Department of Public Service

Public Service Law Section 15 - Framework for Gifts



Public Service Law Section 15
Framework for Gifts
Preamble

Public Service Law Section 15 prohibits every corporation that is subject to the Commission’s supervision, as well as every officer, attorney, agent and employee of the corporation (hereinafter “company personnel,”) to offer or give “any present, gift or gratuity of any kind” to an employee of the Department of Public Service or a Commissioner of the Public Service Commission (hereinafter “Department employees”).

The purpose of this statute is to eliminate any improper influence, as well as the appearance of any improper influence, which may be brought to bear on Department employees who may be offered gifts by companies or their personnel who have an interest in the Department employee's work.

The integrity of the work of company personnel and Department employees matters to the ratepayers of New York. It is critical, therefore, that our individual and collective work product remains beyond reproach. For this reason, the following framework has been set forth to address various situations where company personnel and Department employees interact in the performance of their respective official duties and there may be an item of value available to a Department employee.

This framework does not, and cannot, anticipate all possible scenarios. Therefore, company personnel should contact the appropriate Compliance Officer or Ethics Counsel within their company concerning the propriety of offering or giving an item of value to a Department employee. Department employees should contact the Department Ethics Officer with any questions regarding whether it is permissible to accept a gift consistent with Public Service Law §15 and Public Officers Law §§73(5) and 74

With the common goal of compliance with Public Service Law §15, every company’s Compliance Officer or Ethics Counsel is strongly encouraged to contact the Department’s Ethics Officer to confer about potential gift issues. 2

Framework

Meals and Refreshments

v Company personnel shall not offer and Department employees shall not accept complimentary meals and refreshments.

v In the case of working lunches and other similar meetings, company personnel will use best efforts to provide advance notice to Department employees of the cost to purchase meals and refreshments.
      Ø In such instances, the company will provide a mechanism for Department employees to reimburse the company for the cost of the meals and refreshments.
      Ø Department employees are strongly encouraged to use the Department’s Meal and Refreshment form to document reimbursement to the company.

v In the case of informal lunches, outside of the context of a meeting, Department employees and company personnel should each cover the cost of his or her meal and retain receipts.
      Ø Company personnel and Department employees should not “split the bill” or offer to pay with a promise that the other party will pay the next time.

v In the case of large scale emergency restoration situations, such as acts of terrorism and natural disasters, company personnel may provide meals and refreshments to Department employees during the period of a declared emergency provided:
      Ø The company Compliance Officer or Ethics Counsel and the Department’s Ethics Officer confer at the earliest convenience during the emergency restoration to discuss the offering of meals and refreshments during the period of the declared emergency; and
      Ø A mechanism is provided that will allow for a true-up of the costs of the meals and refreshments provided so that the Department can reimburse the company.

v In the case of emergency investigatory situations, such as gas explosions, company personnel shall not offer and Department employees will not accept complimentary meals or refreshments.

Other Gifts

v Company personnel shall not offer and Department employees shall not accept any gifts or gratuities.

v In the case of tickets to events, such as sporting events or concerts, company personnel shall not offer complimentary tickets to events to Department employees.
      Ø Department employees must pay the face value of the ticket.
      Ø If there is a marked difference between the face value and the market value of a ticket, the company personnel and the Department employee should seek guidance from their respective Compliance Officer or Ethics Counsel or the Department’s Ethics Officer concerning the propriety of accepting the ticket.

v In the case of retirement events:
      Ø Arranged by Department staff for a retiring Department employee while still in State service, former Department employees who are company personnel may attend and pay for his or her meal and refreshments, but shall not contribute to the gift of the retiring employee.
      Ø Arranged by Department staff for a retiring Department employee who has left State service, former Department employees who are company personnel may attend and pay for his or her own refreshments, and may contribute to the gift of the retiring employee.
      Ø sponsored by the Company for retiring company personnel, Department employees may attend and must pay for his or her own meal and refreshments but may not contribute to the gift of the retiring company personnel.

v In the case of company promotional items that are offered during the course of an event, which would include such items as pens, pads, mugs, hardhats, calendars, Department employees may not take the items from the event.

v In the case of widely attended events sponsored solely by a company or in conjunction with other companies that are subject to the Commission’s supervision, company personnel shall not offer complimentary attendance or reimbursement for the cost of travel to Department employees.
      Ø Department employees may attend provided that the Department employee pays the registration fee and the travel costs.

Travel

v Company personnel shall not offer and Department employees shall not accept transportation from the Department office to a Company office or site, except under the following circumstances:

v In the case of travel to tour a site:
      Ø Company personnel may provide transportation to Department employees to tour the site in a company’s vehicle if there is no other viable alternative to tour the site. For example, the Department does not have the proper vehicle to traverse the terrain of a site.
      Ø Company personnel may provide transportation to Department employees to tour the site in a company’s vehicle if there are safety issues at the site that would require traveling in the utility’s vehicle.
      Ø Company personnel may provide transportation to Department employees between sites in a company’s vehicle if the tour includes more than one site.
      Ø Company personnel may provide transportation to Department employees at the site in a company’s vehicle if it is required as part of the Department employee’s duties and responsibilities and the company personnel’s duties and responsibilities to jointly review a site.

Training

v Company personnel shall not offer and Department employees shall not accept complimentary attendance to a training program or seminar when other attendees pay a fee to attend.

v In the case of a training program sponsored by the company for Department employees, Company personnel may offer such a program and Department employees may attend provided that:
      Ø The purpose of the program is to enhance the knowledge of Department employees that will assist them in the performance of their duties and responsibilities; and
      Ø No complimentary continuing education credits are offered.
      Ø No promotional items are offered, i.e., mugs, hats.

      v In the case of a training program sponsored by an agent to a company that is subject to the Commission’s supervision, the agent may provide complimentary attendance to a Department employee provided that:
      Ø The agent is not acting within the scope of employment for the company;
      Ø Attendance at the program is not limited to Department employees; and
      Ø The complimentary attendance is offered to all attendees.
      Ø Department employees have a responsibility to ascertain who is offering the training to determine whether the agent may properly offer the complimentary attendance.

Family Members

v In the case of company personnel and Department employees who are family members, the restrictions contained in Public Service Law §15 will not apply to gifts given to family members, provided:
      Ø Family members include spouse, child, grandchild, or any person who is a direct descendent of that individual’s grandparents (aunts, uncles, cousins) or the spouse of such descendent.
      Ø The gift given is customary based on their relationship and is because of the personal relationship.
      Ø The cost of the gift is not deducted as a business expense.

Friends

v In the case of company personnel and Department employees who are friends, the restrictions set forth in Public Service Law §15 apply to the offering or giving of gifts.
      Ø Company personnel should consult with the company’s compliance officer or ethics counsel to determine whether it is permissible to offer gifts to friends who are Department employees.
      Ø A company may adopt a policy that sets forth specific criteria that permits the offering of gifts to friends who are Department employees. Such criteria should include, but is not limited to: the offering of the gift is based on a long-standing personal relationship; gifts have been exchanged in the past; the gift was not purchased as a business expense; the company personnel and Department employees are not involved in the same case or proceeding; and a reasonable person would not think that the gift was an attempt to influence.
      Ø The Department’s Ethics Officer should be consulted during the drafting of the policy.
      Ø A gift given pursuant to a policy will not be deemed a waiver of Public Service Law Section 15 if it is determined that the gift was intended to influence a Department employee in the performance of his or her duties.
      Ø A company may set a stricter standard and prohibit gifts from company personnel to Department employees who are friends.
       Department employees are encouraged to consult with the Department’s Ethics Officer prior to accepting any gift from company personnel.

June 2013


See other web pages in the category: Ethics