Major tax changes and improvement to services.
Voluntary departure for CERB purposes has the same meaning as for EI
In a June 5, 2020 Federal Court of Appeal case, the Court reviewed Service Canada’s decision to deny EI benefits on the basis that the individual left his employment voluntarily. The individual argued that although it was his decision to leave, he had just cause (which would allow him to receive EI). To have just cause, the individual would be required to establish that he had no reasonable alternative but to leave his job.
The Court found no reviewable error in earlier decisions, noting that the individual could have:
discussed his concerns more thoroughly with his employer to explore possible accommodations (rather than asking on arrival at the worksite not to work the night shift);
requested medical leave, consulted with a doctor, or obtained a doctor’s note; or
continued to work until he found other employment.
The Court also noted the individual’s own statement that he could have continued working if his employer had not refused to pay him an additional $3/hour.
The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) angle
Voluntary departure from a position (quitting) also prevents participation in the CERB. Although there is uncertainty as to whether a “voluntary departure” for CERB purposes has the same meaning as for EI, they will likely be fairly similar.
ACTION ITEM: Eligibility for CERB is dependent upon whether it is the employer or employee’s decision to leave, and why that decision was made. Prior to changing employment status of workers, consult with a human resources specialist or lawyer to understand the implications for both the business and the employees.
Consider setting up SUPPLEMENTAL UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFIT (SUB) plans as individuals transition to traditional EI
The purpose of a SUB plan is to allow an employer to make supplemental payments to Employment Insurance (EI) benefits, without eroding those EI benefits. As payments under a registered SUB plan are not insurable earnings, EI premiums are not deducted.
In order to be eligible, SUB plans must be registered with Service Canada before their effective date. Plans must:
identify the group of employees covered and the duration of the plan;
cover a period of unemployment caused by one or a combination of the following:
temporary stoppage of work,
illness, injury or quarantine;
require employees to apply for and be in receipt of EI benefits in order to receive payments under the plan;
require that the combined weekly payments from the plan and the portion of the EI weekly benefit rate does not exceed 95% of the employee’s normal weekly earnings;
require it be entirely financed by the employer;
require that on termination all remaining assets of the plan will revert to the employer or be used for payments under the plan or for its administrative costs;
require that written notice of any change to the plan be given to Service Canada within 30 days after the effective date of the change;
provide that the employees have no vested right to payments under the plan except during a period of unemployment specified in the plan; and
provide that payments in respect of guaranteed annual remuneration, deferred remuneration, or severance pay will not be reduced or increased by payments received under the plan.
A plan registered with Service Canada is not required to be a trust. It could be funded from general revenues.
Income tax treatment
For income tax purposes, a SUB plan is defined more restrictively, as it is required to be a trust to which the employer makes payments. Such plans can be registered with CRA, in which case any income earned within the SUB trust is non-taxable. Whether or not registered, receipts are taxable to the employee. Payments to a registered SUB plan are deductible to the employer if made no later than 30 days after year-end. Payments to SUB plans are not otherwise deductible, so a plan structured as a trust must be registered for employer contributions to be deductible.
A SUB plan which is not a trust would not be subject to the above rules. Deductibility of payments would follow the general rules for all expenses for income tax purposes.
Interaction with the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)
The provisions that exist under the EI system for employers to make additional payments to workers through SUB plans do not apply to employees who are receiving the CERB.
Amounts received by individuals from any employer in excess of the $1,000 threshold would create an obligation for the individuals to repay CERB they received for the same benefit period.
Employers that wish to do so may continue to submit a SUB plan to Service Canada. By registering a plan, employers can make payments to employees who are currently receiving EI regular or sickness benefits and will also be prepared should employees need EI benefits at a future time.
ACTION ITEM: As CERB is scheduled to end September 26, 2020, many individuals will now begin to rely on the EI system. The time may be right to consider setting up SUB plans as individuals transition to traditional EI.
A webpage, was launched to help manage one’s business during COVID-19; Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy estimator 2.0.
As of August 9, 2020, the Government has approved 813,570 Canada Emergency Wage Subsidies (CEWS), with a total value exceeding $26 billion.
To estimate your CEWS entitlement, consider using the CEWS 2.0 Estimator at WageSubsidyCalculator.ca, or CRA’s more complete calculator at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/subsidy/emergency-wage-subsidy.html.
The Government has launched a webpage, https://www.canada.ca/en/services/business/maintaining-your-business.html, to help manage one’s business during COVID-19. It provides links to government financial supports and loans, reopening guidance and rules, employee issues, industry-specific assistance, tax issues, and a support phone line.
CRA released the promised guidance for employment expenses incurred by shareholder-employees to be deductible:
For an employee to deduct travel or motor vehicle expenses against employment income, the employee must be normally required to work away from the employer’s place of business, be required to pay the travel expense under the contract of employment, and have a signed and completed T2200. Also, the employee cannot receive an allowance excluded from income.
In 2017, CRA began denying travel expenses claimed on the personal tax return of many employees who were also shareholders of the employer or related to a shareholder. After receiving concerns from stakeholders regarding this new assessing practice, CRA reversed their assessments, indicating that “clear guidelines for taxpayers and their representatives” were important to the Canadian self-assessment system and that additional consultation and guidance was needed in this area.
In September of 2019 CRA released the promised guidance. It noted that the following conditions had to be met for employment expenses incurred by shareholder-employees to be deductible:
The expenses were incurred as part of the employment duties and not as a shareholder.
The worker was required to pay for the expenses personally as part of their employment duties.
When the employee is also a shareholder, the written contract may not be adequate, and the implied requirements may be more difficult to demonstrate. However, CRA noted that both of these conditions may be satisfied if the shareholder-employee can establish that the expenses are comparable to expenses incurred by employees (who are not shareholders or related to a shareholder) with similar duties at the company or at other businesses similar in size, industry and services provided.
ACTION ITEM: Instead of deducting amounts against employment income, consider whether it would be better for the company to reimburse expenses of shareholder-employees, or perhaps, pay a tax-free travel allowance. If amounts will continue to be paid personally, retain support that shows how the travel expenditures are reasonable as compared to those of other similar arm’s length workers.
A deduction can be claimed for salary paid to an assistant. Any deduction must be for salary, requiring it be paid to an employee.
A November 5, 2019 Tax Court of Canada case reviewed the deductibility of employment expenses by a manager overseeing the Canadian sales force and operations of a multinational manufacturer of dental instruments and products. The taxpayer’s employer had no Canadian office, and she travelled extensively to meet with sales representatives, dealers and customers throughout Canada.
Expense of assistant
Almost half of the taxpayer’s claimed expenses, which exceeded $80,000, related to her husband’s role as her assistant. The Court noted that a deduction can be claimed for salary paid to an assistant, but that there were several problems with her claim, including the following:
The taxpayer’s husband was treated as self-employed and not as an employee. Any deduction must be for salary, requiring it be paid to an employee. This alone was fatal to the deduction claim.
The amount was not paid to her husband. Rather, they simply had a single joint bank account through which they both transacted. Lack of payment alone would prevent any deduction.
The taxpayer’s employer indicated it was the taxpayer’s decision whether she required an assistant. As her employer didnot require her to hire an assistant, no deduction was available. This item alone would also prevent any deduction.
The husband’s services described were largely clerical, administrative, secretarial or driving, for which his hourly fee of $75 was not “anywhere close to the range of reasonable”.
The husband’s hours set out in quarterly billings were not supported – he could only account for a small fraction of the hours invoiced.
The husband claimed business expenses of almost 75% of his fees; however, the couple could not describe what expenses he incurred. The taxpayer “was sure this was a mistake”.
No deduction was allowed for these costs.
ACTION ITEM: Support and documents are often requested by CRA when deductions against employment income are claimed. Ensure to retain all such support. If no T2200 has been provided for the current year, enquire with your employer as to whether one is available for the next.
Produce a T2200 which indicate that motor vehicle expenditures were requirements of employment with records such as repair receipts
In a September 17, 2019 Tax Court of Canada case, at issue was the deductibility of vehicle expenses, and in particular, the portion of total vehicle use that was for employment purposes. While initially challenged by CRA, the Court eventually accepted the credit card statements as support for the amounts expended. The taxpayer held and produced a T2200 which indicated that motor vehicle expenditures were requirements of employment.
Taxpayer loses – vehicle expenses
The taxpayer had initially claimed 90% employment usage but later asserted that only 1,015 of her total 1,353 kilometres travelled (75%) were for employment purposes. This percentage is used to determine the portion of total vehicle expenses that can be deducted. The Court then noted that the total kilometres driven for the year were more likely approximately 10,000 based on the odometer readings listed on the third-party garage repair invoices provided throughout the year. As the reported employment kilometres (which were supported by a vehicle log) were about 10% of the total reported on the invoices, only 10% of expenses were allowed.
ACTION ITEM: In addition to employment/business travel logs, CRA may ask for support of total travel. Retain records that support total kilometres traveled such as repair receipts.
Commuting employment expenses taxable? Can i deduct employment travel costs, job, business related travel cost from taxes?
In an August 15, 2019 Tax Court of Canada case, at issue was the deductibility of a number of employment expenses (primarily travel, lodging and motor vehicle expenses) incurred by the taxpayer. While the taxpayer resided in Ottawa, he signed an employment contract with a company based in Regina. The employment contract stated that the new employment position would be “based from our yet to be determined office in Ottawa, Ontario.” For the 2012 and 2013 tax years, the taxpayer shuttled by air between Ottawa and Regina weekly. In order to deduct travel costs incurred by the employee, the employee must have been required to travel away from the employer’s place of business.
The taxpayer argued that his home in Ottawa was a place of employment, and therefore, costs of travel between his work location in Ottawa, and the work location in Regina, were deductible as they were incurred in the course of employment.
Taxpayer loses, mostly
The Court rejected the taxpayer’s assertion, finding that the employer did not have a place of business in Ottawa. The Court observed that the fact that the employee might choose to “squeeze in” work (in this case on some Mondays or Fridays) at his home in Ottawa did not, without more, constitute the home being an employment location. Further, there were no photographs of the home office, testimony describing it, or home office expenses claimed. The Court stated that the employment contract did not alter its decision as there was no evidence that the employer made any effort to find an office in Ottawa, and no evidence related to work pertinent to Ottawa was provided.
As such, travel between Ottawa and Regina was personal, and the associated lodging and travel costs were denied.
The Court also reiterated that the appeal was considered without regard to the distance between the employee’s home and the employer assigned office: the two locations could be in the same municipality or different provinces. In other words, commuting to work, no matter how far, is considered personal. However, note that there are some exceptions to this rule, such as where the individual travels to a temporary special work site, or a remote work location.
ACTION ITEM: If considering the acceptance of employment that requires significant commuting, consider that the commuting costs likely will not be deductible.