How to Pick the Right Gift for Your Mail Carrier

A mail carrier delivers envelopes to a mailbox in the suburbs

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Wanting to show your appreciation for your mail carrier with a gift is wonderful. However, there are some rules for what postal carriers are—and aren't—allowed to accept. Several ethical guidelines fall under the executive branch of the United States government and set rules for what's acceptable for both federal employees and those of the United States Postal Service.

For example, postal workers are generally prohibited from accepting gifts from customers and co-workers valued more than $20.

What the Rule Book Says

The Code of Federal Regulations Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch, Part 2635, Subpart B states:

"Federal employees cannot accept a gift as a result of their federal employment."

What this means is that a postal worker can't actually accept a gift from you just because they deliver your mail, but can only accept a gift if a personal relationship already exists between the two of you.

According to the Postal Service, federal regulations allow all postal employees—including carriers—to accept a gift worth $20 or less from a customer per occasion, such as a holiday or a birthday. However, cash and cash equivalents, such as checks or gift cards that can be exchanged for cash, may never be accepted in any amount. In addition, no USPS employee may accept more than $50 worth of gifts from one customer in a calendar year period.

If you decide to ignore the rule when you give, your mail carrier must reimburse you for the cost of any gifts exceeding the $20 limit, or for gifts where the value of the item cannot be easily determined. This is done in two ways: either by returning the gift itself or by sending financial reimbursement.

Here's an example of the second option: If you were to give your mail carrier a bouquet of flowers worth more than $20, they would then have to figure out the actual value and send you a reimbursement for the full value. Your intentions may have been kind, but now your mailman has to make an extra effort to research the cost of your gift and then pay you the full amount out of their own pocket. That doesn't seem like much of a gift, does it? That's why it's important to understand—and follow—the rules of gifts for postal workers.

Unacceptable Gifts for Postal Workers

Postal workers are prohibited from accepting the following items:

  • Cash
  • Checks
  • Stocks
  • Liquor
  • Anything that can be exchanged for cash
  • Anything of monetary value more than $20

Acceptable Gifts for Postal Workers

Some acceptable gifts for your mail delivery person include:

  • Modest refreshments such as coffee, doughnuts, cookies, or soda
  • Plaques, trophies, and other items intended for presentation
  • Perishable items such as food, candy, fruit, or flowers, so long as they are to be shared with other postal workers
  • Retail gifts cards with a value of less than $20 that cannot be converted to cash

Perhaps the best gift for your mail carrier is simply a heartfelt card saying "thank you." To go a step further, you may want to show your gratitude by penning a letter of appreciation addressed to the postmaster of the particular office that your mail carrier works at.

In your letter, you can outline the countless times your postal worker has gone above and beyond the call of duty to make sure your mail gets to you in one piece and on time. Your letter of appreciation would be added to your mailman's personnel file once it has been read by their superiors.

Gifts to Other Federal Employees

Similar gift-giving ethics rules apply to all other federal employees. In general, the ethics rules prohibit executive branch government employees from accepting gifts from outside the government if the gifts are given either because of their official positions (bribery) or by prohibited sources. Prohibited sources include people who are seeking official action by the employee or their agencies, do business or seek to do business with their agencies, conduct activities regulated by their agencies, or are substantially affected by the employees’ duties.

For example, a person with a contract to sell supplies to the Department of Defense would be prohibited from giving any gift to any Defense Department employee regardless of their position.

Gift-giving between federal employees is also subject to limitations. Generally, federal employees may not give gifts to their supervisors. Likewise, they may not accept gifts from their subordinates or other federal employees who are paid less than they are paid.

There are some reasonable exceptions to the rules. Federal employees may accept gifts from a spouse, child, or other close family members. The rules also permit an employee to accept a gift, other than cash, from a coworker worth up to $10. Likewise, an employee may accept a gift, other than cash, from the public worth up to $20, as long as the total value of all gifts from any one source does not exceed $50 in a calendar year. Similar to Postal Service, other federal employees are allowed to accept items such as light refreshments, a greeting card, or a snack. Offers of free attendance at certain events may be accepted if approved by the employee’s agency ethics officials.

Gifts to the President

Although the president, like all other federal officers and employees, is prohibited from receiving personal gifts from foreign governments and foreign officials without the consent of Congress, the president is generally free to accept unsolicited personal gifts from the American public. 

Most of the restrictions on federal officials accepting gifts from “prohibited sources,” such as those doing business with, seeking action from, or regulated by one’s agency do not apply to the President of the United States, although the president may not solicit gifts from such sources. The president, in a similar manner as other federal officials, may also receive unrestricted gifts from relatives and gifts that are given based on personal friendship. When personal gifts accepted by the presidents or their immediate family exceed a certain amount, those gifts are required to be publicly disclosed in financial disclosure reports filed annually by the president. The president remains subject to the bribery and illegal gratuities law which prohibits the receipt of a gift or of anything of value when that receipt, or the agreement to receive such thing of value, is connected in some way to the performance or nonperformance of an official act.

Since the presidents are not flatly prohibited from accepting gifts from the general public, such a gift made to the presidents personally, and accepted, may be retained by them when they leave office. Gifts coming to the White House that are not intended for the President or First Lady personally, however, but rather are given with the intent to be made for the “White House,” or otherwise made to the government of the United States, and personal gifts not retained by the

President or First Lady, are cataloged, distributed, or disposed of by the United States in a charitable manner.

In practice, domestic or private gifts are screened, categorized, and evaluated by aides in the White House Gift Office, and then distributed appropriately. If personal gifts to the President or First Lady are not to be retained by them, they are generally recorded, tracked, and sent to the National Archives and Records Administration for courtesy storage, and possible eventual use and display at a presidential library.

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Your Citation
Murse, Tom. "How to Pick the Right Gift for Your Mail Carrier." ThoughtCo, Oct. 3, 2022, Murse, Tom. (2022, October 3). How to Pick the Right Gift for Your Mail Carrier. Retrieved from Murse, Tom. "How to Pick the Right Gift for Your Mail Carrier." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 8, 2023).