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Employee Suggestion Program

​​​​​The Employee Suggestion Program is a formal system for rewarding employees who submit ideas that reduce or eliminate state expenditures or improve the safety or operation of state government.  Thousands of suggestions have been adopted since the program began in 1950, resulting in millions of dollars in savings to the state.  Participation in the program is easy and the awards range from $50 to $50,000. 

Eligible suggestions are those that do one or more of the following:

  • Improve State operations
  • Increase revenues
  • Eliminate safety hazards
  • Improve procedures 

Making a suggestion

Who can participate?

All part-time, seasonal, full time or retired employees in agencies/departments are eligible to participate except: 

  • Officers and employees of the Universities of California and California State Universities.
  • Student assistants hired through University Enterprises, Inc.

Employees designated Career Executive Assignments or Exempt classifications are not eligible for cash awards, but may still submit their suggestions. 

What suggestions are eligible?

Employee suggestions range in topics from engineering, security, information technology, accounting, clerical support and many more.

Eligible suggestions create a cost savings for the state and one or more of the following:

  • Improve state operations
  • Increase state revenue
  • Eliminate safety hazards
  • Improve procedures

To qualify for review, each suggestion must meet the following criteria:

  • Describe a specific problem
  • Offer a workable solution
  • Benefit the State of California.

What suggestions are ineligible?

Suggestions not eligible include those that are:

  • Currently being evaluated or have been evaluated within the last year through the Employee Suggestion Program (ESP).
  • Recommending new or increased taxes or fees.
  • Recommending additional revenues at the expense of a segment of taxpayers and which can be classified as unjust or inequitable.
  • Recommending a change in the pay or classification of a position or class, or the establishment of new positions (This area is held to be the continuing responsibility of the agency and CalHR).
  • Recommending a study, survey or review with the course of action to be taken in accordance with the findings.
  • Involving a personal grievance.
  • Involving terms and conditions of employment, which are subject to the collective bargaining process under the Ralph C. Dills Act.
  • Recommending corrections in spelling, punctuation, grammar, or mathematical calculations (These changes should be communicated through established channels).

How much can I earn from my suggestion?

Please see our award amounts page.

How do I submit a suggestion?

Submitting a suggestion is easy.

  • Complete the Employee Suggestion Program Form (Std. 645)
  • Describe the specific problem and provide a workable solution. Supply as much detail as possible and include examples or attachments to validate your idea. Provide the name of the department or control agency that has the authority to implement your suggestion statewide.
  • Sign and date the form. If your suggestion has more than one suggester, each must sign the form.
  • If your suggestion affects one department, submit the completed form or package to your departmental Merit Award Administrator.
  • If your suggestion affects multiple state departments, list each department and include a copy of your suggestion for each. Do not write "All State Departments”. Suggestions listing "All State Departments" will be referred to your employing department for evaluation.

California Department of Human Resources
Merit Award Program

1515 S Street, North Building, Suite 500
Sacramento, CA 95811-7243

Request your department's Merit Award Administrator contact information:


What happens to my suggestion once it's submitted?

 Once your department's Merit Award Administrator receives your suggestion:

The Merit Award Administrator

  • Assigns an ID number and reviews your suggestion for completeness.
  • Sends you a letter acknowledging receipt of your suggestion.
  • Assigns your suggestion to an evaluator familiar with your suggestion's program area. 

The evaluator

  • Reviews your suggestion.
  • Analyzes the problem and the feasibility of the proposed change.
  • Determines if the suggestion will be adopted.
  • Determines the appropriate type of award.
  • Calculates the cost savings.
  • Determines your eligibility to receive a cash award.
  • Prepares a Suggestion Evaluation Report.
  • Returns the Suggestion Evaluation Report to the Merit Award Administrator.
  • The Merit Award Administrator notifies you whether your suggestion has been denied or will receive an award.

If my suggestion is adopted, when will I receive my award? How long before I hear back? Will my award be taxed?

It depends on the type of suggestion and award you receive.  Some awards can be paid immediately, while others must wait until the first year of net savings can be calculated.  Every circumstance is different.  The following is a general time frame for award payment:

Cash Awards

In most cases, cash awards are issued after the first year of net savings have been calculated.

One-Time Awards

One-time awards are the same as cash awards.  These awards are calculated at five percent of the net savings or revenues.

Improved Procedures/Improved Safety awards

These awards are issued after the suggestion is implemented.

How long will it take before I hear if my suggestion has been adopted?

Evaluation and award timeframes vary depending on the complexity of your idea. The average turnaround for a suggestion is approximately six to seven months.

Will I be taxed on my cash award?

Yes. Cash awards are considered income and subject to tax.  

Sample Suggestions

Thousands of suggestions from employees and retirees have been adopted, resulting in millions of dollars in savings.

Examples of approved suggestions

  • An analyst of the Department of General Services was awarded $26,897 for a suggestion to place older loans into a tickler file system where they could be reviewed periodically and refinanced at a lower interest rate. This suggestion saved the State an additional $537,948 in interest the first year.
  • A Medical Technical Assistant developed a standardized clearance policy and procedure for annual culinary medical clearances at the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. This eliminated the need for substantial and costly lab work, resulting in a savings of $90,018. The suggeste​r received an award of $9,002.
  • An Electrical Supervisor at Department of Transportation received $50,000 for recommending and replacing red lights in traffic signals with a Light Emitting Diode (LED module) which consumed less power. The State saved $4.1 million.
  • A secretary of the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control suggested developing a Petition for Conditional License Book, with samples of different petitions, consideration points, protests and a listing of conditions. The suggeste​r was awarded $117, based on 10% savings of $1,169 annual savings.
  • A Fire Apparatus Engineer, Firefighter, and Fire Captain for the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection suggested the I-Zone Urban - Wildland Interface Bracket Mount unit, for the back of all Model No. 9 Engines. The unit would fold down when in use, allow for storage and deployment of fire hoses, and eliminate climbing on engines. This suggestion resulted in an award of $552 for safety.
  • A Mailing Machine Operator for the Employment Development Department received an award of $10,325 for recommending a new mail-sort method for mailing New Employer Registration packets by using bulk rates instead of piece rates. This suggestion resulted in a net revenue of $103,249.
  • A Senior Printing Trades Specialist at the Public Utilities Commission suggested mailing large volume documents and miscellaneous printed materials by third class mail instead of first class presort. The result was an award of $9,123 and annual savings for the State of $91,233. ​

If you need more help or would like to submit a suggestion, please contact your departmental Merit Award Administrator.  

The Merit Award Board

Purpose and Authority


For Employees/Suggestions

For Evaluators


 For Merit Award Administrators

  • CAL-HR Form 134 – Identification and Recovery of Savings PDF 

For Evaluators

  Updated: 8/10/2016
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