Ethics, Political Activity, and Gifts

The "ethics" arm of the University Ethics and Compliance Office deals with workplace ethics, as defined by the Illinois State Officials and Employees Ethics Act.  Although there certainly can be a moral side to the topic of ethics within the University environment, the moral piece tends to be addressed via coordination with other offices and policies, such as Human Resources or Access and Equity. 

University Ethics and Compliance Office staff more commonly address matters related to fraud, time reporting, prohibited political activities, whistleblower protections/retaliation, gifts (see "Gift Acceptance" tab on this page), and coordinating the Statement of Economic Interests process for the University of Illinois.  Our office works very closely with several other units across the University.  When we are contacted regarding matters outside of our area of expertise, we will work to coordinate the report with or refer the caller to the appropriate unit.

Prohibited Political Activity

Prohibited political activities are detailed specifically within the Illinois State Officials and Employees Ethics Act (Ethics Act).  The definition of prohibited political activities include any activities that are in support of or in connection with any campaign for elective office or any political organization, or those activities that are either in support of or in opposition to a referendum question.

University employees may not intentionally perform any prohibited political activity during any compensated time other than vacation, personal, or compensatory time off and they may not intentionally misappropriate any state property or resources (including university property or resources) by engaging in any prohibited political activity for the benefit of any campaign for elective office or any political organization or referendum question.

Additionally, the Ethics Act states it is illegal for any supervisor to intentionally misappropriate the services of any university employee by requiring that employee to perform any prohibited political activity as part of their job duties, as a condition of their employment, or during any time off that is compensated by the university (such as vacation, personal, or compensatory time off).

Examples of Prohibited Political Activities

  • soliciting campaign contributions or votes
  • assisting at the polls
  • circulating petitions
  • hosting rallies for candidates for elective office

Although these activities are not allowable during compensated time, they are permissible if you are outside of that time or are using vacation, personal, or compensatory time off and are not using university property or resources, such as, but not limited to, telephones, vehicles, tools, copiers, fax machines, email accounts, and computers.

Employees who suspect a violation of the prohibited political activities provision should report this to the University Ethics and Compliance Office either via email: ethicsofficer@uillinois.edu or the Ethics Line: 866-758-2146.  For additional information regarding reporting options and office procedures for handling complaints, please visit the Ethics Line and Making a Report sections of our website.

Gift Acceptance

What is a gift?

Per the law, a gift is any gratuity, discount, entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance, or other tangible or intangible item having monetary value including, but not limited to, cash, food and drink, and honoraria for speaking engagements related to or attributable to government employment or the official position of an employee, member or officer.

What the law says

Per the Illinois State Officials and Employees Ethics Act (5 ILCS 430/10-10), University employees and those family members living in their household with them, are restricted from soliciting or accepting gifts of any sort from prohibited sources.  Prohibited sources are people or businesses that do business or seek to do business with the University.  In most instances, but not all, prohibited sources are vendors.  This restriction is commonly referred to as the “Gift Ban.”

The exceptions

Though the Gift Ban section of the law states employees and their family members may not solicit or accept gifts from prohibited sources, there are exceptions that do allow for acceptance of gifts.  The exceptions listed below have been modified to reflect the impact of Illinois Executive Order 15-09 (January 13, 2015), which further restricts gift acceptance beyond the limitations within the Ethics Act.

  1. If the gift is an opportunity, benefit, or service that is available on the same conditions as the general public (such as a cellular phone discount given to all state employees, with state employees being considered the general population).
  2. If the employee receives a gift and pays market value for that gift (to a charitable organization of their choice), they may keep the gift.
  3. If the employee receives a gift as support for a political organization or candidate, or in the form of a contribution that is in compliance with the Election Code
  4. If the gift is made under the premise of educational materials and missions.  Please see how this exception is further clarified under Administrative Rule 1620.700.  This is the exception that would apply to vendor-paid travel, site visits, and conference fees.  Advance approval by the Executive Director of the Executive Ethics Commission (EEC) is required under this exception, but this authority has now been delegated back to the University of Illinois Ethics Officer. (Please see our Educational Materials and Missions Form page to request approval of pending travel.)
  5. Travel expenses for a meeting to discuss state business.   Advance EEC approval is required under this exception per Executive Order 15-09, but this authority has now been delegated back to the University of Illinois Ethics Officer.  Please see how this exception is further clarified under Administrative Rule 1620.700
  6. If the gift is given by a relative of the employee.
  7. If the gift is given by a close friend of the employee, provided the reason for the gift is completely separate from University business.  Please note in the case of close friends, the existence of a longstanding relationship must be easily proven.
  8. If the gift is in the form of food and/or beverage provided as a de minimus meal or refreshment at a business meeting or reception attended by the employee as part of their university responsibilities.
  9. If the gift is food, refreshments, lodging, transportation or other benefits, resulting from outside employment activities that are completely separate from University business.
  10. If the gifts are given between state and/or University employees and/or agencies.  This would include retirement  and holiday gifts, provided appropriate funding sources were utilized for their purchase.
  11. If the gift was bequested to, inherited by, or transferred at death to any employee.

There are two other exceptions within the law that were made obsolete for state employees with the signing of Executive Order 15-09 on January 13, 2015.  

  • Employees can no longer solicit or accept gifts from a prohibitive source, even if the cumulative value is less than $100 per calendar year, with the exception of students whose employment is a direct result of their enrollment (e.g., medical residents, student workers, graduate assistants, teaching assistants).
  • Food and beverage under $75 per calendar day can no longer be accepted, with the exception of student employees whose employment is a direct result of their enrollment (e.g., medical residents, student workers, graduate assistants, teaching assistants).  Only food or beverage provided as a de minimus meal or refreshment at a business meeting or reception attended by the employee as part of their university responsibilities (see exception #8 above).

Please Note: If your department has stricter policies prohibiting your acceptance of a gift, you must abide by the policies within your unit.  University policy would supersede the law in cases where the policy is stricter.

Statutory Reference

Illinois State Officials and Employees Ethics Act (5 ILCS 430/10-10)

Sec. 10-10. Gift ban. Except as otherwise provided in this Article, no officer, member, or State employee shall intentionally solicit or accept any gift from any prohibited source or in violation of any federal or State statute, rule, or regulation. This ban applies to and includes the spouse of and immediate family living with the officer, member, or State employee. No prohibited source shall intentionally offer or make a gift that violates this Section.

A full exception listing is also available at the above-linked location.

Executive Order Reference

Illinois Executive Order 15-09 (Jan. 13, 2015): Section III - 2, 3

The exceptions to the statutory gift ban contained in Subsection (8) (food and refreshments of up to $75 per day) and Subsection (12) (other gifts of up to $100 per year) of Section 10-15 of such Act do not apply to State Employees. This provision is not intended to preclude a State Employee from accepting de minimis meals or refreshments served at a business meeting or reception attended by the State Employee in the course of his or her official duties, provided that the State Employee adheres to any rules issued by the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget and his or her State Agency.

The exceptions to the statutory gift ban contained in Subsection (4) (educational missions) and Subsection (5) (travel expenses) of Section 10-15 of such Act do not apply to State Employees. This provision is not intended to preclude a Prohibited Source from paying for the cost of registration fees, travel, lodging, or meals, provided that, in addition to complying with all other applicable laws and regulations (including Section 1620.700 of the Illinois Administrative Code), (a) the Prohibited Source makes or arranges payment or reimbursement of such costs directly with the State Agency, and (b) the trip is approved in writing in advance by the Executive Director of the Commission.  Further interpretation of the Executive Order by the Governor’s Office allows for direct reimbursement to the employee, but only if the expense has been incurred and adequate documentation is provided by the employee to his or her unit.