Can employers or their staff offer corporate hospitality to 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.1 of the Act, it is a criminal offence to offer, promise or give 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 meet 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. There is also a corporate offence under s.7 of failure by a commercial organisation to prevent bribery that is intended to obtain or retain business, or an advantage in the conduct of business, for the organisation.

The government guidance gives an example of "an invitation to foreign clients to attend a Six Nations match at Twickenham as part of a public relations exercise devised to cement good relations or enhance knowledge in the organisation's field". It says that this situation is extremely unlikely to amount to the unlawful offering of a bribe under s.1 of the Act because it is unlikely that there will be evidence of an intention to induce improper performance of a relevant function.

Employers and their staff can offer, promise or give hospitality such as tickets to major sporting events to existing or potential clients, customers or suppliers, as long as it is reasonable and proportionate to do so and the tickets are not offered to secure an advantage for the employer or to influence the impartiality of the recipient in relation to the conduct of business.

Employers should ensure that they do not give the impression that any business advantage is expected in return for the tickets. Employers should consider having a policy on hospitality and gifts to ensure that employees are aware of how to make use of hospitality without breaching the provisions of the Bribery Act 2010.