1123 - University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Policy on Taxation of Employees’ Gifts, Prizes and Awards

Introduction

Purpose

This policy was established to meet IRS regulations, including 26 U.S. Code § 132(e).

Policy

Policy Statement

Cash and non-cash items given to employees as gifts, prizes and awards that are paid with University funds (including state funds, grant funds, contract funds and gift funds) are subject to federal and state income tax, as well as Social Security and Medicare (FICA) taxes.

Cash, Star Heels Awards, gift cards, and gift certificates with a specific dollar value are always taxable.

Exceptions

Gifts, prizes and awards are not subject to tax if the item qualifies as a "de minimis" fringe benefit, length-of-service award, or safety achievement award.

De Minimis Fringe Benefit

Under IRS regulations, only non-cash or non-cash equivalent benefits can be classified as "de minimis." Cash and cash-equivalent items, like gift cards, are never excludable as a "de minimis" fringe benefit. In addition, a 'de minimis' benefit is:

  1. of small value,
  2. infrequent, and
  3. administratively impracticable to account for.

As such, the University may reward an employee's noteworthy, work-related accomplishments by presenting on an occasional or infrequent basis an item of personal property without tax consequences provided the value of the item does not exceed $100. The rationale is that these items of recognition constitute "de minimis fringe benefits" that are considered so small that accounting for them would be unreasonable or administratively impracticable. Examples of "de minimis fringe benefits" items in the context of employee gifts, prizes and awards include the following:

  • Occasional theater or sporting event tickets
  • Flowers, plaques and coffee mugs
  • Occasional snacks and meals

Any gift card or gift certificate awarded by a University unit/department to an employee constitutes "cash equivalents" under IRS regulations, and thus they are subject to federal and state income taxes and must be reported to Payroll Services to be included on the employee's Form W-2. Payroll Services records the taxable amount once received, so the recipient will generally see the amount on the subsequent paycheck.

Length-of-service awards may qualify as a non-taxable benefit, provided:

  • The employee has at least five years of service with the University,
  • The employee has not received a length of service award within the last five years,
  • The awards are limited to a cost of $400 to the University per employee per year,
  • The awards are presented as part of a meaningful presentation,
  • The award cannot be cash, cash equivalent, vacation, meals, lodging, theater or sports tickets, or securities, and
  • The awards are made under conditions and circumstances that do not create a significant likelihood of disguised pay.

For example, a department may provide an employee with an award of a framed photograph of the University Old Well or other historical site at a cost of $200 without reporting the benefit to Payroll Services as taxable wages, provided:

  • The employee has worked at the University for at least five years, and
  • The employee has not received a length-of-service award within the last five years.

Traditional retirement gifts valued at $400 or less are excluded from the five-year rule. For example, a department may give an employee a gold watch for retirement from the University having a value of up to $400 without tax implications even if the same employee has already received another length-of-service award within the last five years. If you provide an employee a length-of-service award that does not meet the above non-taxable conditions, this should be reported to Payroll Services, which will report the taxable portion as wages on the employee's Form W-2. Payroll Services records the taxable amount once received, so the recipient will generally see the amount on the subsequent paycheck.

Safety Achievement Awards

Safety achievement awards that recognize an employee's accomplishments for maintaining or promoting defined safety standards may qualify for exclusion from taxation provided:

  • The awards are limited annually to less than 10 percent of total employees,
  • The awards are not presented to managers, administrators, clerical or professional employees,
  • The awards are limited to a cost of $400 to the University per employee per year,
  • The awards are presented as part of a meaningful presentation,
  • The award cannot be cash, cash equivalent, vacation, meals, lodging, theater or sports tickets, or securities, and
  • The awards are made under conditions and circumstances that do not create a significant likelihood of disguised pay.

For example, the facilities department may give a plaque that costs $250 to a worker who demonstrates excellence in maintaining safety standards. Should an employee receive safety achievement awards that exceed $400 in value during the calendar year, the excess amount shall be reported to Payroll Services and included as taxable wages on the employee's Form W-2. Payroll Services records the taxable amount once received, so the recipient will generally see the amount on the subsequent paycheck.

Additional Information

Special Situations

None.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Does a gift card or certificate qualify as "de minimis?"

A: No, cash and "cash equivalents" such as gift cards or certificates do not qualify for the "de minimis fringe benefit" exception even if the cash or cash equivalent is for less than $100. In order to qualify as a "de minimis" item, the gift card or certificate must only denote a personal property of minimal value, be provided infrequently, and be impractical to account for.

Q: Are gift cards or certificates allowed to be purchased with a University Purchasing Card?

A: No, a University Purchasing Card should not be used to purchase gift cards or certificates, as this is not allowed. A campus voucher should be used. See Finance Procedure 1123.1 for more information.

Q: Does this policy apply to students?

A: Yes, if the student is paid wages through Payroll Services, they are considered an employee.

Q: Who should I go to for clarification about this policy?

A: Contact your business officer with questions about application of this policy.

Q: Are theater tickets and sporting event tickets considered taxable income?

A: Yes, if the value is above the de minimus amount, or if given more than occasionally, then this should be reported to Payroll Services.

Q: Is there a minimum amount for a cash advance?

A: No, UNC-Chapel Hill does not have a minimum amount for a cash advance.

Related Requirements

External Regulations and Consequences

University Policies, Standards, and Procedures

Contact Information

Policy Contact
Subject Contact Telephone Fax E-Mail
Taxing Gifts, Prizes, Awards University Controller – Financial Reporting and Management 919-843-2694 919-962-4141 financialreporting@unc.edu
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Details

Article ID: 131404
Created
Thu 4/8/21 9:08 PM
Modified
Sun 11/13/22 1:54 PM
Effective Date
If the date on which this document became/becomes enforceable differs from the Origination or Last Revision, this attribute reflects the date on which it is/was enforcable.
06/14/2019 12:00 AM
Issuing Officer
Name of the document Issuing Officer. This is the individual whose organizational authority covers the policy scope and who is primarily responsible for the policy.
Issuing Officer Title
Title of the person who is primarily responsible for issuing this policy.
Director of Financial Reporting and Management Services
Last Review
Date on which the most recent document review was completed.
06/14/2019 12:00 AM
Last Revised
Date on which the most recent changes to this document were approved.
06/14/2019 12:00 AM
Next Review
Date on which the next document review is due.
06/13/2020 12:00 AM
Origination
Date on which the original version of this document was first made official.
05/07/2010 12:00 AM
Responsible Unit
School, Department, or other organizational unit issuing this document.
Finance and Budget