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Employee Recognition and Suggestion Award Programs

This page provides a general overview of the statutes that apply to local government adoption of employee recognition and suggestion award programs in Washington State, including examples of codes and policies.


Local governments, like private sector employers, may wish to acknowledge their employees, recognizing their achievements and rewarding their efforts to make government more responsive, efficient, and cost effective. Unlike their private counterparts, however, local governments must consider constitutional prohibitions against gifts if they intend to reward employees with cash, dinners, prizes, etc.

Cities and towns of all classes have authority to establish and administer employee incentive programs for their employees, so long as the program and appropriately definite performance standards are established before the period covered by the program. See AGO 1995 No. 13.

Below are state employee provisions that are used by local governments as a model.

  • Ch. 41.60 RCW – Relating to the State Employees' Suggestion Awards and Incentive Pay Program
  • Title 383 WAC – Provides the "guidelines for the employee suggestion program" and the "teamwork incentive program"

Examples of Codes and Policies

Below are some examples of codes and policies that establish recognition and service award programs.

  • Anacortes Personnel Manual Policy 506 (2016) – Provides an employee recognition and service awards program authorized by Ordinance No. 2586 (2002)
  • Bellingham Municipal Code Ch. 3.32.060 – Establishes an incentive plan for employees who assume projects or tasks beyond what is considered a normal part of their position
  • Clallam County Code Ch. 3.16 – Provides an employee suggestion program for employees to recognize those ideas which result in improvements to the internal operations of the county
  • Everett Municipal Code Ch. 2.103 – Establishes an Employee Suggestion Award Program
  • Issaquah Municipal Code Ch. 2.88 – Provides a program of suggestion awards for employees to encourage employees' suggestions for improvement in city functions, operations and safety
  • Seattle Municipal Code:
    • Ch. 4.88 – Establishes a service award program.
    • Ch. 4.94 – Provides a safety and performance awards program.
  • Tacoma Municipal Code:
    • Sec. 1.12.345 – Provides employee recognition for length of service, employee incentive, and outstanding service.
    • Sec. 1.12.650 – Provides a program of monetary awards in order to stimulate suggestions from city employees
  • Tumwater Employee Recognition Procedures and Guidelines (2011) – Provides for an award, token of appreciation, prize, meal, entertainment or event that is intended specifically to promote good will, foster a sense of pride in affiliation with the city, promote safety, productivity, reliability, efficiency, dedication, commitment to the community and/or cost savings for the city among city employees

Recommended Resources

  • MRSC Information Bulletin: Municipal Bread and Circuses - Update on Article VIII, Section 7 (1988) – This article from the former Senior Assistant Attorney General of the State of Washington continues to provide relevant answers to the following questions: (1) May Cities Spend Public Monies on Employee Awards, Prizes and Other Tangible Symbols of Special Recognition?, (2) May cities officially sponsor festivals, parades, and similar events, and directly support them with city funds?, and (3) May cities purchase coffee and refreshments with public funds and serve them to city employees, volunteers, and nonemployees?

Last Modified: April 09, 2021