Financial Guidelines

FNG04 Employee Reward and Recognition Programs

Policy Status: 

Under Review

Subject Matter Expert: 

Associate Vice President for Budget and Finance, 814 867 2477,

Policy Steward: 

Associate Vice President for Budget and Finance

NOTE: The implementation of SIMBA requires the evaluation of all University Financial Policies and Guidelines.  After consultation with key constituencies, work will be underway to update, consolidate, and improve our policies to better serve you. Please be aware that due to volume, all policies may not be updated to reflect changes which have been communicated; however, policies will be updated with appropriate and applicable effective dates. Thank you for your patience as we work through this process.


  • Purpose
  • Program Requirements
  • Eligibility
  • Selection Criteria
  • Types of Awards
  • Award Presentation Ceremony
  • Exceptions
  • Further Information
  • Cross References

    To encourage the establishment of Employee Reward and Recognition programs throughout the University for recognition of exemplary work performance and achievements by employees. This Guideline outlines a process for the establishment, approval and implementation, and also provides guidance for funding these Programs.


    Every Employee Reward and Recognition Program which includes an award (check, desk set, special professional development opportunities, etc.) in addition to a Certificate of Achievement, must be formalized. Each program must identify the following:

    • Purpose,
    • criteria for eligibility and selection,
    • number of recipients,
    • frequency of the award,
    • determination of the type of award, and
    • guidelines for presentation of the award.

    Those Employee Reward and Recognition Programs which include an award must be formally documented with review and approval by each of the following prior to initiation of the selection process:

    1. the appropriate budget executive,
    2. the Financial Officer, and
    3. the Human Resources Representative

    The Financial Officer must review the proposed program with the Office of Budget and Finance to assess the federal tax (IRS) implications.


    Reward and recognition may be intended for individual employees, groups of employees, employee work-units, or departments. All categories of employees should be represented and considered for employee recognition.

    Due to financial aid considerations, full-time graduate and undergraduate students are not eligible for Employee Reward and Recognition Programs.


    Selection criteria must be documented as part of the unit's Employee Reward and Recognition Program. The budget executive may designate an individual or committee, working in conjunction with the Human Resources Representative, to develop specific award standards and selection criteria, and to nominate or select award recipients.


    Awards can take many forms and should be appropriate to the achievement being cited. Certain types of employee awards are subject to taxation via the University's payroll system as determined by IRS regulations. General funds may be used for awards such as certificates of achievement, plaques, Nittany Lion statues, special professional development opportunities, etc. (see table below for examples and general funds dollar limitations). General funds may not be used for cash, checks, or gift certificates.

    Cash, checks, and gift certificates are permitted only from specifically designated funds.

    Awards not specifically addressed in the table below must be reviewed and approved by the Financial Officer to determine if general funds may be charged and to determine if taxes will apply.

    The 25-year Service Achievement Award will continue as a University-wide recognition. (Reference Policy HR49.) Given that this award recognizes longevity, it is expected that unit-awards would focus primarily on merit.

    University-wide awards which are presented at the Annual Awards Convocation will continue to be handled through University Relations and are not covered by this Guideline.

    Examples of types of awards, the permissibility to utilize general funds or not,

    ​and the requirement to report the award to Payroll for tax reporting and withholding, follow.
    Certificates of Achievement Yes (Limit $100 per award) No
    Plaques Yes (Limit $100 per award) No
    Nittany Lion Statues Yes (Limit $100 per award) No
    Book ends, Desk sets, etc. Yes (Limit $100 per award) No
    Penn State Mementos Yes (Limit $100 per award) No
    Special Professional Development Opportunities Yes No
    Checks and Gift Certificates No Yes


    The budget executive shall assume the responsibility of making the awards at suitable functions during the year. General Funds may be used for award presentations (maximum of $200 per recipient, unless approved in advance by the Associate Vice President for Budget and Finance). The costs of the award presentation must be reasonable and appropriate to the achievement being cited. Presentations may be incorporated with professional development, training or other regularly scheduled business sessions, meetings or receptions. Annual or group presentations are encouraged where appropriate.

    Guest lists for awards ceremonies are intended to include the award recipients and a limited number of guests. Any travel costs incurred by the guests (lodging, transportation, and meals outside the immediate presentation)are considered to be personal expenses and not reimbursed by the University.

    Alcoholic beverages may not be charged to general funds (see Policies AD18 and FN10).


    Any exception to this Guideline must be approved in advance, in writing, by the budget executive and the Associate Vice President for Budget and Finance (via the Financial Officer). Justification must accompany such requests.


    For questions, additional detail, or to request changes to this policy, please contact the Office of Budget and Finance.


    Other Policies in this Manual may have specific application and should be referred to, especially;

    FN10 - Other Business Expenses and Activities

    HR49 - Twenty-Five Year Service Award Program

    Most Recent Changes:

    • February 1, 2023 - Editorial changes: Changed all references to the Associate Vice President for Finance to the Associate Vice President for Budget and Finance, per the directive of the Senior Vice President for Finance and Business.

    Revision History (and effective dates):

    • January 5, 2023 - Editorial changes, per the directive of the Associate Vice President for Finance:
      • Changed all references to the Office of the Corporate Controller to the Office of Budget and Finance
      • Changed all references to the Corporate Controller to the Associate Vice President for Finance
    • November 8, 2018 - Subject Matter Expert added.
    • October 3, 2013 - Editorial changes. Addition of policy steward information, in the event that there are questions or requests for changes to the policy.
    • The taxability of awards was de-emphasized in place of emphasizing reportability and withholding.
    • The heading for the last column of the chart of the section TYPES OF AWARDS was changed from "Taxable?" to Reportable?".)
    • July 1, 1998 - New Guideline.

    Date Approved: 

    November 30, 2000

    Date Published: 

    December 4, 2000

    Effective Date: 

    December 4, 2000