Archive for the ‘Employment Tax’ category

Quality Stores Day Of Reckoning Draws Near – What Should Employers Be Thinking About?

January 16, 2014

By Phil Karter

The Quality Stores employment tax refund case was argued before the Supreme Court on January 14, 2014.  An explanation about the issue at stake can be found in prior Taxblawg.net postings.  Although the outcome of the case remains in doubt, the possibility of a taxpayer victory means that employers should start thinking about the need to satisfy an important prerequisite to qualify their claims for refund.

Employment (FICA) taxes have both an employer and an employee component. A taxpayer victory in Quality Stores will enable both employers and terminated employees to recover their respective shares of FICA taxes withheld from the employees’ severance pay.  The obvious question that is likely to arise from an employer’s standpoint is “what incentive do I have to file on behalf of former employees?”

The answer can be found in Treasury Regulation § 31.6402(a)-2(a)(1)(ii), which stipulates that the employer will not be allowed a refund or credit for the employer’s share of withheld taxes “unless the employer has first repaid or reimbursed its employee or has secured the employee’s consent to the allowance of the claim for refund and includes a claim for the refund of such employee tax.”  In other words, merely notifying ex-employees of their rights to claim refunds themselves is inadequate to perfect the employer’s claim to recover its own share of withheld employment taxes. The employer must take affirmative steps on behalf of the terminated employee.

Thankfully, despite the above language about securing consents, the regulation elaborates that the requirement “does not apply to the extent that the taxes were not withheld from the employee or, after the employer makes reasonable efforts to repay or reimburse the employee or secure the employee’s consent, the employer cannot locate the employee or the employee will not provide consent.  Therefore, it is the attempt to secure consents that counts rather than the actual ability to secure such consents. (This same consent procedure also applies to employment tax refund claims arising from the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor, wherein the court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional.  Prior to that decision, employers were required to withhold and pay over employment taxes for benefits provided to same-sex spouses of employees.)

Up to this point, a majority of employers that have filed protective refund claims have likely not undertaken the effort to obtain employee consents. There are at least two practical reasons for this.  First, the Sixth Circuit’s 2012 favorable decision in Quality Stores came out only about six months before the expiration of the 2009 statute of limitations (assuming the employer’s return was filed without extension). Thus, for employers eligible for refunds of FICA withholding paid over in that year, there wasn’t a good deal of time to accomplish this task.  Without a full solicitation of consents and tabulation of the refunds owed to employees who had responded affirmatively, there would have been no way to calculate the aggregate employee refund and include it on a refund claim.

Additionally, with the final outcome of Quality Stores, and the consequent entitlement to FICA refunds in doubt, it would have been hard for employers to justify the expense of undertaking the consent process when it wasn’t clear the exercise would be worthwhile when all was said and done.

Assuming the Supreme Court affirms Quality Stores, the simple solution for employers that filed protective claims covering only their share of FICA withholding is to file amended claims to add the aggregate employees’ share for those employees who provide their consents.  The procedure for this is set forth right in the instructions for Form 941-X on which the refund claim is made.  The instructions provide, in pertinent part, as follows:

5b.     . . . In certain situations, you may not have repaid or reimbursed your employees or obtained their consents prior to filing a claim, such as in cases where the period of limitations on credit or refund is about to expire. In those situations, file Form 941-X, but do not check a box on line 5. Tell us on line 25 that you have not repaid or reimbursed employees or obtained consents. However, you must certify that you have repaid or reimbursed your employees or obtained consents before the IRS can grant the claim.

 5c.     Check the box on line 5c to certify that your overreported tax is only for the employer share of social security and Medicare taxes. Affected employees did not give you consent to file a claim for refund for the employee share of social security and Medicare taxes, they could not be found, or would not (or could not) give you a statement described on line 5b.

 5d.     Check the box on line 5d to certify that your overreported amount is only for federal income tax, social security tax, Medicare tax, or Additional Medicare Tax that you did not withhold from your employees.

The Form 941-X instructions also provide a sample consent that can be used as a template by employers:

Employee name ____________________

Employer name  ____________________

I give my consent to have my employer (named above) file a claim on my behalf with the IRS requesting $_________ in overcollected social security and Medicare taxes for 20___. I have not claimed a refund of or credit for the overcollected taxes from the IRS, or if I did, that claim has been rejected; and I will not claim a refund or a credit of the amount.

 Employee signature _____________________

Date _________________

The consents are not sent to the IRS but retained by the employer. However, employers should be mindful not only to retain such consents, but also to adequately document their efforts to obtain consents for all qualifying employees, whether or not they are returned.

On a going-forward basis until Quality Stores is decided, employers can ease the burden of having to track down former employees and send out consent forms to qualify their own refund claims by incorporating a consent form along the lines of the template shown above into the paperwork typically involved in the termination process.  Of course, if Quality Stores is decided favorably, employers from that point forward will no longer be obliged to withhold, obviating the need to continue this practice.

Sixth Circuit Moves The Ball Forward For Companies Seeking FICA Tax Refunds On Supplemental Unemployment Compensation Benefit Payments

January 8, 2013

By Phil Karter and John Hackney

For companies that have implemented employee layoffs in the past several years and made severance payments to terminated employees, the prospect of eligibility for federal tax refunds for any FICA taxes withheld from such payments took another step forward with the Sixth Circuit’s January 4th denial of the government’s petition for rehearing en banc in United States v. Quality Stores (Civil No. 10-1563, 6th Cir. 2012).

The rehearing petition was filed after a government loss in September of last year in which the appellate court affirmed a lower court’s decision that supplemental unemployment compensation benefit (SUB) payments are not taxable as wages and are consequently exempt from FICA taxes. Under section 3402(o)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code, SUB payments are defined as “amounts which are paid to an employee, pursuant to a plan to which the employer is a party, because of an employee’s involuntary separation from employment (whether or not such separation is temporary), resulting directly from a reduction in force, the discontinuance of a plant or operation, or other similar conditions.”

The Sixth Circuit’s decision in Quality Stores directly conflicts with the Federal Circuit’s prior decision in CSX Corp. v. United States, 518 F.3d 1328 (Fed. Cir. 2008), which held that such payments were subject to FICA.  With the denial of the petition for rehearing in Quality Stores, the stage is now set for the government to seek Supreme Court review.  Because the eventual outcome of this conflict has enormous financial implications, a petition for certiorari is reasonably foreseeable.  Such a petition would be due by April 4, 2013.

Although the final word on the issue may not yet be written, for companies located within the Sixth Circuit’s purview (Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee), the taxpayer-friendly Quality Stores decision is currently binding authority which, unless reversed by the Supreme Court, will entitle those who have filed timely refund claims to the refund of FICA taxes paid over on SUB payments. In the rest of the country, Quality Stores is not binding on the IRS.  Nonetheless, the case at least raises the prospect of a taxpayer victory on the issue when the dust finally settles.

Many companies have already filed protective tax refund claims to preserve their rights to receive potentially significant refunds of FICA tax.  For those that haven’t, filing such claims for each open taxable year in which FICA was withheld on SUB payments is an absolute prerequisite to obtain any refunds. There is little cost associated with filing a protective refund claim but the potential benefit could be quite large.  Accordingly, any eligible employers who have not already done so are advised to file their claims as soon as possible for all open years to avoid being barred by the applicable statute of limitations, which typically remains open for the later of three years after the return due date or two years after the date of payment.

A final point about which employers filing refund claims should take note is that under Treas. Reg. § 31.6402(a)-2, a refund claim seeking the refund or credit of an employee’s share of FICA taxes requires the employer to certify either that it has repaid or reimbursed the tax to its employee or that it has secured the employee’s written consent to the filing of the refund claim (except to the extent the taxes were not withheld from the employee).  In Quality Stores, for example, roughly 1,800 of 3,000 former employees consented to the company filing FICA tax refund claims on their behalf.  Consequently, the employer’s refund claim for its own share of FICA taxes exceeded the refund sought for its former employees’ share.

The Moment You Have All Been Waiting For: Payroll Tax Guidance for 2013

January 4, 2013

The IRS released Notice 1036 to assist employer’s with determining the payroll tax consequences of the fiscal cliff.

2013 Withholding Tables. Notice 1036 includes the 2013 Percentage Method Tables for Income Tax Withholding. Employers should implement the 2013 withholding tables as soon as possible, but not later than February 15, 2013. Employers can use the 2012 withholding tables until they implement the 2013 withholding tables.

Social Security Tax. For 2013, the employee tax rate for social security increases to 6.2%. The social security wage base limit increases to $113,700. Employers should implement the 6.2% employee social security tax rate as soon as possible, but not later than February 15, 2013. After implementing the new 6.2% rate, employers should make an adjustment in a subsequent pay period to correct any underwithholding of social security tax as soon as possible, but not later than March 31, 2013. The employer tax rate for social security remains unchanged at 6.2%.

Medicare Tax. The Medicare tax rate is 1.45% each for the employee and employer, unchanged from 2012. There is no wage base limit for Medicare tax.

Additional Medicare Tax Withholding. In addition to withholding Medicare tax at 1.45%, employers must withhold a 0.9% Additional Medicare Tax from wages paid to an employee in excess of $200,000 in a calendar year. Employers are required to begin withholding Additional Medicare Tax in the pay period in which it pays wages in excess of $200,000 to an employee and must continue to withhold it each pay period until the end of the calendar year. Additional Medicare Tax is only imposed on the employee. There is no employer share of Additional Medicare Tax. All wages that are subject to Medicare tax are subject to Additional Medicare Tax withholding if paid in excess of the $200,000 withholding threshold.

Employment Tax: Yet Another Opportunity to Come Clean -

December 17, 2012

Employment Tax: Yet Another Opportunity to Come Clean -

Whether a worker is performing services as an employee or as an independent contractor depends on the facts and circumstances.  This determination may be difficult for many companies and may lead to significant exposure.  In order to facilitate voluntary resolution of  potential worker classification issues and achieve the benefits of increased tax compliance and certainty for all parties, taxpayers, workers and the government, the IRS established the Voluntary Classification Settlement Program (“(VCSP”) on September 11, 2011.  The program was created to allow for voluntary reclassification of workers as employees outside the administrative context.

In light of feedback received, today the IRS has announced changes to the VCSP. (Announcement 2012-45; 2012-51 IRB 724).  The VCSP has been modified to: 1) permit a taxpayer under IRS audit, other than an employment tax audit, to be eligible to participate in the VCSP; 2) clarify the current eligibility requirement that a taxpayer that is a member of an affiliated group within the meaning of section 1504(a) is not eligible to participate in the VCP if any member of the affiliated group is under employment tax audit; 3) clarify that a taxpayer is not eligible to participate in the VCSP if the taxpayer is contesting in court the classification of the class or classes of workers from a previous audit by the IRS or the Department of Labor; and 4) eliminate the requirement that a taxpayer agree to extend the period of limitations on assessment of employment taxes as part of the VCSP closing agreement with the IRS.

In addition, today the IRS announced a temporary expansion of eligibility for the VCSP through June 30, 2013.  The temporary eligibility expansion makes a modified VCSP available to taxpayers who would otherwise be eligible for the current VCSP but have not filed all required Forms 1099 for the previous three years with respect to the workers to be reclassified.  Eligible taxpayers that take advantage of this limited, temporary eligibility expansion agree to prospectively treat workers as employees and will receive partial relief from federal employment taxes. (Announcement 2012-46; 2012-51 IRB 725)

This program can be used as a tax planning tool with the advice of your tax counsel.

Direct Sellers Hit by IRS Worker – Classification Audits

December 5, 2012

By Hale Sheppard

Despite the recent increase in online commerce, traditional methods of moving product, such as so-called “direct selling,” are alive and well.  Indeed, according to a recent IRS study, direct selling is a significant industry, with annual sales of nearly $30 billion and more than 13 million salespersons in the United States alone.  The IRS has intensified worker-classification audits over the past few years, generally claiming that workers should be treated as employees instead of independent contractors.  Theoretically, these audits should cause little concern for direct sellers because they enjoy a special status under the Internal Revenue Code.  The reality, though, is that the IRS’s recent audits have caused problems for many direct sellers, particularly those who fail to appreciate their unique tax status and/or assert their rights.  The attached article, called “Direct Sellers Hit by IRS Worker-Classification Audits:  An Analysis of the Obscure Rules and Strategies Applicable to These Workers,” is designed to alleviate these problems.  The article was published in a recent issue of Taxes – The Tax Magazine.

Settlement Program for Worker-Classification Issues: Putting the Latest Employment Tax Offer into Perspective

February 23, 2012

By Hale Sheppard

The difference between what taxpayers should pay and what they actually pay the IRS is called the “tax gap.”  A significant portion of the tax gap is attributable to non-compliance with employment tax laws, including worker misclassification.  The IRS is currently conducting a three-year research project, which entails an additional 6,000 random employment tax audits.  This research will inevitably lead to the conclusion that worker misclassification is rampant and depriving the federal government of billions of dollars in tax revenues each year.  Therefore, the IRS likely will deem it necessary to dedicate significantly more resources to enforcement of employment tax laws in the future.

Against this backdrop, the IRS announced in September 2011 a new voluntary classification settlement program (“VCSP”), which is designed to entice companies into reclassifying their workers from independent contractors to employees.  The VCSP may seem appealing at first blush, but further analysis reveals that participation in this pseudo-amnesty program may not be the best decision for many companies.  Of course, the challenge is that many companies grappling with this critical issue lack a complete picture of the options and their true implications.   These companies and/or their advisors have, as they say, just enough information to be dangerous.  The attached article, called “IRS Introduces New Settlement Program for Worker-Classification Issues:  Putting the Latest Employment Tax Offer into Perspective,” analyzes the major choices available to companies that could be facing worker-classification disputes with the IRS in the near future.  The article was published in the most recent issue of Taxes – The Tax Magazine.

MORE BREAKING NEWS: IRS Announces New Voluntary Worker Classification Settlement Program

September 21, 2011
 
On September 21, 2011, the IRS announced the launching of the Voluntary Classification Settlement Program.  This program will provide employers with the ability to resolve past worker classification issues and achieve certainty under the tax law at a significantly reduced employment tax rate by voluntarily reclassifying their workers. Under the program, eligible employers can obtain substantial relief from federal payroll taxes owed for misclassification in the past, if they agree to prospectively treat workers as employees. In exchange, the employer will pay 10 % of the employment liability that may have been due on compensation paid to workers for the most recent year, determined under the reduced rates of IRC section 3509, will not be liable for any interest and penalties on the liability and will not be subject to an employment tax audit with respect to worker classification of the workers for prior years.  Certain eligibility requirements must be met including that the employer cannot be currently under audit concerning the classification of workers by the Department of Labor or by a state government agency.  This program can be used as a tax planning tool with the advice of your tax counsel.
 
 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 101 other followers

%d bloggers like this: