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Local Guidelines for Cash Recognition Awards

The 2023 – 2024 guidelines serve as a framework for implementation of cash recognition awards for employees under the Staff Appreciation and Recognition Plan (the “STAR Plan”) at the University of California, Merced, to acknowledge and reward exemplary performance and contributions by employees. The STAR Plan is governed by Personnel Policies for Staff Members PPSM-34 and sets forth the requirements and guidelines for all University cash recognition awards.

The STAR Plan enables managers to recognize, acknowledge and reward employees for exceptional performance, creativity, organization abilities, work success, teamwork, and/or significant contributions related to and supportive of individual, departmental, divisional, and/or organizational goals and objectives.

Plan Eligibility:
Policy-covered career PSS employees and MSP employees and career CX-represented, and KM-represented employees are eligible for STAR Plan cash awards if, at the time of the award, they:

  1. Have successfully completed their probationary period, (if applicable;)

  2. Are on active pay status, or on an approved unpaid leave; and,

  3. Received an overall rating of “Successfully Met Expectations”, or better on their most recent annual performance evaluation. (PPSM-23 requires that written performance evaluations be completed annually). Employees who have not yet received an annual performance evaluation may be eligible for an award if their manager confirms on the nomination form that they are “meeting expectations.”

In addition, STAR Plan cash awards must recognize truly exceptional and exemplary performance as evidenced by accomplishments with demonstrated campus and or system-wide impact.


Policy covered contract employees who have at least 12 months of continuous service on a single contract are also eligible to participate in STAR at UC Merced, if they meet the above requirements.


Senior Management Group (SMG) members are not eligible for recognition awards under the STAR Plan.


Exclusively represented employees are eligible for cash recognition awards under the Plan only if the applicable collective bargaining agreement authorizes participation in the STAR Plan. Please contact Human Resources, Compensation unit for additional information regarding represented employee eligibility.

An employee may not receive an award under the STAR Plan if the employee is a participant in an alternate award plan that prohibits the receipt of a recognition award.

An employee’s receipt of an award under the STAR Plan does not establish any right or guarantee that the employee will be eligible for, or entitled to, an award in any subsequent Plan year.

Award Limits and Restrictions

The following limitations apply to STAR Plan cash award. 

  • No single STAR Plan cash award may exceed 10% of the employee’s base salary or $10,000, whichever amount is lower.

  • Cumulative STAR Plan cash awards paid to an employee in a Plan year may not exceed 10% of the employee’s base salary or $10,000, whichever amount is lower. If an employee is less than 100% time, the limits to cash awards will be prorated based on the percentage of their employment status (e.g., a 50% employee’s maximum cash award would be $5,000 [50% of $10,000]).

  • STAR Plan cash awards are strictly discretionary and may not be promised or guaranteed in advance.

  • STAR Awards should be issued as soon as possible after an accomplishment or event is completed to provide immediate recognition to employees.

  • “Across-the-board” type awards (e.g., awards to a category/group of employees without regard to a recipient’s performance or exceptional contribution) are not allowed under the STAR Plan. Awards must be based on the recipient’s achievement as an individual or as part of a team.

Funding Restrictions: To assure equitable distribution of STAR Plan awards to all eligible employees, total annual STAR Plan awards cannot exceed 1.8% of active STAR-eligible divisional payroll budgets as of July 1,2023.

Exceptions to the above monetary award limits will not be made except in rare circumstances. Exceptions require the approval of the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO). If the CHRO approves, the CHRO will seek approval of the Vice Chancellors Council, the Chancellor, the Administrative Oversight Committee (AOC) of the Plan and the University President.

Recommendations for an award that would be an exception to these limits must be submitted in writing to the CHRO and include significant, compelling justification for making the exception.

Nomination Process

The attached STAR Award Nomination Form must be used for every nomination. Individual employees may only be nominated for STAR awards by their supervisor, manager, or department head. In addition to the primary consideration of work having campus and system-wide impact, the following should be considered:

Exceptional performance: Demonstrated and sustained exceptional performance that consistently exceeds goals and work expectations in quantity and/or quality.

Creativity: One-time innovation that results in time/dollar savings, revenue enhancement, and productivity improvement; and/or ongoing innovative/creative activities that benefit organizational systems, protocols, and/or procedures.

Organizational abilities: Exhibits extraordinary skills in leadership resulting in the accomplishment of significant departmental or divisional goals and objectives; effective project management, which could include developing a project and/or implementing a project with substantial success; and/or demonstrating organizational capability leading to a greater level of effectiveness.

Work success: Significantly exceeds productivity, customer service, or similar goals, including demonstrating superior interactions with managers, peers, supervisors, subordinates, the University community, and/or clients and customers.

Teamwork: Acting as an exceptionally effective and cooperative team member or team leader for a team that has significantly exceeded the goals/objectives of the department/unit.

Equity, Justice, and Inclusive Excellence: Recognizes a staff member for the work they do that cultivates a culture of dignity and respect, ensuring that all members of the community thrive as their authentic selves through equitable and inclusive structures, policies, and practices. 


Individual Award Nominations

Individual employees may be nominated for STAR awards based on one or more of the performance standards set forth in the STAR Plan. Input will be required from the employee’s manager/supervisor if someone other than the employee’s manager/supervisor is nominating the employee. For individual award nominations please complete the STAR Nomination Form and send it to the Compensation unit via email at


Team Award Nominations

Team Awards may be granted to teams of employees who meet one or more of the performance standards set forth in the STAR Plan for work on a project within the same department or for work on the development and/or implementation of interdepartmental projects. Input will be required from the team leader and each employee’s supervisor/manager if someone other than the manager/supervisor is nominating the team. The Team Award Spreadsheet must be submitted for Team Award Nominations.

The employee’s department head is responsible for confirming an employee’s eligibility for an award and approving the award, regardless of the funding source for the award.

Award Review and Approval Authority

The process for all STAR Plan cash awards requires endorsement from the employee’s immediate supervisor, approval of the next-level manager and the department head. STAR Plan cash awards above $5,000 also require the additional approval of the AVC of Human Resources and the Vice Chancellors Cabinet.

Timing and Processing of STAR Award Payments

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

All STAR Plan cash awards for the Plan year must be processed in accordance with year-end closing schedules. Thus, in order to meet the payroll processing schedules, all awards should be submitted no later than April 30, 2024. Requests received after that date will be returned for submission for the following Plan year.

Funding Requirements and Restrictions

Only local funds will be used for STAR Plan awards. The total amount of the available funds for the campus will be decided by the Chancellor. To assure equitable distribution of STAR Plan awards to all eligible employees, total annual STAR Plan awards cannot exceed 2% of active STAR-eligible divisional payroll budgets as of July 1, 2023.

Recordkeeping and Compliance

All documentation associated with Nomination Rview and Award will be kept together in the recipient’s personnel file in the Human Resources Department. All STAR awards must be submitted to HR-Compensation for review and UC policy compliance. Compensation is responsible for submission to Payroll Services .

Plan Contact for Questions

Questions regarding the STAR Plan should be directed to the Compensation unit of UC Merced’s Human Resources department via email at


University  of California Merced Staff Appreciation and Recognition Plan

For Plan Year July 1, 2023 through June 30, 2024