Tax Surprises with Work-from-Home Policies

09.08.2022
HR & Safety

The following article was written by Tony Switajewski, a principal in the West Hartford office of the professional services and accounting firm CliftonLarsonAllen. It is reposted here with permission.


As businesses begin the post-pandemic transition, determining where their employees will work is a major consideration.

On one hand, businesses are eager to get back to business as usual, but many organizations have determined that remote working—either on a hybrid or complete basis—has enhanced productivity and employee morale.

As employers and employees negotiate and codify their new work-from-home policies, they need to recognize that cross-border state and local tax issues may lead to tax surprises for both sides.

The Two-State Problem

Take, as an illustration, a company that has an office in Rhode Island, where everyone worked onsite pre-pandemic but can now work from home on part-time bases.

Previously, this employer would have only needed to withhold Rhode Island income taxes for its employees.

However, because some of its employees work partly from their homes in Massachusetts, the employer now has to register with the Massachusetts tax authority to withhold Massachusetts taxes as well. 

Additionally, the state unemployment taxes the employer pays on its employees may also have to shift from Rhode Island to Massachusetts.

Unlike income taxes that may be owed to the two states, unemployment taxes are generally paid to only one state.

Which state obtains the unemployment tax is often based on a variety of factors; businesses will need to determine which state gets the unemployment tax for each employee.   

Nexus Obligations

Companies also need to consider whether having a remote employee creates a nexus for the company in the state, requiring the filing of tax returns.

For the company based in Rhode Island, having an employee working from Massachusetts creates a connection to Massachusetts, and as such the company would likely need to register and start collecting sales tax in Massachusetts. 

Although a company may not be aware of this resulting requirement, if the company gets audited, the tax burden shifts to the business (rather than the consumer), and interest and penalties can be imposed on the business for failure to collect the tax. 

Besides a sales tax collection obligation, the remote employee may also create an income tax obligation imposed on the business and its owners.

That is, this employee may not only create a Massachusetts sales tax collection obligation, but may now also cost the company or its owners of pass-through entities (such as S corporations and partnerships) additional income taxes that have to be paid to Massachusetts.  

The Telecommuter Rule

In another situation, an employee who lives in Rhode Island but works at a company based in Massachusetts may be hit with additional taxes on wages under a telecommuter rule.

While only a handful of states on the East Coast have a telecommuter rule on the books (e.g., New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Delaware), during the pandemic Massachusetts instituted a telecommuter rule through an emergency regulation, which provided that if an employee worked from home in one state, but their employer’s location is in Massachusetts, then Massachusetts could still tax that employee as if they physically worked in Massachusetts.

While Massachusetts’ telecommuter rule was temporary and expired in mid-September 2021, it created responsibilities for both the employer (who needs to withhold the appropriate state taxes) and the employee (who needs to file income tax returns with the applicable states). 

Don’t Be Surprised

Identify where your employees are working in order to proactively confront the payroll tax, sales tax, and income tax obligations that remote employees create.

While some of these issues may be temporary, as more organizations (and more employees) consider work-from-home solutions, understanding the financial implications associated with such policies is key to help mitigate the risk of unfortunate surprises at tax time. 

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