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Gifts of Appreciation & Honorariums

Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has an administrative policy on tax-free gifts and awards to employees. Cash and cash-like gifts (often referred to as "near cash"), such as gift certificates, will be treated as cash taxable benefits. CRA's policy appears to ensure that gifts will not be "disguised remuneration."

CRA allows non-cash gifts and awards to an employee, regardless of number, to be non-taxable if the total is less than $500. Only the value in excess of $500 annually will become taxable. Also, a non-cash long standing service or anniversary award will be non-taxable if the total including taxes is not more than $500. Again, only the value in excess of $500 will become taxable. To qualify, the award cannot be for less than five years of service or for five years since the last award had been provided to the employee. 

An honorarium is a payment made to a person that does not represent a full compensation for time and effort expended. It may also be a payment for which a fee is not traditionally or normally charged.

Whether or not an honorarium represents employment income or not depends on the facts of the situation. If the individual receives the payment because of who they are (i.e., the payment does not relate to any service they have provided in their normal work), then it is a gift. A gift is not income for tax purposes. If the individual receives the payment for what they did (i.e., a service they provided in their normal work), the amount received is income that has to be reported. In such cases, the person’s employment status (i.e., self-employed or employee) will make a difference in the reporting requirements. 

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