W2 Issues/Concerns

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HR how-to: Do you have a gift giving policy?

While you’re still nursing your turkey hangover, we’ve been busy thinking about the holiday season ahead and while it’s sure to be full of festive cheer, it’s also a season ripe for some rather large HR pitfalls.

Take the good ol’ holiday gift. Whether it’s a secret Santa, a white elephant, a Yankee Swap, or any other name for a holiday exchange, it is one holiday tradition that definitely could be helped by the addition of a gift-giving policy. What are the rules? (of the gift giving, not the game, obviously!)

  1. Make it voluntary: The holiday period can be tough financially for many folks, which in turn can ratchet up the stress for those who have a small budget. Experts suggest that you make any gift exchange not only voluntary, but one where people must actively opt in (as opposed to opt out) so that folks don’t feel the pressure to participate.
  2. Give it a budget: Any fan of The Office will remember the awkward Dunder Mifflin holiday party where Michael bought Ryan a top-of-the-line iPod after ignoring the $10 limit and wound up with a partially knitted oven mitt from Phyllis. Avoid an awkward and unwieldy exchange by setting up and sticking to a cost limit for gifts. These days, $20 or $25 seems like an appropriate budget, but feel free to toggle with the numbers so that it makes sense and is fair to your employees.
  3. Set some standards: We hate that we even have to say this but use some common sense when making your gift selections. Failing that, ask yourself whether you’d be embarrassed if your mother gave you this gift, told you about this gift, or worse, required you to explain this gift, and proceed accordingly. While gag gifts are often a holiday favorite, be sure that the gag is not offensive, sexist, discriminatory, or could otherwise land you on the receiving end of a far from jolly lawsuit.

Now let’s dive a little deeper and cover different gift giving rules as it pertains to different gift givers.

  1. Manager to employee: This one is always a tricky one – especially if the manager has multiple folks in their department. If you’re a manager and you’re going to give a gift, follow the above rules, but also be sure that you gift each person in your department and that you gift them equally! You can’t reserve the biggest gift for your top performer and “punish” your under-performers with coal. You must be consistent in your gifts! You cannot gift big one year when you’re feeling generous and dial it significantly back the next year when your team is getting on your nerves!
  2. Boss to employees: This one is always tricky, largely because it’s one person buying for everyone! Most companies don’t have the kind of budget that allows for seriously expensive gifts yet buying something small and impersonal can make folks feel like their work isn’t appreciated. One great way to sidestep these landmines is to treat your employees to something. A beautifully catered lunch, a car detailing service that comes to the office, or even just a day or two of free PTO are all gifts that can be universally applied and universally appreciated!
  3. Vendor to company: This is such a sticky one especially since many companies send a token of appreciation for your business around the holidays. If you are giving a gift to vendors, consider gifting food that can be shared among coworkers or promotional items with the company logo are also acceptable. When it comes to receiving gifts, run it by HR if you are given anything with a value over $25. Further, any cash, gift certificates, or other items that can be exchanged for cash should also be reported as they can technically be considered reportable income for W-2 purposes.

As you can see, gift giving in the corporate world can be tricky, but these guidelines should steer you straight and get you on the pathway to a successful and scandal-free festive season.

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