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Frequently Asked Questions Performance Management

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. 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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  • 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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  • Yes, but only to the extent that the program covers awards for suggestions, inventions, or scientific achievements.
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