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Performance Management Performance Management FAQs

Awards - General

  • Governmentwide regulations specify four types of awards that can be given to Federal employees: lump-sum cash awards, honorary awards, informal recognition awards, and time off awards
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  • Under no circumstances may a political appointee receive an award in the form of cash or a time-off award during a Presidential election period.  An agency may grant a political appointee an honorary or informal recognition award during a Presidential election period, provided that the form of the award avoids the appearance of replacing a bonus.
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  • Yes. In the Federal Government, there are four types of awards — cash awards, time off awards, honorary awards, and informal recognition awards. Agencies may use any combination of award types to reward a specific contribution.  For example, an employee might receive both a certificate and a cash award as recognition for a single contribution.  However, the overall combined value of the awards should not exceed the value to the organization of the contribution recognized. Thus, the award should be commensurate with the contribution of the employee.
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  • Agencies are encouraged to involve employees in the design and implementation of their appraisal programs, award programs, and employee performance plans.  Of course, where a union has been granted exclusive recognition, such involvement for bargaining unit employees must be through their elected union representatives.
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  • The term has no precise definition in policy or practice, but "forced distribution" generally is associated with the idea of limiting awards to a certain number or percentage of employees. Relative comparisons among individuals or groups, such as rank ordering or categorizing employees, can be used for making decisions about distributing awards. For example, agencies may limit awards to the top three producers or teams, or limit awards to those individuals or groups that exceeded certain goals. Agencies can also establish criteria for categories of awards that are given only to a selected number of recipients who best fit the criteria, although the criteria might have been met by more than one person or team.
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  • In designing their award programs, agencies have a responsibility to look beyond the award regulations themselves and make sure that the specific reward and incentive programs that are being proposed do not conflict with other laws or regulations. Examples of other rules that can be directly related to incentive/reward schemes are procurement, travel, Fair Labor Standards Act, and tax withholding. These compliance issues surface most often when we are asked to review an agency's proposal for an innovative award scheme.
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  • Yes. There are some award restrictions regarding political appointees depending on the nature of their appointment. Non-career SES members are not eligible for performance awards or Presidential Rank Awards. In addition, non-career SES and employees in confidential or policy-determining Schedule C positions may not receive awards during a Presidential election period (June 1 of a Presidential election year through January 20 of the following year). Meanwhile, PAS appointees (employees appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate) may not receive awards at any time.
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  • No.  Agencies must not grant individual cash awards for nonuse of sick leave. The intent of awards law and regulations is to recognize employee's noteworthy performance. A Comptroller General (CG) decision reaffirmed that sick leave cash incentive programs are inappropriate. The CG ruled that sick leave is a statutory entitlement available to Government employees and, therefore, cash incentives for its nonuse are improper.
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  • No. Prizes cannot be granted under law and regulation governing awards. The awards law does not support including the element of chance (e.g., as it occurs with a raffle drawing) in an employee awards program.
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  • Yes, but only to the extent that the program covers awards for suggestions, inventions, or scientific achievements.
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  • Yes. OPM must approve any cash award over $10,000 up to $25,000. Awards over $25,000 must be submitted through OPM for the President's approval. The Department of Defense and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may approve awards up to $25,000.  (SES performance awards and Presidential rank awards for SES and SL/ST employees have their own requirements).
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  • Cash surrogate is a special form of cash award.  Recipients of cash surrogates must have the same freedom and control over how that award may be used as they would have over currency or a U.S. Treasury check. Cash surrogates should not be confused with merchant gift certificates. Cash surrogates must meet the following criteria: meet all the limitations and requirements that apply to cash awards must be convertible easily and immediately to cash not restricted as to where they can be redeemed subject to all relevant procurement regulations when purchased from a vendor or financial institution
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  • OPM has concluded that cash surrogates are an appropriate option for delivering cash awards, subject to all the limitations and requirements that apply to cash awards. A current example of a cash surrogate is "gift cheque" purchased through a vendor and easily and widely redeemable for cash, not merchandise.
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  • No. The awards statute only authorizes granting awards to and recognition of Federal employees. An agency may have other authorities for recognizing the contributions of private citizens.
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  • No. Employees of outside contractors may not receive direct payments from the Federal Government. Their employment, including pay, rewards, and discipline, must be handled by their employer, who is the contractor, not the Government.
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