What Would You Do?

By Elli Albert

For this feature, each issue of the Jer-Z-Journal will pose a scenario that could occur in the law firm. Members were surveyed and asked how they might respond if faced with the situation. All responses, whether serious, sarcastic or humorous, were encouraged. All responses are confidential.

Scenario: It’s your birthday. Or a holiday. Or maybe, without any reason, one of your employees has left a gift for you on your office chair. You open it and—uh oh—it’s totally inappropriate! WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

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“I would call that person to my office and let them know I appreciate the thought, but cannot accept the gift. I would let them know it was inappropriate and the reason it was inappropriate.”

“I have had this happen before in the way of receiving money. What I did was thanked the employee for their generosity and for thinking of me, but I had to insist on returning the gift because I was not permitted to accept monetary or extravagant gifts due to my position in the company.” 

“Mildly inappropriate can be tolerable—I once received bathroom spray called, ‘Poo Pourri’—it was not too awful so I let it go.”  

“Inappropriate may mean: Too expensive; too personal; it may violate a workplace harassment policy (example—male employee gives female employee lingerie); too mean (employee hates you). You definitely need to have a conversation with the employee. The firm may have gift giving guidelines—make the employee aware of them. If it violates a policy, make the employee aware. If it’s just plain nasty, that’s a different conversation. You may need to speak to the employee about the work relationship. Always note that his/her definition of inappropriate may not be the same as yours, or even what is detailed in firm policy.”

“‘Inappropriate’ can run the spectrum. But in our positions, any amount of inappropriateness should be addressed. I would thank them for thinking of me, but would gently, professionally and courteously explain to them why it’s inappropriate.”

“If it were money, I’d return it and say, ‘I cannot accept such a generous gift, please use it on your family/children, that would make me happy’. If it was something too personal or embarrassing, I’d return it with a note that said, ‘You must have mixed up my gift with one of yours’.”

“Depending on the level of inappropriateness, one would have to start by asking oneself why someone would feel motivated to leave such a gift. Had I done something to create the situation? Had I been disrespectful, unnecessarily harsh, mean spirited or insensitive? Had I failed to establish and keep appropriate professional limits? Had I shown a desire to be bribed or shown favor? It is important to understand whether you had advertently or inadvertently helped to create the problem. Of course, one would also have to scrutinize the gift giver. Is the person a danger? Suffering from mental health issues? Confused? Needing some coaching? I might speak with the HR Director about the incident, along with the employee. I would likely bring the incident to the attention of in-house employment counsel. Depending on the gift, we would proceed from there, taking appropriate action.”

“If I thought the giver had good intentions, I would probably act graciously. If I thought otherwise, I would point out the inappropriateness.”

“I once received a wine glass with a connotation suggesting that I should drink more! The giver commented that I should keep this for office cocktail parties, since I never let loose. I offered to raffle off the glass at our next party, because I explained I was sure it would be a hit and raise a lot of money for charity. I even told the person that I would indicate they donated it, and they would, therefore, get all the praise.”

“I have a wicked sense of humor, so I don’t find many things inappropriate.” 

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Elli Albert is the Office Administrator of Fox Rothschild LLP in Morristown, New Jersey. To suggest a scenario for a future edition of “What Would You Do?”, please e-mail Elli at [email protected]

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