Can employers or their staff accept corporate hospitality from existing or potential clients, customers or suppliers without falling foul of the Bribery Act 2010?

Hospitality and entertainment can potentially constitute bribery under the Bribery Act 2010. However, the Government's guidance for commercial organisations on preventing bribery states that it is not the intention of the Act to penalise "reasonable and proportionate" hospitality and promotional expenditure that "seeks to improve the image of a commercial organisation, better to present products and services, or establish cordial relations".

Under s.2 of the Act, it is a criminal offence to request, agree to receive, or accept a bribe. A bribe is a financial or other advantage that is offered or requested with the intention of inducing or rewarding the improper performance of a relevant function or activity, or with the knowledge or belief that the acceptance of such an advantage would constitute the improper performance of such a function or activity. A person performs a function improperly where he or she fails to met an expectation that he or she would act in good faith, impartially, or in accordance with a position of trust. A relevant function or activity is a public function, or any activity connected with a business, performed in the course of employment, or performed on behalf of a body of persons.

The employer should consider the motive of the party offering the gift when deciding whether or not to accept it. It should not accept the gift if it is being offered with the intention of influencing the impartiality of the receiver in relation to the conduct of business. The employer should also consider the nature of the gift and whether or not it is reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances.

Employers should consider having a policy on hospitality and gifts to ensure that employees are aware of how to deal with such an offer without breaching the provisions of the Bribery Act 2010.