Periodically Reevaluate Employee Business Expense Reimbursement Practices


Employers looking for cost-effective opportunities to sweeten the perceived value their compensation and fringe benefit packages periodically should re-examine their policies for reimbursement of employees for ordinary and necessary business expenses an employee incurs in connection with the performance of his duties, such as:

  • Required work clothes or uniforms not appropriate for everyday use.
  • Supplies and tools for use on the job.
  • Business use of a car.
  • Business meals and entertainment.
  • Business travel away from home.
  • Business use of a home.
  • Work-related education.

Businesses generally consider a wide range of factors when deciding what expenses to reimburse to employees.   In arriving at these decisions, however, many businesses overlook the opportunity to stretch the overall compensation dollars by reimbursing employees for business expenses in lieu of paying cash compensation to the employee but requiring the employee to use after tax dollars to pay business expenses not reimbursed by the employer.

While many employers believe “cash is king” when paying employees, paying employees more cash in lieu of reimbursing employees for business often increases the employment tax liability of the employer while also unwittingly diminishing the value of the cash compensation paid to the employee because of federal tax rules governing individual deductions a business expenses.

While the Internal Revenue Code and associated Internal Revenue Service regulations impose special rules for certain categories of employment, federal tax law generally allows businesses both:

  •  To deduct from the gross income of the business for purposes of determining its adjusted gross income those amounts the business pays as wages as well as amounts paid to reimburse an employee for ordinary and necessary business expenses expended by the employee in the performance of his duties and to exclude such amounts for calculating the employment tax liabilities of both the employer and the employee; and
  • In many, but not all instances, to exclude all or some of the reimbursement amount from the taxable wages of the employee for income tax and/or employment tax purposes.

The income and employment tax treatment of business expenses paid by an employee generally is much less favorable when an employee seeks to deduct or exclude xpenditures made for ordinary and necessary business expenses from taxable income.

While federal income tax rules generally allow businesses to deduct ordinary and business expenses directly from gross income to arrive at their taxable adjusted gross income, federal tax rules are more restrictive concerning the deduction of business expenses by employees for income tax purposes and provides no easy mechanism to claim credit for such amounts for employment tax purposes.

In general, the Internal Revenue Code generally only allows employees who otherwise have sufficient deductible expenses to itemize deductions to claim any business expenses as a deduction when calculating their federal income taxes. Depending on the income of the workforce and particularly in the case of lower income workers, the itemization  requirement effectively bars a large percentage of employees from any possibility of deducting business expenses incurred in the performance of their work.

Beyond the requirement to itemize, the Internal Revenue Code also imposes a second hurdle that further restricts the deductibility of business expenses when claimed by an employee versus a business.  Specifically, the Internal Revenue Code generally only allows an employee to deduct  business expenses paid by the employee to the extent those expenses exceed 2% of the employee’ adjusted gross income.  This means that even those employees who qualify to file itemize deductions cannot deduct the initial 2% of the ordinary and necessary business expenses the employee pays and connection of the performance of his job even though the Internal Revenue Code would allow the employer to deduct the full amount of amounts paid to reimburse the employee for those same expenses.

Since most employees understand that the purchasing power of any cash compensation they receive from the employer is reduced by the amount of any expenses that they pay but are not reimbursed for, considering reimbursing employees for expenses in lieu of paying the employee cash, then requiring the employee to pay those expenses out of taxable income.

Of course, when considering whether to pay or reimburse employee expenses, employers also should evaluate and verify that their planned treatment of an expenditure and its reimbursement otherwise complies with any union or other contracts, as well as any applicable federal and state occupational safety, wage and hour and other laws.

Regardless of whether the employer or the employee plans to claim a business expense for tax purposes, an employer should encourage its employees to keep, and if reimbursing the employee, submit good records for proof of income and expenses.  Employers reimbursing business expenses may wish to educate employees about both the tax and financial value of these reimbursement benefits as a part of the overall compensation package provided to employees.  Even where an employer does not reimburse its employees all or part of an otherwise deductible business expense, however, it also may want to share Internal Revenue Service resources like “IRS Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions,” and “Publication 463, Travel, Entertainment, Gift and Car Expenses” with employees to help educate employees about these tax rules and their opportunities and responsibilities.

About The Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for work, teachings and publications.

Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real-time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other concerns by her service in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organization including her involvement as the Vice Chair of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association; Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; former Gulf Coast TEGE Council Exempt Organization Coordinator; a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence; former board member and Vice President of the Managed Care Association; past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; a member and advisor to the National Physicians’ Council for Healthcare Policy; current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee; current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section; a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group; immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and current RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Council; past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a former member of the Board of Directors, Treasurer, Member and Continuing Education Chair of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposia chair and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment, employee benefits, compensation, and other regulatory and operational risk management. Examples of her many highly regarded publications on these matters include the “Texas Payday Law” Chapter of Texas Employment Law, as well as thousands of other publications, programs and workshops these and other concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clients on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see CynthiaStamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

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NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ All other rights reserved.

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