Three Things You Can Do Instead of Accepting Gifts from Clients

Gift-giving is an expected norm in most cultures. Thus, many behavioral professionals will find themselves in the awkward situation of having to turn-away a gift offered by a client or client’s family. While the new BACB Ethics Code does allow nominal gifts, behavior analysts still recognize the harm that accepting gifts can do in growing unintended multiple relationships.

The new code states: 1.12 Giving and Receiving Gifts – Because the exchange of gifts can invite conflicts of interest and multiple relationships, behavior analysts do not give gifts to or accept gifts from clients, stakeholders, supervisees, or trainees with a monetary value of more than $10 U.S. dollars (or the equivalent purchasing power in another currency). Behavior analysts make clients and stakeholders aware of this requirement at the onset of the professional relationship. A gift is acceptable if it functions as an infrequent expression of gratitude and does not result in financial benefit to the recipient. Instances of giving or accepting ongoing or cumulative gifts may rise to the level of a violation of this standard if the gifts become a regularly expected source of income or value to the recipient. Here are some things you can do instead of accepting gifts from clients.

  1. Be Proactive. You or your agency should send an email to clients and parents informing them of the code of ethics and that no gifts will be received. This may prevent awkward situations for you or your staff.
  2. Offer an alternative. In the email alerting clients and parents of the “no gift” rule, offer them the opportunity to say something nice or give feedback to you or about your staff. Kind words can mean more than a plate of cookies or a gift card. It could also provide an opportunity for clients and parents to provide feedback on services.
  3. When someone does offer you a gift that is over the specified limit — which is inevitable — it can be really hard to not accept without offending or embarrassing the giver. Handing them a card that says “I can’t” — although cheesy — can help disperse the awkwardness in the situation and help them understand that you are grateful for the gesture.

It’s important to note that the BACB also recognizes that it’s important to acknowledge the gesture and thoughtfulness of the gift-giver. We should be careful how we explain the ethical code as not to imply that the gift may have strings attached to it and that other professionals who accept gifts are less ethical than we are. Or, most importantly, that we are grateful for the kindness they show and the trust they put in us. What are some other ways you can avoid awkward conversations or ways to communicate this ethical practice to clients and their families?

Christy Evanko, BCBA, LBA
Subject Matter Expert