The Federal Practice Group Blog

Asking for GoFundMe donations at work could lead to ethics violations

Posted By smay || 29-May-2018

Asking for GoFundMe donations at work could lead to ethics violations

By Anjali Patel, Esq., cyberFEDS® Legal Editor Washington Bureau

Key points:

  • Employees may not solicit money for personal gain
  • Gift rules prohibit solicitations using employee’s position
  • Supervisors sending GoFundMe requests may create appearance of coercion

IN FOCUS: As GoFundMe and other crowdfunding platforms become more and more popular, agencies
may want to consider updating their ethics policies to clearly explain when such initiatives could trigger
ethics violations, according to Heather White, a partner at The Federal Practice Group.

At the workplace, GoFundMe campaigns could be considered an improper solicitation, appear to place
undue influence on employees to contribute, and even violate related agency policies, White explained.

Although many people may think of GoFundMe campaigns — for themselves, another person, or cause —
as a form of fundraising, this is not necessarily true when applying the ethics rules. The Office of
Government Ethics’ Elizabeth Horton told cyberFEDS® that under the ethics regulations, most
GoFundMe solicitations would not qualify as fundraising, which is geared toward nonprofit
organizations. 5 CFR 2635.808.

Instead, employees who want to participate in GoFundMe campaigns should look at the rules on soliciting
gifts and misuse of position under 5 CFR Part 2635 Subparts B and G, she explained.

Misuse of position

Unless employees are extremely careful, sending GoFundMe links to coworkers at the workplace could
trigger the misuse of position rules, White said.
Under 5 CFR 2635.702 , employees may not use their public office, government position, title, or any
authority associated with the public office:

• For their “own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise, or for the private
gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated”;
• To coerce or induce another person, including subordinates, to provide any benefit to themselves or
their friends, relatives, or affiliated people;
• In a manner that could reasonably be construed to imply that the agency or the government sanctions
or endorses their or another’s personal activities.

Management should not be soliciting donations because there would be the appearance of pressuring
individuals to donate, White emphasized.

That said, solicitations for personal gain are permitted when done through one of the agency’s approved
channels, such as voluntary leave donation programs, White said.

Also, keep in mind that under 5 CFR 2635.704 , employees may not use government property, or allow its
use, for other than authorized purposes. Therefore, to be safe, White advised employees to avoid
GoFundMe campaigns at the workplace or while using government computers, networks, or
smartphones.

Employees can still donate from home using personal devices, she said. If non-supervisors want to
communicate with coworkers about their campaign, White advised employees to use personal emails.
Supervisors, however, should avoid notifying any coworkers or subordinates, even through personal
emails, because of the risk of the appearance of coercion.

Horton also warned agencies that 5 CFR 2635.202 ‘s restriction against soliciting a gift “because of the
employee’s official position” may be interpreted to cover employee-to-employee requests for GoFundMe
donations regardless of whether the donation goes to the employee or another beneficiary.

However, ethics rules on gifts also contain specific exclusions that could make certain GoFundMe
campaigns that otherwise follow the regulations and agency policies permissible, she added.

For example, generally, ad hoc collections or solicitations between coworkers for small amounts are
allowed, such as sending requests for buying a retirement gift for a coworker or monetary contributions
for flowers, meals, or to help ill colleagues, White explained. These requests must still comply with rules
on gifts outlined in 5 CFR Part 2635, subpart C, and any other applicable rules.

Agency policies

Agencies may develop additional guidance for employees on handling GoFundMe campaigns at work,
such as the advisory disseminated by the Department of Defense, Horton said.

DOD adopted a limited definition of GoFundMe-type solicitations as similar to an individual soliciting for
themselves and prohibited such solicitations in the workplace, she added.

So, DOD employees not only have to beware of the ethics rules, but also the specific agency policy, she
noted.

At other agencies, the safest thing to do is avoid GoFundMe-type solicitations at the workplace or ask for
guidance from the agency ethics official, White said.

If the agency chooses to issue guidance, they should do so in “plain english” and clearly explain when such campaigns are permitted and prohibited, she urged.

 Reprinted with permission from: cyberFEDS®. © 2018 LRP Publications, 360 Hiatt Drive, Palm Beach, FL 33418. All rights reserved. For more information on this or other products published by LRP Publications, please call 1-800-341-7874 or visit our website at: www.shoplrp.com

Categories: Federal Employment Law, Firm News, Uncategorized
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