I need some advice on the topics of work appropriate gifts. I work in a large international company, and recently became friends with a male coworker. I am married, and so is he. What is considered an appropriate gift for a coworker? He recently gave me something designer that was over $1000 and it doesn’t make me comfortable at all, and I expressed to him that it doesn’t and I find it inappropriate. I am happily married, and he knows I am. He said it wasn’t meant to be inappropriate, but it makes me so uncomfortable. He won’t take it back and I have already tried to express my concerns and discomfort to him twice. How do I give it back to him without causing drama? I don’t really want to go to HR yet without making it clear first.
First, to be clear, you’re not causing the drama. He’s causing the drama. A gift of this sort is 100 percent inappropriate between co-workers, especially ones that are married to other people. Even if you were both single this type of gift is inappropriate. Why? Because you are co-workers, not boyfriend and girlfriend.
So, here’s what you do. You say he won’t take it back, but he doesn’t have all the power. You don’t have to take it. Get a friend to go with you, hand him the item and say, “I cannot accept this gift.” Then walk away. If he refuses to take it out of your hands, set it on his desk and walk away. It is his. You are under no obligation to accept it.
Then, you need to report it to HR. I know, I know, drama. But, here’s why. His gift may have been genuinely sweet and he may be a multi-millionaire who just works for fun and spending $1000 is like buying someone a candy bar, and I’d still want to know about it.
Because it’s not an appropriate gift* between co-workers, this guy needs some training. Now, if he is wealthy or if he’s from a culture where those types of gifts are appropriate he’s not being sleazy or forward or what have you, he’s just made a mistake. In this case, there should be a short discussion that gifts like this are inappropriate because they change the relationship from a professional one to a personal one. Because of the huge amount of money involved it puts you in his debt. That’s not a peer relationship.
If his culture is okay with this, that’s great. But while we respect his home country culture, he needs to respect his local culture as well, and that means not giving expensive gifts to other people unless you have a serious established romantic or familial relationship.
Now, if he was trying to win your favor or begin a romantic relationship, this is a failed way to do it. You’re both married to other people so that’s inappropriate in and of itself, but if you were both single it would still be inappropriate. Again, because the present is so extravagant it can create feelings of obligation. That’s a big nope in the workplace.
So, the guy may not be in need of discipline, but he is in need of some instruction that this is not proper workplace behavior. Period.
*What is an appropriate co-worker gift? The following:
- I just got back from Hawaii and I brought everyone in the department a lei!
- I brought in donuts from Krispy Kreme! They are in the kitchen, help yourself!
- Thanks for handling that crazy client for me yesterday. I picked you up your favorite Starbucks drink!
- I got your name in the Secret Santa. Here is a gift that cost less than $20, is not rude, crude, or socially unacceptable, and there’s a good chance you will like it.
- Congratulations on the new baby! Here’s a package of onesies and a stuffed toy!
- Congratulations on the wedding! Here’s a gift I selected from your registry!
Feel free to refer to this list should you ever feel the urge to buy an expensive gift for a co-worker.