The Taxpayer Advocate Service is an independent organization within the IRS. Its purpose is to ensure that every taxpayer is treated fairly and to help taxpayers know and understand their rights. The current Taxpayer Advocate is Nina Olson. Each year the National Taxpayer Advocate (NTA) releases their Annual Report to Congress. This report describes the challenges the IRS is facing. Federal law requires that the NTA’s annual report identify at least 20 of the most serious problems encountered by taxpayers and to make administrative and legislative recommendations to mitigate those problems. The following are the highlights of this year’s recommendations that affect payroll:
Alternative to Form W-4: The report recommends scraping the Form W-4 altogether and analyzing the feasibility of adopting an IRS-determined withholding code. This approach is currently being utilized in the U.S. tax administration. It also recommends that withholding be expanded at the source to encompass not only wages, but taxable interest, pensions, dividends, capital gains, IRS income, unemployment and even, potentially, certain earnings as an independent contractor.
Furnishing Information Returns Electronically: Information return data to taxpayers should be furnished electronically for direct importation into tax return preparation software or to authorized tax return preparers.
Lower Electronic Filing Thresholds: The report recommends requiring employers with more than five employees to file Forms W-2 electronically.
Form 941 Filing: Recommends requiring Form 941 contain information about each employee’s name, address and social security number. To promote electronic filing, direct the IRS to use the fillable form currently on the IRS website and reformat so the form can be electronically filed, at no cost, directly from the website.
Effects of the new tax law and the shutdown on overall IRS workloads: With all of the new tax forms needed to incorporate the changes to the tax code the IRS was overwhelmed. Add to this the shutdown and the antiquated systems (IRS has two of the oldest IT systems in the federal government) and you have a recipe for potential disaster. Because of these issues the IRS is now having to process more than five million pieces of mail and over 87,000 amended returns. All manually. IT modernization was the number one recommendation in this report.
Whether or not the recommendations are implemented is anybody’s guess. But as the situation is becoming more intense at the IRS for meeting deadlines and handling the workload with antiquated systems it will be well remembered to monitor this report for any upcoming legislative changes. Especially in the area of electronic filing, lowering thresholds and replacing the Form W-4.
On Monday, April 30, the California Supreme Court issued a landmark [Dynamex Operations West v. Superior Ct., Cal. Sup. Ct., Dkt. No. S222732, 4/30/18] decision basically stating that the “ABC Test” is to be used when determining whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor for purposes of California wage orders. Previous to this latest decision the court case of S.G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Department of Industrial Relations, Cal. Sup. Ct., 769 P.2d 399, 3/23/89) was used to determine employee status. In that case the principal test of an employment relationship was whether the person to whom services were rendered has the right to control the manner and means of accomplishing the result desired. Under Dynamex, the Court embraced a standard that presumes all workers are employees instead of contractors and places the burden on classifying an independent contractor under the ABC test.
The Federal Department of Labor (DOL) has been issuing a flurry of opinion letters recently. But even more amazing, is that one of the opinion letters actually deals with a subject long been a thorn in payroll’s side and one that some of us have waited years for a ruling. The basic problem is whether or not lump sum payments such as bonuses are the same as normal wages under the law when it comes to withholding for garnishments. You see many of the states do not think that lump sum payments fall under the Consumer Credit Protection Act or CCPA. This is the Act, written in 1970, that sets the limits for what can be deducted from an employee’s pay for such garnishments as child support and creditor garnishments. The DOL is actually in charge of enforcing the Act, but has always been unclear on their position on whether or not lump sum payments are covered under the Act. This is especially true for child support, as employers may actually be required to report the pending lump sum payment and wait for instructions on withholding, usually for back child support owed to the state. For example, according the the Office of Child Support Enforcement’s matrix on states and lump sums, Alabama requires 100% of all lump sums. California states that it is subject to 50% unless the lump sum payment does “not involve earnings”. while Indiana follows the CCPA, So we have tried to look to the DOL to give a definition ruling on this and low and behold, they finally have.
In opinion letter CCPA2018-1NA the DOL has answered numerous questions on what constitutes earnings by discussing 18 different specific examples of common types of lump sum payments that an employer may issue to an employee. These include commissions, discretionary and non discretionary bonuses, profit sharing, production bonuses, sign-on bonuses, relocation incentive payments and safety awards.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been notified by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that it is initiating a review and immediate stay of the effectiveness of the pay data collection aspects of the EEO-1 Form that was revised on September 29, 2016, in accordance with with its authority under the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA).
The previously approved EEO-1 form which collects data on race, ethnicity and gender by occupational category will remain in effect. Employers should plan to comply with the earlier approved EEO-1 (Component 1) by the previously set filing date of March 2018.
Acting Chair Lipnic said:
“The EEOC remains committed to strong enforcement of our federal equal pay laws, a position I have long advocated. Today’s decision will not alter EEOC’s enforcement efforts.
I had consistently urged OMB to make a decision on this matter so that stakeholders would be aware of their reporting obligations.
Going forward, we at the EEOC will review the order and our options. I do hope that this decision will prompt a discussion of other more effective solutions to encourage employers to review their compensation practices to ensure equal pay and close the wage gap. I stand ready to work with Congress, federal agencies, and all stakeholders to achieve that goal.”
My editorial: Is this a good move? I am not sure, but it seems like it will do more to discourage employers from closing the wage gap. So far voluntary “encouragement” to bring compensation practices closer to ensure equal pay has not really worked very well, now has it? Having to actually set down on paper, in a report to the EEOC, exactly what the wage gap is in an employer’s compensation was a good way to shed light on the subject.
On August 31st, the Judge in charge of the court case for the new OT rules initiated by President Obama issued its final ruling. Basically he sided with the plaintiffs. For an excellent recap of the ruling I am referring you to Bill Pokorny’s blog.
The Department of Labor (DOL) has just announced that they will reinstate the issuance of opinion letters. The action allows the department’s Wage and Hour Division to use opinion letters as one of its methods for providing guidance to covered employers and employees. An opinion letter is an official, written opinion by the Wage and Hour Division of how a particular law applies in specific circumstances presented by an employer, employee or other entity requesting the opinion. The letters were a division practice for more than 70 years until being stopped and replaced by general guidance in 2010.
“Reinstating opinion letters will benefit employees and employers as they provide a means by which both can develop a clearer understanding of the Fair Labor Standards Act and other statutes,” said Secretary Acosta. “The U.S. Department of Labor is committed to helping employers and employees clearly understand their labor responsibilities so employers can concentrate on doing what they do best: growing their businesses and creating jobs.”
The division has established a web page where the public can see if existing agency guidance already addresses their questions or submit a request for an opinion letter. The web page explains what to include in the request, where to submit the request, and where to review existing guidance. The division will exercise discretion in determining which requests for opinion letters will be responded to, and the appropriate form of guidance to be issued.
A recent article from RIA told of the following problem:
Mike McGuire from IRS Modernized e-File (MeF) told listeners to the May 4 payroll industry telephone conference call that the IRS has been rejecting “tens of thousands” of 2017 first quarter electronically-filed Forms 941, Schedule B (Report of Tax Liability for Semiweekly Schedule Depositors) because the total tax liability on Schedule B does not agree with the total tax liability on Form 941, line 12 (Total taxes after adjustments and credits). Prior to the 2017 tax year, the total tax liability on Schedule B had to agree with Form 941, line 10 (Total taxes after adjustments), or the IRS would reject it. However, the IRS revised some of the line numbers on Form 941, beginning with the 2017 tax year, to take into account that “qualified small businesses” may now elect to claim a portion of their research credit as a payroll tax credit against their employer FICA tax liability, rather than against their income tax liability. Beginning with the 2017 tax year, the total tax liability on Schedule B must agree with Form 941, line 12 (Total taxes after adjustments and credits) rather than line 10. Some electronic filers have not adjusted their programs to take this change into account. Rejected returns have to be resubmitted to the IRS.
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?
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.
With email scams now attacking payroll can in person scams be far behind? The IRS doesn’t think so! So is that person visiting your payroll office claiming to be from the IRS legitimate or an imposter? To answer that question the Internal Revenue Service has created a special new page on IRS.gov to help you determine which is which… Fake or real. First the IRS reminds us that IRS employees do make official, sometimes unannounced, visits to taxpayers or employers as part of their routine casework. But typically these visits fall into three categories:
First to discuss taxes owed or tax returns due. You should be aware if you had tax returns due.
Second to visit taxpayers or employers being audited. Again you would be aware of this audit.
Finally if conducting an investigation. You might not be aware of this investigation, however these agents never demand any sort of payment and will present law enforcement credentials including a badge.