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Johnson Policies and Resources

–Guidelines for Use of Departmental Funds for Recognition of Employees and Other Related Topics

Johnson encourages managers to use Awards of Appreciation (within departments) and Special Thanks Awards (across departments) throughout the year to recognize those employees who demonstrate:

  • extraordinary effort;
  • exceptional quality of output;
  • willingness to go "above and beyond" the call of duty, often without being asked; and
  • who have the respect of peers, customers, and others in the community.

For additional information about these Awards and Johnson's Rewards and Recognition Program, go to Johnson Schools Reward and Recognition Program.

The School must conform to University policies for the use of department funds in recognizing staff. The policy states that department funds may only be used to foster the University's educational mission and goals or, at the college level (e.g., Johnson), to foster a sense of community related to the School's mission. Tuition dollars are not to be used for "entertaining" or "recognizing employees." Managers must be responsible in using department funds and provide detailed documentation when submitting allowable expenses for which reimbursement is being requested.

Information to date has been ambiguous and often tax implications unclear. Gift Certificates may be awarded but cannot be charged to a Procurement Card. If purchasing a gift certificate from a local restaurant request that they directly invoice the School for the luncheon or dinner award on behalf of an employee, the restaurateur/vendor should send the invoice to the department. Prior to processing, the name of the recipient, attendees, and purpose of the expense must be documented on the invoice.

CAUTION: The IRS classifies gift certificates from an employer to an employee as taxable income subject to W-2 reporting and tax withholding unless they are gifts valued at $25.00 or less. To avoid tax implications when recognizing employees, managers should consider gifts related to business; i.e., allow an employee to attend a conference. Another way to prevent individuals from having to pay tax on an award is to make group or team awards. Cash awards must be processed through the University Payroll System.

The guidelines below are intended to help managers understand what they may and may not do. The following are examples only, and not comprehensive. Johnson managers should exercise discretion, manage expectations, and be creative in how they use these tools. Verbal recognition is perhaps the most important. A simple, sincere "thank you" is always appreciated yet costs nothing and is one of the most direct and timely forms of recognition.

The following are some specific examples of how university funds may not be used (these may only be funded by an employee using personal funds and not via the use of a Procurement Card):

1. Celebrations such as baby showers, holidays, weddings, or other personal events.

2. The expenses of a spouse or "significant other" for events such as recognition dinners. A manager may choose to send an employee and his/her spouse or guest out to dinner as recognition, but the manager or employee is personally responsible for the cost of entertaining the spouse or guest.

3. The cost of lunches or gifts for Administrative Assistants' Day, birthdays, Christmas or any holiday.

4. Gifts recognizing a promotion.

5. Gifts of recognition of a non-business nature (e.g., candy, snacks, and flowers).

6. Staff social events.

7. Purchases of personal items, such as tissues, aspirin or bottled water, specialty coffees and drinks.

Examples of how recognition expenditures are treated:

1. Department members who wish to have individual celebrations are personally responsible for the costs. Birthday cakes, flowers, or anniversary celebrations may not be charged to either a Procurement Card or departmental account; they must be paid for by the individual.

2. Flowers: Although University policy prohibits use of departmental funds for purchases of flowers, there is a "flower" fund, personally endowed by former dean, Curtis W. Tarr, for Johnson employees who are hospitalized, give birth, and/or lose an immediate family member. Please notify Johnson Human Resources Office so that flowers can be sent from Johnson Community. If any department chooses to send flowers on its own, staff should take up a collection and not charge flowers to a departmental account.

3. Holiday gifts: Gifts from supervisors to employees are considered personal and may not be charged to the university.

4. Celebrating major accomplishments: Following an extraordinary period when employees accomplish a major milestone (e.g., the end of recruiting; year-end closing), a manager may treat the employee(s) to an inexpensive breakfast or lunch. Such an expense is allowable using departmental account funds, but should be limited to celebrating very special circumstances - e.g. no more than twice a year. Such expenses must always be documented, specifying the business purpose for the event and the attendees.

Weekly or bi-weekly staff lunches recurring on an ongoing basis are not permitted.

5. Staff meetings: Group business meetings where food is provided should be infrequent and held to a minimum of no more than twice a year. Most business should be conducted during the regular workday. If there are unusual circumstances that do not permit this, an occasional lunch may be reimbursed with appropriate documentation.

6. Performance Dialogues: These should never be done over lunch or dinner.

7. Welcoming new staff:

a. Lunch. All new staff are taken to lunch by their host or hostess on their first day at Johnson. The School pays for the new employee's lunch and that of the host or hostess. Other guests are responsible for their own meal expenses. To provide greater flexibility, a supervisor/manager may choose to "order in" food (i.e., pizza) on the employee's first day and extend an invitation to others in the area, in lieu of the host luncheon.

b. Welcome gift. Johnson gives welcome gifts to all new employees at their Orientation. If a manager chooses to purchase flowers or a small welcoming gift it is a personal expense and may not be charged to a departmental account.

8. Major accomplishments: The School will pay for reasonable recognition lunches and/or dinners which signify one-time achievements. Reimbursement is limited to the employee and the immediate manager only.

9. Employees leaving Johnson: Cornell's guideline for recognition of longevity of service is $10.00 per year of service. Departmental funds may be used to provide recognition for those employees who have been employed at Cornell for a significant period of time and are retiring or leaving the University. Johnson has chosen to interpret "significant" as five (5) years.

10. Small gifts: Johnson Human Resource Office keeps on hand a number of token gift items that managers may give to an employee in recognition of a job well done or if the employee has worked "above and beyond" what is expected. Token gifts or gifts of a business nature do not carry any tax liability; e.g., a pen, calendar, calculator for an employee's desk, etc., and may be charged to a departmental account.

To reiterate, Procurement Cards can never be used for recognition purposes. If the vendor will not directly bill the School, the Manager will have to pay for the service or gift and request a reimbursement. To avoid having to pay sales tax on the item(s), Tax Exemption Forms are available from Financial Services. Please read the paragraph above outlining University policies for the use of department funds. If your purchase does not meet the criteria, it will be disallowed.

Human Resources
Contact Information
221 Sage Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853
Telephone: (607) 254-3379
Fax: (607) 255-2823