Tips vs Service Charges: An IRS Reminder

The IRS wants to make sure that employers understand tax ramifications of the various payments that they make to employees or that their employees might receive.  So the IRS has posted a reminder for employers when it comes to tips verses service charges.  The key difference between the two categories affect the taxation for employees as well as the reporting. So-called “automatic gratuities” and any amount imposed on the customer by the employer are service charges, not tips.  Service charges are generally wages, and they are reported to the employee and the IRS in a manner similar to other wages. On the other hand, special rules apply to both employers and employees for reporting tips. Employers should make sure they know the difference and how they report each to the IRS.

What are tips? Tips are discretionary (optional or extra) payments determined by a customer that employees receive from customers. They include:

  • Cash tips received directly from customers.
  • Tips from customers who leave a tip through electronic settlement or payment. This includes a credit card, debit card, gift card, or any other electronic payment method.
  • The value of any noncash tips, such as tickets, or other items of value.
  • Tip amounts received from other employees paid out through tip pools or tip splitting, or other formal or informal tip sharing arrangements.

Four factors are used to determine whether a payment qualifies as a tip. Normally, all four must apply. To be a tip:

  • The payment must be made free from compulsion;
  • The customer must have the unrestricted right to determine the amount;
  • The payment should not be the subject of negotiations or dictated by employer policy; and
  • Generally, the customer has the right to determine who receives the payment.

If any one of these doesn’t apply, the payment is likely a service charge.

What are service charges? Amounts an employer requires a customer to pay are service charges. This is true even if the employer or employee calls the payment a tip or gratuity. Examples of service charges commonly added to a customer’s check include:

  • Large dining party automatic gratuity
  • Banquet event fee
  • Cruise trip package fee
  • Hotel room service charge
  • Bottle service charge (nightclubs, restaurants)

Generally, service charges are reported as non-tip wages paid to the employee. Some employers keep a portion of the service charges. Only the amounts distributed to employees are non-tip wages to those employees.

All cash tips and noncash tips should be included in an employee’s gross income and subject to federal income taxes.ployers are required to retain employee tip reports, withhold income taxes and the employee share of Social Security and Medicare taxes from the wages paid, and withhold income taxes and the employee share of Social Security and Medicare taxes on reported tips from wages (other than tips) or from other funds provided by the employee. In addition, employers are required to pay the employer share of Social Security and Medicare taxes based on the total wages paid to tipped employees as well as the reported tip income.  Employers must report income tax and Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld from their employees’ wages, along with the employer share of Social Security and Medicare taxes, on Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, and deposit these taxes in accordance with federal tax deposit requirements.Tips reported to the employer by the employee must be included in Box 1 (Wages, tips, other compensation), Box 5 (Medicare wages and tips), and Box 7 (Social Security tips) of the employee’s Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. Enter the amount of any uncollected social security tax and Medicare tax in Box 12 of Form W-2. See the General Instructions for Forms W-2 and W-3.

Reporting Service Charges: Employers who distribute service charges to employees should treat them the same as regular wages for tax withholding and filing requirements, as provided in Publication 15, Employer’s Tax Guide. Distributed service charges must be included in Box 1 (Wages, tips, other compensation), Box 3 (Social Security wages), and Box 5 (Medicare wages and tips) of the employee’s Form W-2.

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IRS Looking for Comments on Form 941 Series…Got Any?

Every so often the IRS solicits comments on its various forms. This is an excellent opportunity for payroll professionals to get their two cents in on the forms they must deal with on a regular or sometimes irregular basis.  This time, the IRS is soliciting comments concerning Forms 941 (Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return), 941-PR (Planilla Para La Declaracion Trimestral Del Patrono-LaContribucion Federal Al Seguro Social Y Al Seguro Medicare), 941-SS (Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return-American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands), 941-X, Adjusted Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return or Claim for Refund, 941-X(PR), Ajuste a la Declaracion Federal Trimestral del Patrono o Reclamacion de Reembolso, Schedule R, Allocation Schedule for Aggregated Form 941 Filers, Schedule B (Form 941) (Employer’s Record of Federal Tax Liability), Schedule B (Form 941-PR) (Registro Suplementario De La Obligacion Contributiva Federal Del Patrono), and Form 8974 Qualified Small Business Payroll Tax Credit for Increasing Research Activities.

What about the Form 941 or any of the series do you find difficult, needs better explanations, could be revamped or should just be left as is?  Now is the time to speak up.

Written comments should be received on or before July 7, 2017 to be assured of consideration, and should be directed to Laurie Brimmer, Internal Revenue Service, room 6526, 1111 Constitution Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20224. Requests for additional information or copies of the form and instructions should be directed to Ralph Terry, at Internal Revenue Service, room 6526, 1111 Constitution Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20224, or through the internet at Ralph.M.Terry@irs.gov.

 

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I Am Attending Virtual Congress…Are You?

I just completed my registration for the American Payroll Association’s 2017 Virtual Congress & Expo.  This is a free event for APA members which is held every year.  This is the 8th year for the event and the 6th one I will be attending.  This is the online companion to the Annual Congress.  But for me it is the only one I can usually attend.  I love attending the live, real world congress.  I get to meet up with associates, network and gain valuable knowledge.  However, my schedule just doesn’t permit me to take the time off to attend most years. But virtual congress is different. I can attend in the morning, take time to do one of my webinars and be back in the afternoon.  I still get to network with old friends and make new ones using the networking lounge’s chat boards.  I get to see all who are attending and can even contact attendees directly to say hello.  The webinars are always educational.  This year we are looking at such subjects as:

  • State Unemployment Rates: How Did They Arrive at Our Rate?
  • Is this Taxable?
  • Global Payroll
  • Calculations Your High School Teacher Never Taught You

I am really looking forward to these webinars.  Virtual congress is the next best thing if your work schedule or budget just won’t let you attend Congress.  So I hope to “see you there”.  By the way did I mention that you can earn up to 15 RCHs for attending the webinars.  And if you register but can’t attend everything, after the virtual congress concludes, the webinars are then open as on-demand webinars until August.  This is great for me. I can catch up on the ones I had to miss due to work or that were scheduled at the same time as another topic I wanted to check out.

For more info check out the APA website.

Is Private Sector Comp Time Finally Here? And Is It a Good Idea in the First Place?

This week the House of Representatives passed The Working Families Flexibility Act of 2017, H. R. 1180. The purpose of this bill is to amend The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to allow employees to receive compensatory time off instead of payment for overtime worked for employees working in the private sector. It sponsors say that this gives employees in the private sector the same flexibility that employees in the public sector have enjoyed for a number of years. In essence, being able to choose between being paid for overtime or getting time off at a later date. I have not yet made a decision on this bill as to whether or not I support it. It has good points but it also has a lot of flaws.

First the good points:

  • the bill does require that the employee agree to, in writing, receive comp time instead of being paid for the overtime worked. If the employee would prefer to be paid over time then they have to be paid overtime, at least in theory.
  • The bill also requires that the employee be given opportunity to take the comp time when requested, as long as it does not interfere with business operations.
  • The bill does require that the employee be cashed out upon termination, voluntary or involuntary, or at the end of a 12 month period. This in theory prevents overtime from never being paid.
  • The bill permits an employee to opt out after agreeing in writing to be paid compensatory time and does not permit compensatory time to be as a condition of employment.
  • The bill does not allow new employees to be forced to take compensatory time instead of overtime. The employee must work at least 1000 hours for the employer before they can agree to be pay compensatory time.
  • The bill sunsets after five years and requires after two years that the GAO submit a report outlining whether or not there were complaints alleging violation of the rules made to the Secretary of Labor or the Department of Labor. It requires an accounting of any unpaid wages, damages, penalties, injunctive relief, or any other remedies that were obtained or sought by the Secretary Of Labor.

However there are flaws:

  • first the premise that public sector employees “enjoy” the privilege of compensatory time in lieu of overtime. Public sector employees did not come under the FLSA until 1985 when it was mandated by a court decision. Private-sector employees have been under the FLSA since 1938. The only reason the comp time in lieu of overtime was permitted is because it was written into many cities, counties and states requirements because they were spending public money. It was never something that was negotiated or requested by the employees themselves.
  • Many studies in the United States show that employees tend not to take all of the vacation they are due because they can’t get the time off from their employers. So my question is if they can’t get time off to take vacation that has been given them how will they be able to take off using compensatory time? Especially when the bill does not state that they must be given the comp time when requested but only if it does not interfere with business operations. And how many of us have not been able to take our vacation because our boss says I can’t give you the time off right now.
  • If not able to take the time off due to business operations then what’s the purpose of having comp time except to delay paying the employee overtime that was rightfully do. I understand that taking time off does affect business operations and if I’m requesting vacation I can understand that my boss can say not at this time. Because in essence vacation is not something that I actually worked for, but a benefit my boss is offering me. But compensatory time off is not the same as vacation although this bill seems to treat it that way. This is money that I’ve already worked for and am already due. It is not a benefit that my boss gets to allow me to take at his or her convenience.
  • My biggest problem with this bill is the fact that even though it says that the GAO will present a study on whether or not there were violations the fact is that the Labor Department collects hundreds of millions of dollars each year for violation of simple minimum wage and overtime rules. These rules have been in effect since 1938 and yet employers still violate them on a regular basis. Is this just adding one more area that employees will have to sue their employers through the DOL to get their money? Especially lower paid or minimum wage employees. Is this one more thing the employee will have to be aware of and make sure they are being paid properly?

Compensatory time off bills have passed the house many times in the past but have never gone past the Senate, usually dying in committee. But these are not normal times so we will have to wait and see.

 

What do you think? Take our poll. Are you for or against The Working Families Flexibility Act of 2017? 

Our Current White Paper: Professional Employee Exemption

As we all know the Department of Labor (DOL) has been granted another 60 day extension concerning the new OT rules, namely the salary level test.   Will it be raised to $913 a week is still anyone’s guess. However, the other two tests that must be met for an employee to be exempt under the executive, administrative or professional categories…salary basis and job duties are still intact and must be followed. Our white paper this time discusses the job duties that must be met for an employee to be exempt under the professional category.  We hope you find it informative.

 

white paper exempt employee under professional category

 

 

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Comma Placement Matters, Especially in Wage Hour Law

As many of us who use Facebook know, the grammar police are constantly posting memes about the proper use of commas. Recently the placing of a comma came into play which cause one employer to have to pay back wages for overtime. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has overturned a federal district court opinion and ruled that dairy company delivery drivers are eligible to receive overtime under Maine’s overtime laws. At issue was Maine Rev. State. Ann. §664(3)(F), which provides an exemption from overtime for those involved in the “canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution” of perishable food. The drivers did not dispute that they handled perishable foods, but said that they do not engage in “packing” them, and therefore are eligible to receive overtime. The employer argued that the above provision actually refers to two distinct exempt activities (“packing for shipment,” and ”distribution”), and therefore the exemption from overtime applies to the drivers. The appellate court sided with the drivers. It said that the exemption would have applied to the drivers if the statute had read “packing for shipment, or distribution” rather than “packing for shipment or distribution.” Since the drivers did not pack items for either shipment or distribution, their activities did not come under the statutory exemption [O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy, CA1, Dkt. No. 16-1901, 3/13/17].

So watch out for where the commas are placed if you want to avoid penalties!

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We Have A New Secretary of Labor

The Senate confirmed Alexander Acosta as the 27th Secretary of Labor yesterday.  The swearing in ceremony was conducted this morning by Vice President Mike Pence.  I sent a tweet over to the new Secretary this morning wishing him well in his new job protecting the American worker. Now we need to wait and see where the new Secretary will take the DOL.  There are quite a few outstanding issues, including the delay on the changes to who is entitled to overtime, left from the Obama Administration that the new Secretary will have to deal with.  So will Mr. Acosta be a good Secretary of Labor?  Only time will tell us that.

 

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