getting recognized at work that’s a separate issue. Even if they let you keep the tickets, it’s not really coming from them and so it’s still not going to solve that problem.

    1. LBK*

      Yes, exactly. I sense that at the core of the issue is a lot of misplaced frustration at the OP’s manager failing to properly recognize her – I wonder if this would be as much of an issue if she felt adequately compensated or appreciated by her company.

      1. fposte*

        I think this is a legitimate point. If this feels like “Finally somebody sees that I’m doing good work” and your own company, which has *not* appreciated you properly, says, “Eh, you can’t keep this recognition,” that’s going to bite pretty hard.

        1. LW1*

          Yes, I think you hit the nail on the head. It sucks to work really hard on a project that turns out very successfully and totally satisfies the client and not be recognized in the least by my company for it. And then when my client does recognize my work, I’m not allowed to keep the recognition even when there’s leeway in the policy to allow it, I feel doubly burned by my company.

          1. Erin*

            As someone else suggested, you could ask for a letter from the client expressing his thanks and recommendation of you. Then you could have that ready to show a prospective new employer.

          2. neverjaunty*

            Well, you may be able to keep the tickets if you can persuade the compliance officer, but the far more important issue is that your company doesn’t appreciate or recognize your hard work. This is sounding a bit like one of those letters where somebody wants to divorce a spouse over not picking up their socks and wonders if they’re being petty; the real issue isn’t the socks, it’s the long-standing pattern of disrespect and noncommunication that’s damaged the relationship.

            Whatever happens with the tickets, this sounds like a pretty clear signal that you would be better off at a different company.

            1. LBK*

              This reminds me of a great article that was going around recently called something like “my wife divorced me because I didn’t do the dishes”. It was all about not realizing how things that seem small are usually manifestations of bigger issues, which I think is applicable here. On some level, it’s not about this one incident, it’s about a pattern of feeling like you aren’t appreciated (and the one time you do receive some appreciation, your company stands in the way of it).

              1. Stranger than fiction*

                Reminds me of that great line from When Harry Met Sally when they’re talking at the football game how when a spouse cheats, it’s just a symptom of a deeper problem and then he goes “Oh yeah? Well that “symptom” is f’ing my wife!”.

                1. LBK*

                  I’m always skeptical of those viral clickbait-y articles, especially when they’re about relatoinship stuff relationships, but that one was great.

          3. Observer*

            I sympathize with not getting recognized. But, you fail to realize that that it utterly unrelated to them allowing you to keep this gift. That they COULD allow it, does not mean that they SHOULD. And, nothing you have said indicates that they should.

      2. F.*

        Exactly. I wonder if it would be out of line for OP#1 to suggest to the the client that if they want to express their appreciation they could send a letter to the OP’s manager expressing their appreciation for OP#1’s hard work on the project. This could go much further toward getting the company to recognize the OP’s contribution and hard work than the gift of theme park tickets.

    2. Bwmn*

      That’s such a good point about your company not being able to control third party gift giving. I do fundraising with a number of companies – who are often more inclined to give gifts, but gifts of their own products.

      I have co-workers who work with major donors who far more rarely give gifts, but when they do – they’re often more personal and of interest to my colleagues. And then there are people in the office who only receive company wide gifts of food from vendors. Does my company believe that I am worth more impersonal gifts or major gifts officers worth fewer personal gifts and other staff nothing? No, that has nothing to do with it. On the flip side a huge part of my job and the job of major gifts officers is to build relationships, and part of that can include accepting gifts (under an approved valuation).

      So sure, getting a gift can feel personal – but in this context the issues around whether or not you can keep it really aren’t.

  25. Erin*

    #1 – That sucks. I hear what you’re saying about the fact you could have kept it a secret, but for what it’s worth, I think you did the right thing by telling them. Not just for the obvious moral reasons, but because it shows how much a client really values you, which is something you should be proud of and that your colleague’s should aspire to, and not something you should have to hide.

    I think this is one of those situations where you have to ask yourself how much it’s worth to push back. If it’s worth it to you, and it sounds like it is, then I would. She said “recommend.” You could take that word very literally.

    Not to mention, his parent company owns this theme park, or something to that effect, correct? So it’s likely he purchased these tickets at a discount, or possibly at no cost to him at all. So the monetary value of them isn’t really accurate, if I’m reading this correctly.

    My own rant I feel compelled to add: This reminds me – on a much smaller scale – of a prior job I had when I was in charge of choosing birthday cards (that everyone chipped in for once a year or so, and we’d pool the money together and spend it over time). Once I spent $3 on a card instead of the approved $1, because it a was golf-related card and the recipient was an avid golfer. Do we really, seriously, have to worry about perceived favoritism over that $2?

    Does it really matter if your client gave you a $250 gift and your colleague maybe received only a $200 gift? It’s not going to be the same all across the board. A gift is a gift. You should receive it and say thank you, and not compare yourself to what other people are receiving. It’s not like he gave you diamond earrings or something that screams inappropriate. Your compliance person even admitted that the gift was not unreasonable! (Hashtag rant over.)

    Again, she said “recommend.” Just saying. :)

    1. neverjaunty*

      You’re offering a lot of rationalizations that are not really helpful to the OP making a thoughtful decision here.

      First, the market value of the item is in fact important. If the company’s owner inherited a set of diamond earrings appraised at $10,000 and gave them to the OP, I don’t think anybody would argue the earrings were “really” worth less than $250 because they didn’t cost the giver anything.

      Second, it’s ridiculous to say that whether a gift falls under the compliance policy depends on whether another gift would have been more inappropriate. “Yes, they gave me diamond earrings, but it’s not like it was an all-expenses paid vacation to Hawaii or a new car, so what’s the biggie?”

      Most importantly, being that employee who chooses a self-serving literal interpretation over asking for clarity is not a good look. OP has a good reputation and does excellent work. Is it worth tarnishing that over two amusement park tickets?

      1. Erin*

        Hmm, I could concede on the market value point.

        But I have to stick to my guns on your second comment. Forget about the diamond earring comparison – my point was that this gift isn’t obviously outrageous or inappropriate. And that fact is backed by the compliance officer herself, when she said the gift was “not unreasonable.”

        1. Oryx*

          But at the end of the day, the compliance offer still said to return them. I have to agree with neverjaunty that the OP is going to risk tarnishing their reputation and possibly come off as unprofessional if they continue to fight back over two amusement park tickets after they’ve already been told no. Because, if I’m reading the other comments from the LW, it’s not really even about the amusement park tickets, it’s about feeling under appreciated by her company. So pushing back over the tickets is not the right way to gain that appreciation.

            1. Adam V*

              A “recommendation” in this case probably means “if you return two tickets, I don’t have to take any further action (because you’ll be under the $250 limit), but if you don’t, I will have to take this to my boss for a final verdict.”

              1. non-profit manager*

                Agreed. The compliance officer likely has no authority over the OP, so cannot direct the OP to return the tickets. The compliance officer can, however, escalate this to someone who can direct the OP to return the tickets. And that would look a whole lot worse for the OP.

            2. Windchime*

              As we have noted many times here, though, a lot of upper management type people will frame a directive as if it were a suggestion or a recommendation. And then they are surprised or angry when the employee doesn’t pick up on the hint that it was really a directive.

              Bottom line: Don’t “recommend” or “suggest” something to me if I really don’t have a choice. If you have something that you clearly want/don’t want me to do, then TELL me. Don’t hint, suggest, or recommend!

              1. Erin*

                Your bottom line – exactly. I think the OP should take the word at its literal, face-value meaning.

                She should get clarification though, as Alison suggested. This issue is up to the compliance officer’s discretion, and she’s basically in turn leaving it up to the OP’s discretion – does she really mean that, or is she really telling OP to return them? If they need to be returned, she needs to say that. The policy understandably allows for leeway, but at this point OP needs clarity.

                If it were me I would only return them if I was told to do so in that exact language. Otherwise I would decline the recommendation.

                1. LawBee*

                  as is often asked here – is this the hill upon which the OP wants to die? Compliance isn’t something to mess around with, and declining to comply is a fireable offense.

                  And yes, “recommend” doesn’t always mean “do what you want, here is my suggestion”. Decline the recommendation at your own risk, but I wouldn’t give that advice to anyone else.

            3. Stranger than fiction*

              Which I believe is the crux here. You’d think if everything were so cut and dry, she’d use language that’s more direct and can’t be misinterpreted.

        2. neverjaunty*

          Bribes do not have to be outrageous or inappropriate to be bribes. That’s why the OP’s company has a dollar amount, rather than a vague policy excluding “outrageous or inappropriate” gifts. AAM is correct that the way to deal with this, if OP really wants the tickets, is to speak openly to the compliance officers – not to engage in cutesy logic-chopping to get around the compliance officer.

          1. Apollo Warbucks*

            The policy is to disclose gifts over a $ amount NOT to reject all gifts over that amount automatically.

      2. Ultraviolet*

        I really agree about this not being worth the tarnished reputation–especially since the dispute over the tickets would be directly linked in everyone’s memory to this project LW apparently did a great job with. When this project comes up during a performance evaluation or request for a raise, LW needs their manager to think “Oh yeah, LW did a great job with that,” not “Oh yeah, that was the whole thing with the tickets.”

  26. A fly on the wall*


    I’d say (speaking as a career civil servant with a hard gift limit much lower than $250) that the “may” is a sign of a well written policy. That “may” allows the company the discretion to say, for example, that you could go on a vacation your mother is paying for despite the fact that she works for a customer of a different division or that a woman would not have to pay her fiancé for an engagement ring. It’s probably not intended to allow you to decide, “I’m sure it’s ok if I keep this gift.”

    Fighting this might also limit your upward mobility, especially if this is something your company feels strongly about. You might also want to think about why you feel so strongly that you want to keep the tickets. If you feel like you aren’t being adequately compensated, that’s something to talk to your manager about.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      The OP says

      “I emailed the appropriate people, letting them know that I had been given the tickets. My company’s compliance officer emailed me back telling me that while the gift does not sound unreasonable under the circumstances, she recommends I return two of the tickets to my client in order to stay under the $250 limit.”

      So far she hasn’t a firm direction as to what to do if the company don’t want her to accept the gift that is their right but they need to be clear about what they expect.

    2. Bwmn*

      Out of curiosity on this issue – and particularly when thinking about the flexible value of tickets (the resale value of Hamilton or Adele tickets vs the resale value of 76ers vs Nets tickets at the end of the season) – I asked a friend of mine who words for the US federal government. She also works in a grant giving office, which may put greater sensitivities in place – but she was saying that in addition to value there is also a “perception” aspect at play in whether or not they can accept a gift.

      This means that even if the resale value of courtside tickets to see the 76ers play the Nets in March could have a far lower cost on Stubhub , the value perception of court side tickets might over rule what was paid to a reseller. She also said that she needs to ask what the gift giver paid for a ticket – so in the example of Hamilton/Adele if this is a case where someone else purchased the tickets off a seat reseller, then she would have to report the amount paid to the reseller and not the value listed on the ticket.

      Obviously as a government grant giving office, there’s a lot of scrutiny, but again – I think the wiggle room makes sense when the straight up value isn’t straightforward. Back in the 90’s, Beenie Babies initially sold for minimal amounts, but for whatever reason you had a number that were valued at crazy amounts. So again, that built in wiggle room makes sense for all of the reasons Fly on the Wall mentions, as well as judgement calls on items that may sell at one price but are valued at another.

  27. Murphy*

    LW 1 — At the risk of sounding harsh, I do think you may need to reframe this for yourself. You have to remember that you weren’t owed something extra because your worked really hard for two years. Your reward was your paycheque. It sucks that your company isn’t acknowledging all your hard work, but that’s a separate issue from these tickets. They actually aren’t linked in the way you’re thinking about them.

  28. LawBee*

    #5 – ahahahahahaha! Love it.

    #1 – At the risk of sounding harsh, that’s the thing about rules. Following them is what is expected, and sometimes the rule doesn’t benefit us personally. There’s no reward for following the rule, it doesn’t get you any breaks, and being held to it isn’t a punishment. Please OP, try not to take this personally. Definitely go back and see if the officer can approve it, but also try to see that she’s not enforcing the rule AT you. She’s just doing her job. And at the end of the day, you know that you did good work for your client, and the client appreciates it. At worst, you’ve got two free tickets to an amusement park – that’s pretty sweet.

  29. HRish Dude*

    #1 – If part of it is you’re worried about the embarrassment of returning the tickets, ask if you can donate them to be given away to another employee? We do that quite a bit with the CEO’s football suite tickets.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Especially if other colleagues worked hard on the same project.
      This way, you might not personally benefit, but you could reap some professional benefits.

  30. Bwmn*

    #1 Tangent Question

    My understanding that compliance dictates that face-value be considered when determining the value in these situations. Regardless of what it actually costs a luxury company to make a product or what a ticket is *actually* worth – that the value for compliance is recorded based on its face-value.

    However, I’m wondering if there is a point when the re-sale value ends up surpassing the face-value if that ever comes into play. I’m thinking of tickets to a show like Hamilton or a product like new Yeezys where the resale value far surpasses the face-value. Is there a point where that impacts compliance?

    1. Adam V*

      Your best bet is to disclose the gift if you know that either the face value or the street value is above the limit. Get an email from the compliance officer that says “yes, it’s fine because the face value is below the limit” that you can save, or print, or show to anyone who complains later.

      That way, if someone turns out to be wrong, it’s not you – it’s the compliance officer who gave you the okay.

    2. Apollo Warbucks*

      Funnily enough when producing financial accounts a company must value assets at the either the low of the actual cost of the street value so the value is always the lowest value.

      When looking at the cost of gifts it is prudent to use the high value to work out its value, it is better to err on the side of caution, if the gift was highly desirable it would make me inclined to recommend refusing it as it adds an extra complexity to situation that can not easily be quantified to explained away, not to mention if you take a gift you shouldn’t really go and sell it for a profit.

  31. Michelenyc*

    LW#1 After the experience at my last company I completely understand the need for compliance in terms of receiving gifts. A few of the people I worked with received some of the most expensive gifts I have ever seen come from vendors. I later found out that the people that received the expensive gifts actually gave a list of items to the vendor to purchase for them. One girl received a top of the line Dyson. What was even more obnoxious is the 4 or 5 people that received a gift from this particular vendor actually ran around bragging about what they got. Only one person on the team kept her mouth shut about her gift but I think it was because she was really embarrassed about receiving something so extravagent.

  32. Graciosa*

    Regarding #4, I don’t think it’s a big enough red flag to refrain from applying, but I would be curious about whether or not they knew (negligent reference checking or credible claim to have learned from mistake?) and whether or not I would have to be working closely with this person.

    I would feel very differently about the risk if I was going to be paired with the bad actor for joint projects.

    1. OP4*

      This is a very good point. One thing I didn’t mention in the original question is that this person’s linkedin does *not* show that employer on his job history. Big chance the current company doesn’t even know.

  33. Slippy*

    For clarification on #4. The programmer undoubted got fired for stripping off the GPL and incurring LEGAL risk not for plagiarizing code. You are expressly allowed to use GPL code as long as you acknowledge it and don’t try and sell the GPL code by itself (if you build frameworks on top of or around the code you should be fine).
    Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, but I do work with coders and I once stayed at a Holiday Inn Express.

    1. OP4*

      Absolutely correct. Except in this case it was a closed source product, so against this particular licensing to begin with.

      Funny thing: He checked in the code with the GPL intact, then went back and stripped it out.

  34. Ultraviolet*

    #3 – Given the LW is worried about the appearance of [unfair] favoritism, would it make sense for them to proactively tell the low performer than they haven’t earned leeway with punctuality? (As opposed to just telling them they need to be on time, and not explaining that they haven’t earned the same leeway as high performers unless they specifically ask.)

  35. Retail HR Guy*

    For #1, lots of commenters are talking about returning the tickets. Alternatively, for private companies, you could do something like what ours does. We get a lot of gifts from all kinds of vendors (usually products we sell or might decide to sell) and we save them up to have a once-a-year auction for charity. That way the employees can still get their hands on any particular gifts they were eyeing, employees don’t have the same sense of obligation that might have created a conflict of interest, a worthy charity gets money, and the vendors are not miffed that you turned down a gift from them. In fact, many vendors have started providing more/better/bigger gifts to us specifically because they know that their gift is going to be seen by more eyes at our company (with their name attached) and because at the end of the day it will go to a good cause.

  36. Two4oneFish*

    Another way to handle these gifts is to put 2 tickets into a raffle for all employees. This shares the wealth with the rest of the team, keeps you under the gift limit, and does not embarrass the client by making them think they did something wrong.

  37. Lindsey*


    I agree that it’s a bad answer. For me, it would raise a few red flags: 1) you may be a weaker candidate given that you didn’t find a job immediately, 2) you may not have done your research to know to apply for jobs before graduating rather than waiting until after graduation to start your search (depends on field), 3) you didn’t do your research to know that that’s a bad interview answer, and 4) you haven’t spent the last several months doing anything. I’d strongly prefer you to have a part-time job or be doing substantial volunteer work, and that may have been the answer your interviewer was looking for. I wouldn’t want to hear much about your job search. He may also have been looking to see if there was some legitimate reason you may not have been looking for/have found a job earlier – like you only discovered this field a month ago and previously your goals were something else, or you were hospitalized, or you were tied to a different geographic area and couldn’t move for a new job yet, or something. Your goal with this question is to relieve any fears that you’ve been job searching a long time and can’t find anything because you’re a weak candidate. And to prove you’ve been productive in that period. Reading papers about the field is not a full answer. Periods of unemployment are red flags when looking, even right after college, so I’d really recommend getting a part-time job so that it’s clear you’ve been doing something other than sitting around.

    I know none of this is really fair, and you might be awesome and just unable to find a job because of your nontraditional background, but those are what my thoughts would be.

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