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Handbook of Operating Procedures

Gifts to University Employees from Third Parties

Policy Number: 226

Subject:

Gifts to university employees from third parties, including vendors, potential vendors and others who are or may become interested in a financial transaction with the university.

Scope:

Employees

Date Reviewed:
January 2021
Responsible Office:
Office of the Senior Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer
Responsible Executive:
Senior Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer

I. POLICY AND GENERAL STATEMENT

The primary responsibility of employees of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (“university”) is the accomplishment of the duties and responsibilities assigned to their positions at the university.  The university values and is committed to maintaining high standards of excellence, integrity, and accountability in the conduct of its employees.

The purpose of this policy is to provide guidelines for the acceptance of gifts by university employees from external sources, including vendors, potential vendors and others who are or may become interested in a financial transaction with the university.  It is never lawful to accept a gift in exchange for official action, and acceptance of such gifts by an employee can result in criminal penalty under Texas law. Employees must not accept any gift that could appear to influence their official conduct, even if the gift may not be expressly prohibited by law.

In addition to this policy, employees must follow all applicable university and departmental policies regarding conflicts of interest and disclosure and acceptance of gifts or other benefits, including HOOP 20, Conflict of Interest, Conflict of Commitment and Outside Activities; HOOP 94, Research Conflicts of Interest; HOOP 221, Institutional Conflicts of Interest. Clinicians should also refer to the Guidance on Industry Relationships referenced in HOOP 20 for additional guidance. 

This policy does not apply to the acceptance of gifts on behalf of the university or employee/student fundraising. The Office of Development serves as the agent of the university for all philanthropic fundraising programs and for all solicitations, acceptance, processing and stewardship of charitable contributions to the university. For further guidance, see HOOP 203, Gifts: Solicitation, Acceptance, Processing, Acknowledgement and Stewardship. Students should consult HOOP 110, Student Organizations for guidance pertaining to solicitation and fundraising activities conducted by registered student organizations.  Employees should consult HOOP 165, Solicitation on Campus for guidance on fundraising activities.

II. DEFINITIONS

Benefit: anything reasonably regarded as valuable or providing a monetary gain or advantage, including monetary gains to other persons or entities in which the beneficiary has a direct and substantial interest. Depending on the circumstances, examples of benefits include transportation and lodging, food and beverages, tickets to entertainment and sporting events. For the purposes of this policy, “benefits” is used interchangeably with the term “gifts.”

Cash: money (e.g., coins, bills, checks, other negotiable instruments) in any currency or denomination, and non-monetary items with cash value (i.e., cash equivalents) such as gift cards, gift certificates, or credits.

Clinicians: Healthcare providers and trainees (healthcare students, interns, residents, and fellows) in any patient care discipline, including specialties of medicine, dentistry, nursing, and allied health sciences.

Gift: nonreciprocal transfer of an item in that there is no implicit or explicit statement of exchange, purchase of services, or provision of exclusive information. Examples include transportation and lodging, food and beverages, tickets to entertainment and sporting events, textbooks, electronic devices, flashlights, pens, notepads, cups, and other promotional items regardless of value.

Industry: any for-profit entity or representative of such entity that develops, produces, markets, sells, or distributes any goods, services, or equipment for use by the university or participates in a contractual relationship with the university.

Vendor: any organization or individual that provides, attempts to provide, or is willing to provide goods, equipment, or services of any type to the university, regardless of the organization’s or individual’s expectation of compensation for such goods, equipment, or services.

III. PROCEDURE

University employees should never solicit or accept gifts, favors or services that might reasonably tend to influence the discharge of their official duties or that they know or should know are being offered with the intent to influence official conduct, even when the donor is not expressly asking for anything in exchange for the gift.  In addition, employees who make recommendations or decisions about university financial transactions, such as purchases or contracts, may not accept a gift from any individual or entity that is interested in or likely to become interested in that transaction.  Acceptance of a gift in exchange for official action is never lawful, regardless of the value of the gift or whether the employee is involved in university financial transactions. Acceptance or solicitation of a gift in violation of this standard is grounds for disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

A. Prohibited Gifts

The following types of gifts are prohibited, regardless of amount.

  1. Entertainment/Sporting Events: Gifts of tickets to attend entertainment events, sporting events, all-expense-paid trips to vacation resorts, and other similar activities that are received from industry/vendors, potential vendors or others who are or may become interested in a financial transaction with the university serve no legitimate academic or business purpose and are prohibited. The prohibition applies even if an industry/vendor representative will be in attendance at the event. 
  2. Cash and cash equivalents: All gifts of cash or cash equivalents (e.g., gift cards, gift certificates, or credits) from industry/vendors, potential vendors or others who are or may become interested in a financial transaction with the university are prohibited.
  3. Marketing: University employees may not accept gifts that are offered in exchange for performing marketing tasks in the course of practicing medicine or providing research and development services (e.g., accepting money or gifts from industry/vendors to complete evaluation forms on a company’s product). Gifts/benefits from industry/vendors to faculty, employees, departments, and other entities for prescribing or advocating products is strictly prohibited and may be a violation of law. See also HOOP 20, Conflict of Interest, Conflict of Commitment and Outside Activities.

B. Other Categories of Gifts

All gifts from industry/vendors, potential vendors or others who are or may become interested in a financial transaction with the university are strongly discouraged.  However, in the limited cases described in this section, an employee may accept such gifts without violating this policy.  Clinicians should refer to the Guidance on Industry Relationships for guidance specifically applicable to health care providers.

  1. Tokens of appreciation from industry/vendors: Unsolicited gifts of less than $50 in value, such as small gift baskets at the holidays, that are not given to influence or with an intent to influence official action may be accepted but should be placed in a common area within the department for sharing and not kept for personal use. All industry/vendor logos and branding should be removed, to the extent feasible, and the sender should be politely discouraged to avoid sending gifts in the future.
  2. Meals: 
    1. Business meals: Business meals that serve a legitimate educational or business purpose are permitted with reasonable frequency and supervisor approval, so long as such meals are not provided to influence or with an intent to influence official action. The vendor must be present for the meal.  The cost of the meal must be reasonable under the circumstances, but in general, should not exceed the current maximum reimbursement allowances for breakfast, lunch and dinner (see Expense Reimbursement Guide).
    2. Meals or refreshments offered at conferences or training meetings: Reasonably priced meals or refreshments offered to all participants at training events, conferences, educational meetings, and other similar activities may be accepted so long as the meals are not provided to influence or with the intent to influence official action.  
    3. Meals or refreshments offered on-site: Any meals or refreshments offered at an event on university property must be approved in accordance with department and school policies. Unsolicited gifts of food (e.g., a vendor dropping off breakfast for the department) are highly discouraged, and if it occurs, the sender should be asked not to provide such gifts in the future.   See also Guidance on Industry Relationships
  3. Promotional items of minimal value: Employees may accept promotional items of minimal value (e.g., pens, coffee mugs) that are offered to all participants at an off-site meeting or conference. Unsolicited gifts of promotional items (e.g., a vendor dropping off pens or key chains for the department) are highly discouraged, and if it occurs, the sender should be asked not to provide such gifts in the future.
  4. Medical Product Samples: Employees should refer to the Guidance on Industry Relationships.
  5. Non-medical Product Samples: Employees may not accept free product samples from industry/vendors, except at events sponsored by Procurement. Product samples must be appropriately received according to the department’s policy (e.g., with the approval of the department head).
  6. Gifts from patients or patients’ family members: Unsolicited gifts from patients and/or patients’ family members may be accepted so long as they are of reasonable value (e.g., small gift baskets) and are not given to influence or with the intent to influence care or secure preferential treatment. Gifts of cash or cash equivalents from patients and/or patients’ families are not permitted. If received, the employee should contact the Office of Institutional Compliance for guidance. 
  7. Student Loan Lenders: Additional restrictions apply if the gift is from a student loan lender. Student loan lenders include, but are not limited to, the Department of Education, state agencies and private lenders.  A “student loan lender” can also be an entity that may not traditionally be thought of as student loan lenders. Employees should consult the Office of Institutional Compliance to determine if the proposed gift from the student loan lender is permissible.
  8. Gifts from family members or friends: Employees may accept a gift from a family member or an individual with whom the employee has a personal, professional, or business relationship independent of his or her university role. The gift must not reasonably appear to be related to the employee’s university responsibilities. Employees may also accept a gift from an individual who serves in a non-compensated volunteer role for the university (e.g., members of the university’s Development Board), provided that such a gift is given as a token of appreciation and would not reasonably tend to influence the discharge of their official duties or that they know or should know are being offered with the intent to influence official conduct.

C. Requests for Review

Exceptions to this policy must be approved by the President or designee.  University employees may request guidance regarding this policy from the Office of Institutional Compliance and/or the Conflict of Interest Office. In some cases, review may be warranted by the Institutional Conflict of Interest Committee (ICOIC).

D. Enforcement

Any employee who fails to comply with this policy is subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment. In the case of a violation of criminal or civil law, violators may be subject to civil or criminal penalties.

IV. CONTACTS

    • Office of Institutional Compliance
    • 713-500-3294
    • https://www.uth.edu/compliance/contact
    • Office of the Executive Vice President & Chief Academic Officer - Conflicts of Interest Office
    • https://inside.uth.edu/evpara/coi/index.htm
    • Office of the Senior Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer
    • 713-500-4952