STAR: Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is the purpose of STAR Plan awards

STAR Plan awards should be used to recognize extraordinary contributions that are above and beyond an employee’s established day-to-day job responsibilities. As such, they are an important strategic tool in implementing the campus’ new compensation philosophy and strategy.  They should be used for the appropriate purpose – to recognize extraordinary contributions – and not as a proxy for equity or merit increases, or as a stipend.

  1. How are STAR Plan awards different from “spot” awards

Incentive awards are available in two forms – as non-cash employee recognition awards, also known as “spot” awards that are limited in value to a $75 gift card or a $245 one-month parking permit or transit pass; and cash awards, which are provided for by the STAR Plan.

  1. When can STAR awards be presented?

Star awards may be presented at any time during the 2017-18 plan year and should be awarded as soon as possible after the accomplishment or event in order to provide immediate recognition to employees.

  1. What is the deadline to submit a STAR Award Nomination Form?

In order to meet the payroll processing schedules, all awards should be submitted no later than June 1, 2018. Requests received after that date will be returned for submission for the following Plan year.

  1. How is the STAR program funded?

Department funds should be used, when possible, to fund all STAR Plan awards.  For those departments without available funding, a supplemental appropriation may be requested.  Central funding for STAR Plan awards in FY 2017-18 may be taken from the compensation strategy equity pool; however, this will reduce the amount available for permanent equity increases.

To assure equitable distribution of STAR Plan awards to all deserving employees, total annual STAR Plan awards cannot exceed 0.5 percent of department payroll budgets.

  1. If someone is receiving a stipend, are they eligible to receive a STAR award for the same work?

No.  See Question #1:  STAR Plan awards should be strategically used for their intended purpose – to recognize extraordinary accomplishment – not as a proxy for equity or merit increases, or as a stipend.

  1. When my stipend ends, can I get a STAR Plan award in its place?

Again, STAR Plan awards are for the purpose of recognizing extraordinary accomplishment – not as a substitute for stipends, which are intended to compensate employees for taking on additional responsibilities for a set period of time.

  1. How do I nominate an employee or a team for an award?

An employee or team may be nominated for an award by completing and submitting the appropriate nominating form to HR-Compensation at comp@ucmerced.edu.  See Star Program Nomination Form:  http://hr.ucmerced.edu/files/page/documents/star_nomination_form.pdf

  1. Can an employee initiate a STAR award on their own behalf with their Supervisor/Manager?

Employees may initiate, but only a manager can nominate.  Nominations must be approved by department and division leaders.

  1.  Are represented employees eligible for the STAR program?

Based on negotiations, only CX represented employees are eligible for the STAR program.  Systemwide guidelines restrict this program to other policy covered employees.  In order for other represented groups to be eligible, it would need to be negotiated system wide.

  1.  Is there a limit as to the number of awards an employee may receive or the total dollar amount one employee may receive within a fiscal year?

Yes, systemwide guidelines state that no employee may receive cash award(s) over 10% of the employee’s base salary or $10,000, whichever amount is lower. 

  1.  What are applicable tax implications?

Cash awards are supplemental wages that are subject to Social Security (OASDI) and/or Medicare taxes if applicable. The Federal and State tax withholding will occur as follows: When paid separately, Federal tax would be withheld at 25% and State tax would be withheld at 6%. When a STAR payment is combined with regular wages for the current month, Federal and State taxes would be withheld at the graduated rates per marital status and allowances claimed on the W4.

  1. Are Student Assistants eligible for STAR Plan awards?

No. Only campus, career, staff employees are eligible for STAR.

  1. Who is the final approving authority for STAR Plan awards?

Consistent with campus efforts to give division heads more control over their own budgets, division head approval is sufficient for granting an award from appropriations contained within that division’s budget.  However, if an award exceeds restrictions outlined in the Plan guidelines (over $5,000) or if departments require central funding, nominations must be approved by the Vice Chancellors Council.  Completed STAR nomination forms must be submitted to HR-Compensation for compliance review.  Once reviewed, Compensation will submit to the appropriate payroll unit.

Resources:

Questions regarding the STAR Employee Program should be directed to the Compensation and Classification Unit at comp@ucmerced.edu.

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University of California Merced Staff Appreciation and Recognition Plan
For Plan Year July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018