My company sent me to a conference, recently, and in the conference there was a raffle and I won a $200 Visa prepaid credit card which I, in turn, used to buy groceries and other things for myself.

Now a coworker is telling me that I acted unethically and that I should have turned the prepaid credit card over to the Accounting department. I think that's absurd. They also raffled off a Lego set and some of the sponsors were giving away t-shirts. Should I turn over those items as well?

I have temporal seniority over this coworker, but based on our job titles, we are peers.

My question is: did I act unethically and, if not, how should I deal with the coworker that thinks I did?

edit: The raffle was part of what the conference organizers called sponsor bingo. If you stopped by all the sponsor booths your name would be automatically entered into the raffle at the end of the conference. So I didn't purchase it separately and as for whether or not it was included in the cost of the conference... I guess? I mean, simply purchasing a conference pass wouldn't get you into the raffle. Also, you had to be there, in-person, to collect the prize fwiw

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Jul 30, 2022 at 8:54
  • Are you sure the draw was random and that they didn't pick you because they see an opportunity with your company .... One example of why your coworker is correct, most large organisations won't let you accept a gift of that size.
    – deep64blue
    Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 20:36
  • @deep64blue - that seems highly unlikely. Per your theory then it stands to reason that I would have "won" even if I didn't visit all the sponsors. That said, I've been going to this conference since it's inception four or so years ago. Some years I haven't won anything. It's hard to imagine how, exactly, it'd benefit them to "sway" me. My company has, at most, had three devs. I don't see myself as a decision maker and I don't represent myself as such. I mean, I suppose anything is possible, but, but really, I think it's just a hair more plausible than Alex Jones' Sandy Hook theories.
    – neubert
    Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 21:31

12 Answers 12


I think this is much less of an ethics question and much more of a company policy question. You should start there to find the answer for your situation.

T-Shirts and other branded giveaways have little to no value to your company any way, so most companies wouldn't care. Even the Legos in your example have limited real value to your company. But money (the cash card) does have value to the company and they might want it to offset the cost of your trip.

Also worth considering, many companies have a threshold on value of gifts you can receive. T-Shirts and other branded giveaways are probably well under that threshold, but a $200 gift card could easily be over that limit. Once again, check company policy.

  • 45
    It isn't so much "value to the company" as tending to be influenced by whatever the gift was. Because of the value to the employee, the gift needs to be declared so the manager or HR can be aware if the employee (OP) suddenly has a desire to go back to this same conference, or is involved in decision making relating to that conference sponsor(s). Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 20:24
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    This is beyond absurd. The raffle is for the attendees and constitutes a competition of chance. It is not a „gift“ that may be connected with extortion, bribery, lobbyism, or corruption, it‘s a randomized raffle. Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 5:38
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    Note that company policies usually mention gifts. A raffle win is NOT a gift by any common definition. The reasoning for those policies is to prevent corruption... if a client gives valuable "gifts" then the employees might tend to do some stuff that the employer isn't happy about to ensure they get the "gift". This doesn't apply to raffles at conferences...
    – GACy20
    Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 7:22
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    Chances are that it will cost the company more to figure out their policy on this, including the time already spent by the jealous co-worker and the OP himself, than the entire value of this card in the first place. Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 8:26
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    @DrMrstheMonarch I don't see much difference in it being a gift vs. a raffle - the employee personally received something of value from a vendor which could affect their opinions/willingness to work with them, for reasons completely unrelated to the business. It can present a conflict of interest whether the vendor is handing out $200 gift cards to everyone, 50% of people, or just one lucky winner. I agree this is likely a benign case with little real impact, but if pharmaceutical companies were raffling off Hawaiian vacations to prescribing doctors, I think most would find it problematic. Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 13:21

My question is: did I act unethically and, if not, how should I deal with the coworker that thinks I did?

I don't think you acted unethically.

That said, I would have asked my boss (or perhaps HR) before I spent my winnings, just as a matter of principle. There may be a company policy or custom about this and you may simply be unaware.

As far as dealing with your coworker, just ignore them and they will go away. It's really none of their business.


You should really refer to your company policies, and if in doubt, ask.

There is nothing inherently wrong with winning a prize from a random drawing at a conference. It was random after all (at least as far as you know), and some employers would have no problem with you keeping it (they wouldn't even give out these kind of prizes at conferences if that were not the case). But since presumably your company paid for you to attend the conference, they may feel the prize belongs to them. Or they may wish to avoid anything that could be construed as a vendor giving a bribe or improper influence.

I used to work for a very large, high profile company that was very protective of its reputation. They wanted to avoid anything could even give the appearance of improper influence. They had a policy that anything given by a vendor (or prospective vendor) over $150 had to be cleared with the Ethics department (they were big enough to have a dedicated ethic department), and anything cash-equivalent, like a gift card was just straight out.

The best thing for you to do is just talk to your manager about it (or ethics department if your company has one) and find out if your company has a policy. I understand you already spent the money, but they will probably be understanding if you plead ignorance. If you ran afoul of company policy, it will be better for you to let them know now, instead of having it come out later and look like you tried to cover it up.

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    A lot of "random" prizes and awards at conferences are, in fact, nothing of the sort.
    – Richard
    Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 21:33
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    "They wanted to avoid anything could even give the appearance of improper influence." Yes, every place I've worked has emphasized in their ethics training that you must both be ethical and have the appearance of being ethical.
    – BSMP
    Commented Jul 30, 2022 at 1:26
  • @BSMP Or at least the latter. Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 3:47

If you actually mean "raffle", that is a drawing that you paid money per ticket to enter and the more tickets purchased, the better your chance of winning, then no, presumably the money used to purchase the ticket was yours and so too is the prize. I would say this case is completely independent of company policy.

If instead you really mean some kind of door prize, (one where the chance is based simply on showing up and all attendants have an equal chance) then the answer might well be "yes". I'd agree at that point it's a matter of company policy.

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    The OP edited to specify: the raffle ticket was earned by visiting every sponsor's booth. So they didn't pay their own money for it, but neither did every attendee get one (although every attendee could get one at no cost but time). So neither of your paragraphs exactly answers the question, although the general principles in your answer are sound. Commented Jul 30, 2022 at 20:00

There's not going to be a policy as specific as "Any employee who ..." which would include "raffle".

The OP received a thing of value during a trip. Any related policies are likely going to depend on who gave the thing of value, the value in question, how that might influence the OP, and decision-making ability. $200 is a lot of money and could influence the OP to return to the conference. It should be reported.

A comment by the OP indicated that this was a "sponsor BINGO" and that the conference provided the prize to people who'd attended the conference and visited sponsor tables in person.

We must keep in mind that the conference has a financial interest in inducing people to attend and as such anything of value given to an employee can create a conflict of interest -- the employee may well want to attend the conference again in the future, visit still more sponsor tables, and increase their odds of once again receiving a valuable prize.

Cash prizes are different, as others have pointed out, from things like branded t-shirts which have minimal value. They are also different from things like vendor samples which might have little or no value outside someones workplace.

This should be reported to HR or their manager.


I have never seen any company that has a policy saying "Any employee who wins a raffle at a conference must report the amount of money won to the accounting department" as your coworker stated.

Nevertheless, it may be a good idea to send a quick email to HR and copy your manager to ask them if it is OK for you to keep the money. I guess that there is a 99.9999% chance that they would say the money is yours to spend.

Note: However, I suppose that you may need to report this money as part of your income to the IRS (if you are located in the US). In other words, you may need to pay tax on this money depending on your location.

Regarding your coworker, if he is just playing or messing with you, then ignore him. If he honestly wants to help you to do the right thing because he has seen something similar to this in the past at your company, then simply say "Thanks. I will look into it." Only you can tell if he wants to play or to help. Or, the answer from HR to your email about the company policy regarding winning a raffle at a conference will tell you if he is a silly guy or a good guy.

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    There's not going to be a policy as specific as "Any employee who ..." which would include "raffle". The OP received a thing of value during a trip. Any related policies are likely going to depend on who gave the thing of value, the value in question, how that might influence the OP, and decision-making ability. $200 is a lot of money and could influence the OP to return to the conference. It should be reported. Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 20:19
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    @JulieinAustin, Why don't you post your comment as an answer and let everyone respond to it ? Simply copy your whole comment and post it as an answer, and see how everyone votes on it ? Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 20:44
  • Thanks for the suggestion. I've added a more detailed explanation for why it needs to be reported. Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 21:51
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    +1 for pointing out the tax aspect!
    – Lou Knee
    Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 20:38
  • @JulieinAustin Some employers (in particular, government) actually do have policies that deal specifically with raffles at conferences! NIH example though it's not altogether clear how OP's situation would be treated here.
    – G_B
    Commented Jul 31, 2022 at 23:54

Your co-worker is wrong - there's no ethical difference between you taking the card and you turning it over to the company.

The ethical question is whether or not it was ok to accept this gift in the first place.

The larger topic is corruption - which is not always the straightforward "here's some money, do me a favour" kind. If you think about scandals in politics, you'll remember that many favours towards politicians don't come with an immediate expected action - more with a general "let's make this guy our friend, and he'll remember us when deciding about laws that affect us" kind. From what you've described, the raffle might fall into this category - nobody expect a specific action from you, but they want to influence your attitude. Obviously, they're not giving things away just for fun, they're a business after all.

This is the reason some organizations don't allow their people to accept any gifts at all. In many countries, the police for example.

From this perspective, it doesn't matter if the price is cash or an item, or even how much the value was. The ethical question is whether or not to accept a gift from someone who is giving it with expectations.

Personally, I believe "hand any gifts over to the company" policies are bullshit and probably not legal. Unless, of course, the company would also pay for any losses you incur during a business trip (say, your toothbrush broke or a button fell from your shirt). But the ethical question remains that a gift like this may influence your judgement. From this perspective, the LEGO set or T-shirts are in fact more problematic than money. Money spent is gone and you're unlikely to remember it much. Those branded T-shirts clearly say who sponsored them and will remind not only the wearer but also make him advertise the sponsor.

Independent of company policy, look at the type of conference. Was this a technical conference for the purpose of learning and information exchange? Or was it more like a trade fair with companies presenting their products? In the first case, an ethical person should avoid being influenced by marketing efforts and accepting a gift is wrong. In the second case you go expecting to be influenced by everyone and a gift is just one more way they try to win you over, so let them try. As long as you made no promises in return there's nothing wrong with it.

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    It seems to me that there is an ethical difference; if you keep the gift you may be personally influenced (consciously or unconsciously) by that gift because you received something that benefited you. If you must turn all gifts over to the company you don't receive the benefit of the gift and so are both less likely to be influenced and less likely to have any appearance of being influenced. (Your company might be influenced to send you again to get more gifts, but that's not on you, that's on your company.)
    – cjs
    Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 8:49
  • @cjs Psychology should weigh in on whether that works like that or not. The fact of receiving the gift might already influence you subconsciously.
    – Tom
    Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 11:43
  • The problem with this line of thinking is that if they are very polite with you and give you many words of praise, then you'll remember that and may be personally influenced (consciously or unconsciously). BTW, as far as I know, companies or institutions which make gifts illegal or mandatory to be declared, usually have a monetary limit below which it's fine.
    – Val
    Commented Jul 31, 2022 at 18:16
  • "there's no ethical difference between you taking the card and you turning it over to the company" This is quite incorrect. If the business gives your company some sort of benefit, that is fine. It's like a discount. If they give a personal benefit, that could be viewed as a bribe. Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 3:51

For purposes of this answer, I'm going to interpret "unethically" as "contrary to your employer's policies", otherwise it gets into philosophical debate.

Without knowing where you work, nobody here can say whether your co-worker is right or wrong about expectations at your company. But it's quite possible they're right, because plenty of major employers do have policies along these lines. For instance:

Standards for New South Wales government employees, as set by NSW ICAC, under "grey areas and guiding principles":

Felix attends a work-related conference with the support and approval of his manager. The focus of the conference is within his agency’s purview and relevant to Felix’s project. He attends dinner on the first day, which is included in the overall cost of the ticket. Unbeknown to Felix, all dinner attendees are automatically entered into a raffle. He wins third prize and receives two Gold Class movie tickets.

The gifts, benefits and hospitality policy at Felix’s agency states that employees should not accept gifts of more than $25 in value in a single instance. Combined, the tickets retail for just less than $90. The tickets remain the property of Felix’s agency because he attended the conference in an official capacity. He advises his manager, who in consultation with management, determines the way in which the tickets will be disposed.

Washington State government:

A state employee/officer may not keep a door prize if the state agency paid for the conference and the employee is attending...on state time. ... If you purchase a raffle ticket at a conference or other state event...it would not be considered a gift and you may keep the item.

US National Institutes of Health:

Example 1: At a conference which you attend as part of your official duties, all attendees are automatically entered into a drawing. The prize you win from that drawing belongs to the Government because your attendance was in an official capacity.

Example 2: At a different conference open to the general public, there is an opportunity to purchase raffle tickets to win a television. Anyone attending can purchase a ticket. You buy a ticket and win. You may keep the television because you personally purchased a raffle ticket to be part of the drawing. Entry into the drawing was not automatic based on your official attendance.

Government agencies tend to have the most detailed and publicly accessible policies on such things, but plenty of non-government policies have restrictions on accepting "gifts" which might cover such a situation:


Acceptance of individual gifts greater than US$75, or multiple gifts in one year from the same Third Party totaling greater than US$75, must be approved by your company’s General Counsel. Gifts of cash or cash equivalents (such as gift cards, gift certificates or “red packets” commonly offered in Asia) must never be accepted.


Never offer or give anyone, or accept from anyone, anything of value that is, or could be viewed as, a bribe or kickback or an attempt to influence that person’s or entity’s relationship with IBM...

BP (Australia):

Immediately return any gift of cash or cash equivalent that you receive from a third party and notify Legal that this has happened

The "why" has already been covered in other answers - tax implications, and the possibility that such prizes might induce employees to waste employer money on unnecessary trips or to favour the prize-giver in business decisions. In some cases even the perception of undue influence can be a problem regardless of whether the gift actually influenced the recipient.

As seen in these examples and already mentioned in Julie's answer, some organisations make distinctions based on the value and nature of the gift. A T-shirt or a small Lego set might well fall under the threshold for such policies. A $200 gift card (aka "cash equivalent") will not.

You might argue that you "paid" for your ticket via the time you spent visiting the sponsor booths, but I wouldn't lean heavily on that argument. If you were on the clock when you visited the booths, then you were already working for your employer and getting paid for your time - however you chose to spend it - in which case the raffle ticket is still a freebie to you and likely to fall under "gift".

If you weren't on the clock (and acknowledging that "on the clock" gets into grey areas when conference lunches etc. are also treated as opportunities for work-related networking), then there's a question of whether the time taken to visit all those booths was in proportion to the value of the benefit. If it's not a large number of booths, your accounting department might suspect that this requirement is just a ruse to get around corporate policies on raffles. Nobody gives away $200 without expecting something in return that they wouldn't otherwise have gotten.

You should check corporate policy, see whether it covers this case, and if not talk to Accounts or your manager.

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    Indeed, every large company I have worked at has a similar policy.
    – deep64blue
    Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 20:34

As others have mentioned, there are actually two elements to the answer.

One is the company policy. If your employee handbook or other policy document states that you cannot accept gifts or if you cannot accept gifts over a certain dollar amount that is less than what you received, then you're in violation of the policy so ethics aren't even a consideration. You're in violation and need to correct that before you get found out.

The other is the ethical question. Essentially, if you have decision-making capabilities or are involved with making recommendations with regard to products or services that the vendor is pitching, then accepting any gifts will fall on the unethical side of the scale nearly 100% of the time (after all, you're going to be more likely to favor the people who gave you a gift, even if it is subconsciously done and not an overt quid pro quo). If your job doesn't directly involve you in any decisions or recommendations related to the products or services offered by that vendor, then their gift isn't "buying" them anything other than potential goodwill from someone who can't help them (at least not at this stage in your career).

The fact that it was a raffle and not a guaranteed gift may move the ethical scale a bit in your favor, as well as the relatively low dollar value, but at the end of the day the simplest way to view ethics comes down to your own integrity (both real and perceived). You should always ask yourself "does accepting this change how I treat this vendor, and would an outside viewer think that it changes how I treat this vendor?"

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    I don't think we can offer opinion on the ethical side, different people will have different takes on it. Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 17:03
  • There’s also the question whether the company policy is legal.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 6:04
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    Violation of company policy and ethics are orthagonal, so even if he violated a company policy, the question of ethics still remains.
    – Tom
    Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 6:33
  • It does remain and I certainly have opinions on the ethics of it but I don't think it's something workplace can offer a useful opinion on Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 9:41
  • The ethical question comes into play, e.g., if the OP could have participated in more useful activities for the company during the conference but instead choose to visit all vendor booths even those not at all related to their business just because doing so increased their odds of winning the booth bingo. That would be considered unethical by most. Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 21:04

There are several concerns when accepting such a gift. Other answers have already addressed many such concerns, so I'll add one final ethical concern with accepting the $200:

Legally, I'm unsure whether keeping such a gift is OK. Ethically, I find it concerning. Your employer is paying you a salary. In exchange for providing you with a salary, anything you earn while acting as an agent of the company belongs to the company.

I'll note that the above ethical issue does not prevent you from accepting gifts which have no value to the company. However, the concerns addressed in other answers still apply.

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    That is self-contradictory. Anything you "earn" is yours, not the company's. You earn your salary while working for the company, in case you hadn't noticed.
    – Tim Long
    Commented Jul 30, 2022 at 4:50
  • @TimLong: Perhaps "produce" would have been a better word.
    – Brian
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 13:12

Ethics & Compliance officer here. As has been mentioned before, the answer will depend on company policies for the rules-based side as well as personal and company values for the ethical side. In addition to the answers above though, I‘d add that you should do something to avoid being on the receiving end of a complaint/report/allegation by any co-worker who knows. Disclose what happened to whoever is available in your company (ethics/compliance officer, HR, manager…) and get advice. If a report happens, you can point to having disclosed it yourself already. The main difference is transparency vs keeping something secret.


Your company almost certainly has a written policy on this. Usually it's under the bribery statute under "gifts".

This will determine the ethics of the situation as your company sees them.

As this was won in a raffle, and isn't being used to gain your favor it's almost certainly not unethical to receive it (It's not a form of bribery), the problem is whether or not you declared it before spending any of the money.

Speaking personally, I wouldn't consider it ethical to spend the money without first declaring it, and I would consider this to be one of those situations where it's better to ask for permission than to ask forgiveness.

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