Firstly, the organization needs to put in place a policy on gifts & mementos, and a whistle blowing policy to ensure transparency, a framework to guide all staff in the human service sector (not just social workers) on the handling of such gifts and mementos and prevent ethical dilemmas and conflicts.
The policy for gifts & mementos should contain the following:
a) Cash gifts regardless of amount is not to be accepted – even if it is for festive occasions, birthdays, etc. If there are concerns that clients will feel offended, staff can state that the organization policy prohibits them from receiving cash.
b) Non-cash items including mementos and tokens of appreciation exceeding $xx (say, $50 – each organization may defer) must be declared and surrendered. The organization should appoint a senior officer to decide if staff can keep the item, or surrender the item – which may be used as prizes for staff D&D. If the item is surrendered, a letter should be sent to the ‘donor’ to state the organisation’s policy, and how the item will be used.
c) Food items (eg. Chinese new year oranges, moon-cakes, even food hampers etc) should also be declared – however, these may be shared between staff and consumed as there is an expiry date on food items.
d) Meal treats – again, the Head of Department (HOD) should be informed, and if the HOD thinks that the meal could create conflict of interest, perception by other clients on favoritism or special favours for particular clients, the meals should be avoided.
e) Staff may keep items with no commercial value, eg empty CNY red packets (does not contain cash), calendars if offered by clients/vendors.
Concurrently, a whistle blowing policy should be in place so that all staff are aware all eyes are watching. Any inappropriate conduct (receiving cash and high value gifts, etc) will be reported.
These policies should be regularly communicated, especially at staff orientation for new staff. This is to ensure a high standard of practice, gain public trust – which is critical for the social service sector, and eliminate any avenues to discredit the organization.