Gifts to Employees – Taxable Income or Nontaxable Gift? (2023)

Organizations may find that individuals or groups who benefit from the organization’s services, desire to make year-end gifts to the organization’s employees for their loyal service.Examples include the parents of private school students providing year-end gifts to their children’s teachers or a hospital patient’s desire to financially thank the medical team that provided excellent care for the patient.

While we all would like the ability to just graciously give or accept gifts from the heart without worrying about tax consequences, many questions arise regarding the tax consequences of such gifts.

Those include the status of a charitable contribution deduction for the individuals involved and the taxability of the cash received by the employee. Much depends on the process chosen for the gift giving.

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While practices in the industry vary, common gift methods include:

    1. Individuals giving gifts directly to the employee(s);
    2. The use of a general fund created for pooling and administering the gifts directly to the employees; or
    3. Gifts given to the employer organization for distribution to the employees, either from such a fund or from the individuals.

While individuals would enjoy a tax deductible charitable contribution for the gift and the employees would prefer the gift to be nontaxable to them, this sort of “double dipping” is usually not the outcome.

Scenario #1

The individuals provide the gifts directly to the employees.

It probably is no surprise that in this scenario there would be no charitable deduction to the individuals. The question that frequently arises in this situation is whether the gift is taxable income to the employees or mere nontaxable gifts.

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To constitute a gift for purposes of federal tax law, a transfer of money or property must be made out of a feeling of disinterested generosity. The payment must be in the nature of “something for nothing.” It is not a gift if the payment is a reward for services rendered. With regard to payments made by an individual to a service provider, it is difficult to argue that such payments constitute gifts, even when the amounts are paid at the holidays. In addition, it is more difficult to make that argument when payments made by individuals are pooled together and allocated to service providers based on the number of hours that each provider worked in a given time period, or some other metric that is related to the provider’s employment.

Thus, the payment to the employee in most situations should be viewed as tip income which is taxable to the employee. Cash and noncash tips are subject to income tax. All of the facts and circumstances must be considered, however, all of these factors should be present to classify a payment as a tip:

    1. The payment is made free from compulsion;
    2. The individual giver has the unrestricted right to determine the amount;
    3. The payment is not the subject of negotiation or dictated by employer policy;
    4. The individual giver has the right to determine who receives the payment.

Such tips also are subject to income tax withholding and with some exceptions, FICA withholding. Tips under $20 in any one month or noncash tips are not subject to FICA although they are subject to income tax. If an employee receives more than $20 of tips in any month, then the employee should report the receipt of the tips to the employer so that the employer can withhold the proper amount and report the tips as other wages and tips on the employee’s Form W-2. The withholding is taken from the wages of the employee (other than tips) or from other funds made available by the employee for this purpose. If the employee does not report the tips to the employer, the employee still is responsible for paying income tax and the employee portion of FICA. In such a case, the employer portion of FICA only would be payable when the employer receives a written notice and demand from the IRS. It may be prudent for the employer to have policies and procedures in place for employee reporting of tips to the employer.

Scenario #2

The individuals create a fund into which they contribute cash and payments are made directly from the fund to the employees.

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This fund can either be just a collection of cash or a separate legal entity. If the gifts are provided from a fund that is not a separate legal entity, then the gifts are in essence coming directly from the individuals to the employees as discussed in Scenario #1.

The more controversial question is, if the fund is facilitated through a separate 501(c)(3) tax exempt entity, can the contribution to this exempt entity for gifts to employees be a tax deductible contribution?

The answer to this depends on whether the entity is acting merely as an agent for the individuals or if the entity has control of the funds and can spend it as it wishes. Whether or not the entity is acting merely as an agent is a question of facts and circumstances. Do the individuals have control of the entity’s actions in the transaction? Is there a written agreement obligating the entity with respect to the transaction? Is the entity holding itself out as an agent of the individuals for this transaction?

If the gifts are earmarked for the employees and the entity does not have the authority to spend the money in any way it deems fit, then the entity should be viewed as an agent acting on behalf of the individuals, and the conclusion is the same as Scenario #1. If the entity has full control and discretion as to the use of the funds, then the gift should be deemed a contribution to the tax exempt entity and thus a charitable deduction should be allowable. In that case appropriate acknowledgments of the charitable contributions should be given to the individual contributors.

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The tax treatment of the gift to the employee from the entity would have to be analyzed in accordance with the definitions discussed in Scenario #1 to determine whether it is a tip or a gift.

Scenario #3

The charitable organization that employs the service providers in the place of the fund discussed in Scenario #2. In this scenario, the charitable organization receives the contributions directly from the individuals and in turn provides the payments to its employees.

The analysis of this scenario is much the same as scenario #2. Tips not only include amounts received directly from individuals, but also amounts paid to the employee by the employer on behalf of these individuals. Thus if the charitable organization is acting as an agent for the individuals, then the conclusion is the same as scenario #1; specifically, no charitable deduction for the individuals and likely taxable tip income to the employees. If the charitable organization has full control and discretion over the funds and thus can spend it in any way it decides, then there should be a charitable contribution on the part of the individuals. However, the income should still be taxable to the employee, but in this case as regular wages rather than tip income and should be treated as such in the employer’s accounting and payroll reporting.

Thus, in none of these scenarios does the employee receive tax free income, unless the gift is in no way connected to the services they provide, which is a difficult position to take even in scenarios #1 and #2, and nearly impossible when payment is made directly from the employer. Therefore, employers should encourage employees to report tips to the employer if the amount of the tip is at least $20 in any month and the employer should report the tips on the W-2 and withhold the proper amount.

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Whatever scenario best fits your organization’s practices, be sure to provide proper donor acknowledgments for charitable contributions and proper employee records and tax withholding for tips or wages. As a first step, decide which scenario best fits the organization’s desires going forward, regardless of how these gifts have been handled in the past. Then speak to your tax advisor about proper reporting and structuring for the chosen scenario in future years and how to handle any required reporting for potential past errors.


Can you give a non taxable gift to an employee? ›

Employee gifts, awards and incentives

Gifts of minimal value, such as a holiday turkey, mostly are not taxable for employees. What's the definition of minimal? Generally $25 to $75 per employee each year. Gifts worth more than that are taxable.

Are employee gifts taxable income? ›

Gifts to employees are taxable unless they cost less than $100 and are given occasionally. These tax-free gifts are called de minimis fringe benefits, which means their value and frequency are so small that accounting for them would be unreasonable or impractical. It's occasional or unusual in frequency.

How much money can an employee receive as a gift without being taxed? ›

California doesn't enforce a gift tax, but you may owe a federal one. However, you can give up to $16,000 in cash or property during the 2022 tax year and up to $17,000 in the 2023 tax year without triggering a gift tax return.

Are gifts taxable or nontaxable? ›

What can be excluded from gifts? The general rule is that any gift is a taxable gift. However, there are many exceptions to this rule.

How much can I give my employees as a gift? ›

Gift vouchers can be used to purchase a variety of items, including eco-friendly gifts for her, clothing, food, or other experiences. If the value of the voucher is less than £50, then there is no tax charge or liability for the employee. Another way to gift an employee tax-free is to give them a trivial benefit.

Are $25 gift cards to employees taxable? ›

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tells employers that all cash gifts, including gift cards, are considered taxable wages unless specifically excluded by a section of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC).

How do you account for gifts to employees? ›

If you give a gift to an employee, it is generally considered a personal expense. This is because the gift is given with the intention of showing appreciation for the work that the employee has done. For example, you may give an employee a gift to celebrate their birthday or to thank them for their hard work.

Are Christmas gifts to employees taxable? ›

Christmas presents or any gift which are received by the employee as cash will be taxable as earnings. This means it will be shown on the payslip and subject to Tax and National Insurance, where applicable.

Can an employer give a personal gift to an employee? ›

Can I give gift cards to my employees? You can give gift cards to your employees as presents, but your employees must then list the amount of the gift card as income on their annual taxes. Any cash or cash equivalent given by an employer to an employee is considered income by the IRS and must be taxed that way.

Can an employee accept a gift that is valued at $20 or less given by a prohibited source or because of the employee's official position? ›

An employee may accept unsolicited gifts having an aggregate market value of $20 or less per source per occasion, provided that the aggregate market value of individual gifts received from any one person under the authority of this paragraph (a) does not exceed $50 in a calendar year.

Can I give my employee a tax free bonus? ›

Can you give an employee a bonus without taxes? You can't give an employee a bonus without taxes. The IRS mandates that taxes be withheld from a bonus payment at either their regular federal withholding rate if it's paid with their regular wages or at the 22% supplemental rate.

How does the IRS know if I give a gift? ›

Filing Form 709: First, the IRS primarily finds out about gifts if you report them using Form 709. As a requirement, gifts exceeding $15,000 must be reported on this form.

What kind of gifts are taxable? ›

The tax applies whether or not the donor intends the transfer to be a gift. The gift tax applies to the transfer by gift of any type of property. You make a gift if you give property (including money), or the use of or income from property, without expecting to receive something of at least equal value in return.

What is not considered a gift for tax purposes? ›

Key Takeaways

Other gifts that are generally excluded from the federal gift tax include gifts to spouses, payments for medical expenses, payments for educational expenses, and gifts made to political organizations.

How do you calculate taxable gifts? ›

You can think of the gift tax the same way you would income taxes , where each chunk of money is taxed at the rate for the bracket it falls into. The first $10,000 in taxable gifts is taxed at 18%, the next $10,000 is taxed at 20%, the next $20,000 is taxed at 22%, and so on.

Are staff gifts 100% deductible? ›

The cost of gifts to staff or clients will generally be 100% tax deductible unless they are for food and drink. Vouchers are a common and appreciated method of gifting, however vouchers for food, beverages and supermarkets are also caught by entertainment rules and you will only be able to claim a maximum of 50%.

Are employee gifts unallowable? ›

(b) Costs of gifts are unallowable. (Gifts do not include awards for performance made pursuant to 31.205-6(f) or awards made in recognition of employee achievements pursuant to an established contractor plan or policy.)

Do we tax employees for gift cards? ›

Since they're used in the same way as money, employees need to report gift cards and gift certificates as taxable income. While the expense of the gift card is completely payable by the company, you must pay tax from the worker's compensation for all these incentives.

Can you write off gift cards to employees? ›

Cash Gifts and Gift Certificates

If you give a holiday gift to an employee in the form of cash or a cash equivalent like a gift card or gift certificate, this is taxable income and should be included in the employee's W-2, and your business will receive a deduction for this.

Are small cash gifts taxable? ›

You do not pay tax on a cash gift, but you may pay tax on any income that arises from the gift – for example bank interest.

How do you handle employee gifts? ›

A reliable rule of thumb regarding workplace gift giving: Gifts should flow down the supervisory reporting line, not upward. Thus, a boss or manager may give presents to direct reports, and employees can laterally exchange gifts with each other. But employees shouldn't give gifts to supervisors.

Can I give my employees a Christmas gift? ›

The IRS notes that items with a value greater than $100 can't be a de minimis benefit. In practice, this means you could give each of your employees a gift with a $100 value or less, and the gift would qualify as de minimis and be tax-free. A gift must be a tangible item for the IRS to consider it a de minimis benefit.

What is the taxability of gift from employer? ›

According to the income tax laws, gifts received from an employer will not be taxable if their value does not exceed Rs 5,000 in a given financial year. Further, bonuses (irrespective of the amount received) will also be taxable under the head salaries.

How can an employee determine the value of a gift they receive? ›

How can an employee determine the value of a gift they receive? Use good judgment in determining the value of any gifts/entertainment received. If it is unclear, consider contacting a store or checking online, for similar items. It may also be checked with the superior officer.

What is the federal employee gifts rule? ›

Gifts Between Employees

An employee may not give, or solicit a contribution for, a gift to an official superior, and a superior may not accept a gift from an employee receiving less pay than him or her if the employee is a subordinate.

What is the monetary limit for receiving and giving gifts? ›

all gifts are charged to tax

Hence, if the aggregate value of gifts received during the year exceeds Rs. 50,000, then total value of all such gifts received during the year will be charged to tax (i.e. the total amount of gift and not the amount in excess of Rs. 50,000).

Can I give my employees a cash bonus for Christmas? ›

There are no legal obligations for employers to pay their staff a Christmas bonus. However, many businesses choose to do so as a way of showing their appreciation for their employees' hard work throughout the year. Whether or not an employer pays a Christmas bonus is entirely up to them.

What are non taxable gifts from employer? ›

Gift certificates

Cash or cash equivalent items provided by the employer are never excludable from income. An exception applies for occasional meal money or transportation fare to allow an employee to work beyond normal hours.

What is appropriate Christmas bonus for employees? ›

As mentioned, 5% of an employee's annual salary is the average amount awarded in a holiday bonus. However, the percentage may vary by company and by role. Generally, middle and senior managers see an end-of-year bonus of around 10-20% of their salary, and supervisors see around 10-15%, according to

What triggers a gift tax audit? ›

What Can Trigger a Gift or Estate Tax Audit? Here are some of the common factors that can lead to gift or estate tax audits: Total estate and gift value: Generally speaking, gift and estate tax returns are more likely to be audited when there are taxes owed and the size of the transaction or estate is relatively large.

How do I avoid IRS gift tax trap? ›

The best way to avoid paying the gift tax is to stay within the limit set by the IRS. So, what is the annual gift tax limit? In the 2023 tax year, the limit is set at $17,000 per recipient. Essentially, you can give $17,000 in gifts to as many individuals as you choose without being responsible for the gift tax.

Who pays gift tax the giver or receiver? ›

The gift tax rates range from 18% to 40%, and the giver generally pays the tax. There are, of course, exceptions and special rules for calculating the tax, so see the instructions to IRS Form 709 for all the details.

What is the gift tax rule? ›

You can give up to the annual exclusion amount ($16,000 in 2022) to any number of people every year, without facing any gift taxes or filing a gift tax return. • If you give more than $16,000 in 2022 to someone in one year, you do not automatically have to pay a gift tax on the overage.

What is the difference between a gift and a present? ›

Both gift and present are synonymous when referring to something thoughtfully given, often in recognition of an achievement or holiday. However, gift can be used as an attributive noun, as in gift bag or gift box. Additionally, both gift and present function as verbs.

Do I have to report gifted money as income? ›

You Don't Have to Report Cash Gifts of up to $16,000 a Year

The person making the gift must pay the tax but thanks to annual and lifetime exclusions, most people will never have to pay a gift tax. In 2022, you could give gifts of up to $16,000 without any tax or reporting requirements.

Can I write off gifts to employees? ›

Are business gifts deductible? If you give business gifts in the course of your trade or business, you can deduct all or part of the costs subject to the following limitations: You deduct no more than $25 of the cost of business gifts you give directly or indirectly to each person during your tax year.

Can a nonprofit give a gift to an employee? ›

Yes; however, gift cards or gift certificates of any amount provided to workforce members from within [ORGANIZATION] will be taxable to the employee. An occasional meal voucher in conjunction with a planned event is allowable but should generally be avoided.

Can company give gifts to employees? ›

According to the income tax laws, gifts received from an employer will not be taxable if their value does not exceed Rs 5,000 in a given financial year. Further, bonuses (irrespective of the amount received) will also be taxable under the head salaries.

Can managers give employees gifts? ›

A reliable rule of thumb regarding workplace gift giving: Gifts should flow down the supervisory reporting line, not upward. Thus, a boss or manager may give presents to direct reports, and employees can laterally exchange gifts with each other. But employees shouldn't give gifts to supervisors.

What are the tax implications of gifting shares to employees? ›

Rather than any profits made on the sale of such shares being subject to income tax and national insurance contributions, the gifted shares attract Capital Gains Tax (“CGT”). This is because the gain on any sale or transfer of the shares by the employee is taxed as capital.

How does the IRS know if you give a gift? ›

Filing Form 709: First, the IRS primarily finds out about gifts if you report them using Form 709. As a requirement, gifts exceeding $15,000 must be reported on this form.


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