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Recognition Program

Develop an Award Program for your Department!

Recognition programs are an important element of Old Dominion University's total compensation system. They provide a means to recognize and reward the exceptional contributions of university employees to the overall objectives of their departments and to the University's accomplishment of its mission.

These guidelines provide university managers with information on developing a comprehensive range of programs designed to recognize and reward varying degrees of effort and achievement by university employees.

Effective Date: Revised June 13, 2008


Departments may provide monetary, non-monetary and/or leave awards to employees (as eligible). Some awards have tax implications to be considered.


Recognition may focus on individual or team contributions, and recognition approaches may be determined based on what is best suited for the department or team.

We Believe:

Employees deserve appreciation.

Employees deserve some form of appreciation throughout the year, even if the form is only a verbal or written thank you note from a supervisor.

Make it meaningful & timely.

For recognition to be meaningful, it must be linked to desired behavior and be timely. It should also take into account what is meaningful to the recipient.

Public recognition matters.

Appropriate public recognition can enhance its impact, e.g. at a staff meeting.

Reward both individuals & teams.

Both team and individual contributions are important and worthy of recognition.

It's about acknowledgment.

Generally, the nature of the reward is less important than the gesture of recognizing the employee.

We must all get involved.

Every employee has a responsibility to ensure that actions that merit recognition are brought to the attention of a supervisor.

Recognition is a gift.

Recognition should never become an entitlement or expected compensation.

It must be fair & equitable.

Recognition of any type must be fairly and equitably spread throughout an organization.

Policy Guidelines

These guidelines apply to programs designed to recognize full-time and part-time classified employees and hourly employees.

Department heads may determine which recognition approach(es) are best suited to their areas. Recognition may focus on individual or team contributions.


High profile, organization-wide events that occur at least annually. These events are used to acknowledge achievement of employees' contributions to the University. Examples:

  • Employee Service Awards
  • Customer Relations Employee/Department of the Year Awards
  • Retiree Recognition Luncheon
  • Administrative Professional Day
  • VA Public Service Recognition Week


Pre-arranged, more frequently scheduled ways of acknowledging contributions and accomplishments of an individual or team. This approach is less formal and provides more frequent opportunities to recognize employees. Examples:

  • Customer service
  • Safety
  • Attendance
  • Productivity
  • Outstanding achievements


Recognition at any time for demonstration of behaviors and values of the organization, contributions to the goals and objectives of the organization or department and to acknowledge individual or team accomplishments. Examples:

  • Teamwork
  • A special project
  • A new or modified business practice
  • Exemplary effort
  • Employee appreciation

Departments may provide monetary, non-monetary and/or leave awards to employees. (However, hourly employees cannot be awarded recognition leave.) Some awards have tax implications as described in the following sections.

  • The total of monetary and non-monetary awards shall not exceed $2,000 per employee per fiscal year.
  • Recognition leave up to 5 workdays may be awarded to a classified employee in a leave year (January 10 through January 9 of the following year). The value of recognition leave awarded will not be included in the computation of the $2,000 award limit per employee per fiscal year.
  • A classified employee may receive the maximum monetary and/or non-monetary award AND the maximum recognition leave award.

Monetary awards are subject to taxes in accordance with IRS tax regulations. Non-monetary awards also may be subject to tax.

Monetary awards are those paid by any negotiable instrument (cash, check, money order, and direct deposit); or, any item that can be readily converted to cash, such as savings bonds. Effective June 13, 2008, gift cards and gift certificates may not be used for recognition due to tax implications. The University shall not add monetary awards to an employee's base pay.

All monetary awards, regardless of amount, are considered income for the employee and taxed accordingly. The University cannot increase award totals by the amount of payroll taxes normally deducted from employees' pay.

Non-monetary recognition awards include: meals; tickets; trips; plaques; trophies; certificates; pencils; pencils, pens and desk items; cups and mugs; personal items of clothing such as caps, shirts, and sweatshirts; and other items such as radios, electronics, sports equipment and timepieces.

Non-monetary awards can be considered "de minimis" and thus non-taxable if the value, after taking into account the frequency that they are given, is so small as to make accounting for them unreasonable or administratively impracticable. Non-monetary awards that are not "de minimis" are taxable.

A single non-monetary gift of up to $400 is non-taxable, if it recognizes long-term employee service or safety.

The Payroll Office will provide assistance in determining when non-monetary awards are or are not taxable in accordance with IRS regulations.
If the award is determined to be taxable, the department should communicate this to the employee.

The process for awarding recognition leave depends upon the department's recognition program and the guidelines established by the appropriate senior administrative area. A memorandum or recognition form is required to award recognition leave, and should document the employee's actions or activities that warranted recognition along with the dates those actions or activities occurred, and the amount of leave awarded. The department should send the memorandum or recognition form to the Department of Human Resources. Human Resources will document the recognition leave for reporting purposes and notify the Payroll Office to credit the recognition leave for the employee.

When the employee uses the leave, the Leave Activity Reporting Form is used to record the amount of leave taken and the date taken, and submitted to the Payroll Office according to standard procedure.

Recognition leave lapses within 12 months from the date it is awarded. However, the department may request to extend the 12 month retention period for recognition leave if the department has been unable to allow the employee to use the leave.

An employee shall be paid in a lump sum for his or her recognition leave:

  1. when the employee leaves state service by resignation, retirement, layoff, termination or death.
  2. when the employee is transferred, promoted, or demoted from one agency to another.
  3. when the employee is placed on long term disability under the Virginia Sickness and Disability Program.

In addition, departments may pay employees for their recognition leave balances if:

  • at the end of the 12 month period, the department has been unable to allow the employee to use the leave or
  • the employee moves from one department to another within the University.

Departments may procure monetary and non-monetary awards and items to be used for employee recognition in accordance with the relevant procurement policies, procedures and contracts administered by Procurement Services.

It is the responsibility of senior administrators to determine how funding will be provided within their divisions to support employee recognition programs. Internal controls must be established to assure awards are in accordance with the recognition program's intent. Departments may use other funding sources as deemed appropriate by the respective senior administrator to support employee recognition.

Senior administrators should determine the level of flexibility or control they want to allow in the administration of recognition programs.

Formal and planned recognition programs that are established on a vice presidential and/or departmental level shall include the following components:

  1. Program objectives;
  2. Criteria for participation;
  3. Description of the method for providing employees with information about the program(s);
  4. Description of the process for selecting employees for recognition, including identification of the person(s) responsible for selecting recognition award recipients;
  5. Objective criteria upon which award decisions will be made;
  6. Description of the awards and manner of presentation;
  7. Anticipated expenses to be incurred.

Immediate recognition programs, such as on-the-spot awards, which should become part of management's every day practice, should also have some guidelines established in order to ensure that awards are meaningful, timely and public whenever possible and appropriate.

Need Help?

HR Employee Relations can assist departments with information and examples on establishing employee recognition programs:

  • Documentation
    All forms of recognition shall be documented for placement in the employee's official personnel file in the Department of Human Resources. Documentation should be forwarded to Human Resources at the time of recognition for reporting purposes. Documentation should contain the name or names of all employees recognized; the form of recognition; the employee's actions or activities that warranted recognition; and the dates the actions/activities occurred, and when recognition was given.
  • Appropriate Presentation
    Supervisors should recognize employees in an appropriate presentation format or gathering, and should take every opportunity to publicly say thank you and to publish names and events, when appropriate.
  • Timeless Recognition
    Every attempt should be made to recognize employees as close as possible to the action for which they are being recognized.

It is the intent of these guidelines to decentralize the decision-making authority as much as possible to the vice presidential and/or departmental level.

Departments that have existing recognition programs may want to review them, especially in terms of the type of awards given since more options exist, and revise them accordingly. Documentation on current recognition programs and on new recognition programs at the vice presidential or departmental level should be provided to the Department of Human Resources for review and record keeping purposes.

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