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Gift Cards and Certificates

Giving to Employees

Gift cards and gift certificates are taxable income if provided to an employee (including student employees) and must be reported to Payroll to be imputed into the employee's paycheck, regardless of the amount. Because of this, providing gift cards or certificates to employees is strongly discouraged. Units interested in recognizing an employee should abide by Human Resources' recognition guidelines (e.g., "Low/No Cost Recognition Ideas for Employees guidelines"). 

In lieu of a gift card or certificate, you may provide an item of tangible property (e.g., a Cornell mug, T-shirt) tax-free if it is provided infrequently and if it is low-cost (i.e., under $50).

Giving to Students and Other Non-Employees

Subject to the exceptions below, gift cards or certificates may not be provided to students or non-employees.

Exceptions to these Guidelines

Gift cards or certificates may be given under the following circumstances:

  • When given to human participants in research.
  • When given as a prize or award to a limited number of recipients (e.g., 1 or 2 individuals) out of a large pool of potential recipients (e.g., 20+), and the prize or award is not related to the performance of services as an employee of the university.
  • Examples fitting this exception:
  • Example 1: A "Best Costume" prize at a faculty or staff Halloween party
  • Example 2: Two winners of a raffle at a large faculty or staff holiday event
  • Examples not fitting this exception:
  • Example 1: A professor giving gifts cards to any student in a class receiving a B or better grade.
  • Example 2: A manager giving a subordinate faculty or staff member a gift card.

Other Rules

  • Gift cards or certificates may never be purchased using a procurement card (pcard), with the exception of gift cards and certificates purchased by the Survey Research Institute for human participants with an FTC/BSC pcard.
  • Purchases of gift cards or certificates will only be reimbursed to an employee if the gift card or certificate purchase meets one of the exceptions above.
  • Gift cards or certificates will never be "grossed-up" by the university.
  • Taxable gift cards or certificates may never be given to employees that have terminated in the last 90 days, have terminated in the current calendar year, or will terminate employment with Cornell in the 30 days after the form is submitted. 

Any questions regarding the forgoing rules should be sent to