Ask Mr. Ethics: Is It OK To Let One Of Our Vendors Treat Me To Lunch?

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Question

Dear Mr. Ethics,

I just started working in financial aid about a year ago, after serving as a work-study student. So far I love my job, particularly attending training events and working on the technology side of things. Over the past few months, I have developed a great working relationship with the folks who deploy our Financial Aid Management System. I just got an email from our FAMS account manager that she will be at our state conference next week and inviting me to lunch. I feel like I’ve gotten to know her well over the past 12 months, and I would love to put a name with a face. Should I go?

Sincerely, 

Who Says There’s No Such Thing As Free Lunch?

Answer

Dear WSTNSTAFL,

Will your lunch consist of a Happy Meal and take place under the golden arches? If not, then the answer is no. NASFAA’s Code of Conduct states “No amount of cash, gift, or benefit in excess of a de minimis amount shall be accepted by a financial aid staff member from any financial aid applicant (or his/her family), or from any entity doing business with or seeking to do business with the institution.” “De minimis” is a Latin expression that refers to a level of risk that is too small to be concerned with. Some refer to this as a "virtually safe" level. It’s likely that a lunch out would not cause you to have a conflict of interest and give unfair advantage to this vendor in the future. But why risk even the perception of favoritism? Politely turn down the lunch and remind the vendor about NASFAA’s Code.

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Publication Date: 3/31/2015


Judith C | 4/28/2015 1:55:50 PM

Go to work in Admissions - they can still go out to lunch!

Brian O | 3/31/2015 12:36:13 PM

A "dutch" business lunch or breakfast is an excellent way to multitask by bonding with your vendors or lender representatives; conduct business in a very busy environment; and eat. Since all lenders or vendors are afforded the same opportunity, there is no appearance of preference. On a number of occasions the traveling lender representatives have asked for time slots that just aren't available due to other commitments and so other arrangements have to be made. It comes down to having 11 hours of work to do, and having 8 hours to do it - you improvise, overcome and adapt. I am a firm believer that integrity is doing the right thing, but hamstringing yourself by excluding the opportunity to multitask seems critically counterproductive.

Robert P | 3/31/2015 11:41:23 AM

Accept the invitation. It is not likely that your college is going to buy a new multi-million dollar FAMS or spend $100K's modifying it based on a lunch you have. Just make sure your boss knows what you are up to and get their advice in terms of school policy and state law.

Marty P | 3/31/2015 11:11:56 AM

I would have thought that accepting the lunch invitation would be fine, and an acceptable way to strengthen the working relationship. But the FAA should pay for his/her own lunch.

Kenny A | 3/31/2015 10:18:03 AM

Wow! I would have thought this would have been ok.

David S | 3/31/2015 9:9:27 AM

Not that anyone has ever gotten rich by working in a Financial Aid Office, but I suspect we're all paid enough to feed ourselves. Nobody has ever sold their students down the river for a roast beef sandwich, but don't give anyone the chance to think you would.

Matthew S | 3/31/2015 8:25:33 AM

WOW! More than a little extreme! I would have suggested that they just go "Dutch!"

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