Total Talent Management

Employee recognition FAQ

Below are recognition program guidelines. Read the overview to learn how to begin prioritizing recognition in your department and how to create a meaningful program.

The Revised Code of Washington chapter 41.60 outlines the rules on employee incentive programs, including that recognition awards should not exceed $200 per award per year. See more on recognition events, the rule of light refreshments, and food approvals on the food policy page.

Yes. They include the Distinguished Staff Award, the David B. Thorud Leadership Award, and the Service Recognition Program which is the only departmental recognition program that is centrally funded.

Define the specific behaviors or outcomes that will be recognized, the criteria for eligibility, and a selection process to name the recipient. When recognition is tied to specific behaviors or outcomes, it reduces the appearance of favoritism. Make your recognition specific and tailored to the individual.

As a state agency, we at UW have the authority to recognize employees, either individually or as a group under RCW 41.60.150. All costs associated with the event (refreshments, gift, space reservation, etc.) may not exceed $200. The available budget may vary from department to department.

It varies. One way is to estimate how many recognition events you anticipate per year, and what type and value you designate for the award. Some departments have awards that range from inexpensive items up to $75 for exceptional accomplishments. Remember that recognition can be meaningful without spending a lot of money.

Can I purchase food and get reimbursed?Unless you have a discretionary budget, you must request pre-approval for the expenditure using the food form (UoW1798). With pre-approval, food may be provided for state employees for the purposes of recognition. You can be reimbursed for food purchases, as stated in the food policy (it must be for special business meetings, training, or recognition).

Grant budgets vary in expenditures they allow. Some grants may allow recognition expenses; others may not. See the Cost Allocation policy and contact your budget coordinator or the Grant and Contract Accounting office for more information.

Any cash-converting gift certificate or cash award is considered pay and needs to be taxed accordingly. Send an email to and include the award recipient’s name, UW Employee ID number, and gift certificate amount. You can also send questions on the department’s reporting responsibility for cash or cash-converting gift certificates to A best practice is that all recognition awards be recorded regardless of value.

Cash and cash-equivalent awards are taxable, regardless of the amount. Send your tax questions to

The University does not require or expect that you spend your own money for recognition activities, but yes, you may use your own funding for recognition activities. Personal spending should not be the only source of departmental-wide recognition activities, and remember it’s best to tie the recognition gift or reward to a specific behavior or a key goal in your department.

Retirement gifts are held to the same standard as recognition gifts. See RCW 41.60.150. Recognition funding can be used to pay for the event that recognizes the employee’s length of service and contributions to the department. Retirement gifts can be purchased with individual contributions from colleagues and peers.