This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Can you tip TSA agents during the government shutdown?

It’s a valid question. Agents have been working long hours without pay to keep order, and they’re doing their best to ensure travelers can get from one place to another safely. Factoring in the fact that there is no end to the shutdown in sight, flyers might think that tipping just sort of seems like the right thing to do.

Well, the answer to this question is no, you cannot tip TSA workers, and if you do, it could actually cause more harm than good.  In a Washington Post op-ed written by TSA Agent Angel Stephensen describes a scenario in which a passenger attempted to give her a cash tip. “I had to refuse,” she wrote. “I could lose my job if I accepted, I told [the passenger]. But thanks for the thought.”

Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis and federal ethics expert, explains that while there is no law that overtly prohibits “tipping,” there are strict regulations on bribery. While the motive of giving a gift to a TSA employee might be well-intentioned, if caught, the charges for bribery are no joke. Under federal law, the TSA Agent, or the passenger who tips, could face a up to five years in prison or a civil fine of up to $50,000 or both.

“An executive branch employee may accept a gift valued at $20 or less, but may not accept cash,” said Clark in an email to TPG. “In addition, the gift regulation states that it’s ‘prudent for an employee to decline a gift if acceptance would cause a reasonable person to question the employee’s integrity or impartiality.'”

That being said, it would be a bad idea for TSA agents to accept what would be considered a “permissible gift” in the context of airport security screenings, whether it’s a Starbucks gift card or $20 bill. “Such a gift might cause people to question an employee’s impartiality, might lead to passengers believing they have an obligation to give and could lead to tension among the screeners who work in teams at airports,” added Clark.

So, if you can’t tip, what can you do? Stephensen expressed that, amid the shutdown, travelers have been expressing more gratitude for TSA officers than ever. “By my count, we’re getting more thank-yous in the past two weeks than in the entire 10 years I’ve been here,” she wrote. “When people try to express extra appreciation or sympathy, it’s hard to know what to say back. ‘You’re welcome’? We don’t have much choice.”

Her suggestion for the best way to help your TSA screeners — and perhaps, any other government employees stuck working the skeleton shift during the government shutdown — is to contact your congressperson. Learn more about how to find your local representative here.

Featured image by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

American Express® Gold Card

With some great bonus categories, the American Express Gold Card has a lot going for it. The card offers 4x points at US restaurants, at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x), and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com. It is currently offering a welcome bonus of 35,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $2,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. restaurants. Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with The Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Shake Shack, and Ruth's Chris Steak House. This is an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
  • $100 Airline Fee Credit: up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year for incidental fees at one selected qualifying airline.
  • Choose to carry a balance with interest on eligible charges of $100 or more.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
See Rates & Fees
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
See Terms
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.