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Are length-of-service awards considered taxable income?

As a general rule, bonuses and gifts are taxable with some limited exceptions. If you give an employee cash or a cash equivalent such as a gift card as a service award, it is taxable regardless of the amount or the purpose. Taxable income must be reported on the employee's W-2 at the end of the year.

Under certain conditions, there are awards that do not have to be considered taxable income. For service awards, the value of up to $400 can be excluded from income for awards given to employees for length-of-service if certain criteria are met:

  • The gift must be "tangible personal property," which excludes cash or cash equivalents, securities, vacations, lodging, meals, tickets to theatres or sporting events. 
  • The award must be presented as part of a "meaningful presentation." The presentation does not have to be elaborate, but emphasis must be put on the employee's achievement.
  • The award must be presented under conditions that do not create "disguised compensation."
  • Length-of-service awards must not be presented to employees for less than five years of service.
  • The employee may not receive another length-of-service award (other than one of very small value) during the same year or have received an award in any of the prior four years. 


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