Is It Ethical to Accept a Vendor Gift? It Depends.

Jan 30, 2017

Written by Kelly Jameson, RPA, Assistant Professor of Real Estate and Finance at St. Cloud State University and BOMI "Ethics is Good Business" Instructor

If a tenant asks you if the building is going to be sold, and the owner has told you to keep the information confidential for now, how do you respond?  What if it is your building engineer or assistant manager that is questioning you about their job security and you know they are sole supporter for their family - do you encourage them to look for a new job? Is it ethical to accept sports tickets from a vendor right before signing a big contract? 

These are some of the ethical dilemmas you might face in property management, and the answer is not always clear.

The description of the BOMI short course, Ethics is Good Business, is as follows:

“This course helps you understand the impact that ethical behavior can have on your professional performance and your property’s bottom line. By working through difficult ethical dilemmas, you’ll develop the confidence to follow through, even when facing adversity.

Key topic areas include tenant relations, triple bottom line, confidentiality recordkeeping, trade secrets, proper use of funds, conflicts of interest, corporate social responsibility, and environmental stewardship.”

What is Ethics?

Ethics is about awareness.

From the Ethics & Compliance Initiative (ECI), ethics is defined as the study of right and wrong conduct and the decisions, choices, and actions (behaviors) we make that reflect and enact our values.

The Ethics Resource Center published an article in 2003 called “Creating a Workable Company Code of Conduct” and defined ethics as follows:

There are many definitions as to what ethics encompasses:
* The discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation;
* Decisions, choices and actions we make that reflect and enact our values;
* A set of moral principles or values;
* A theory or system of moral values; and/or
* A guiding philosophy.

At St Cloud State University, I sit on the Ethics Integration Committee for the Herberger School of Business and we are discussing and researching new ways to incorporate ethics into the business curriculum.  The business school is looking at shifting the study of ethics from a stand-alone philosophy class, where theories of Immanual Kant’s duty-based ethics (I do because I am told to do; it is my duty) and John Stewart Mill’s utilitarian-based ethics (the best choice is what is good for the most people) are studied, to business relevant ethical topics covered in several different business courses.

One of the ethical experiences that was piloted this year gave students an ethical inventory to help create awareness of their decision-making style, and awareness of how others might view their decisions. The ethical lens models ( explains that some people make decisions with their head and some make decisions with their heart. Furthermore, individuals might be focused on the individual/self or instead on the greater community.


So what does this mean?

Is it ethical to accept those sports tickets from your vendor? Probably not if they are an incentive the vendor uses to get the contract. On the other hand, if they are given as a token of appreciation for your past business when a big contract is not on the line, it is generally considered an industry appropriate offering, though even that might depend on your employer and owner policies and the value of the tickets.

You can’t study ethics or take a course in order to tell you the right thing to do.  There are many beliefs, morals, values, and individual styles that go into making decisions. There are probably some ethical dilemmas where there is an obvious wrong way to act, but other times the answer is, it depends. You can prepare yourself for those ethical situations by understanding your ethical style and preparing yourself with a decision making model that will help you get to an answer. 

Category: Industry Insights

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