Photo of Ruth Wimer

Ruth Wimer, Esq., certified public accountant (CPA), focuses her practice on matters related to executive compensation, including international, fringe benefits, personal use of employer aircraft, and qualified and nonqualified deferred compensation. Read Ruth Wimer's full bio.

In a surprising decision, the US Tax Court (Tax Court) concluded that the pregame away-city meals provided to the Boston Bruins hockey team was not subject to the 50 percent deduction disallowance on the basis that the meals were both for the “convenience of the employer” and were provided at an “employer operated eating facility.” In Jacobs v. Commissioner, 148 TC No 24 (June 26, 2017), the court found that meals—consisting of dinner, breakfast, lunch and snacks—were served in a room provided without charge by the hotel and to all employees of the Bruins traveling to the games.

Most businesses are well aware of the 50 percent deduction disallowance provided in Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 274(n)(1), which applies to meals provided to executives or other employees traveling for the business purpose of the employer. “De-minimis” meals (those which are provided infrequently and low in value), however, are excepted from the 50 percent disallowance. Also exempt are those meals provided at employer-operated eating facilities, (e.g., the company cafeteria) and meeting the following requirements:

  • the facility is located on or near the business premises of the employer;
  • the revenue derived from the facility normally equals or exceeds the direct operating costs of the facility; and
  • the facility is available on substantially the same terms to each member of a group of employees that is defined under a reasonable classification which does not discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees.

IRC Section 119(a) allows an employee to exclude the value of any meals furnished by or on behalf of his employer if the meals are furnished on the employer’s business premise for the convenience of the employer. Generally, the expenses of IRC Section 119 meals can be used to satisfy the requirement that the revenue from the eating facility equal direct operating costs.

In Jacobs, the Tax Court concluded that the group meals served in the away-city hotel rooms provided at the hotels where the Bruins hockey team stayed for the games was an “employer operated eating facility,” which deems the rooms as the “eating facility” and “on the business premises of the employer” for purposes of the requirements. The rooms were also considered the business premises of the employer for purposes of the IRC Section 119 requirement. In light of its holding, the Tax Court did not need to address the taxpayer’s alternative argument that the meals were expenses for entertainment sold to customers under IRC Section 274(n)(2)(A).

Practice Point: The decision in Jacobs is seemingly expansive in permitting employers to deduct meals provided away from what has traditionally been considered an employer facility. The decision may provide an opportunity to employers to seek additional expense deductions.

On April 5, 2017, in an unanimous court reviewed opinion, the United States Tax Court determined that disclosure of a worker’s tax return information to absolve the employer from liabilities arising out of the employer’s withholding requirement is not subject to the general prohibition against disclosing taxpayer return information pursuant to Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 6103, and does not shift the burden of proof to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

In Mescalero Apache Tribe v. Commissioner, 148 T.C. 11 (2017), the IRS determined that a number of the Mescalero Apache Tribe’s workers were not independent contractors, but employees. If the IRS prevailed in its worker reclassification determination then, as the employer, the Mescalero Apache Tribe would be jointly and severally liable for Federal income tax that should have been withheld on the workers’ earnings. To prevent double taxation, IRC Section 3402(d) provides that the IRS cannot collect from the employer the withholding tax liability if the employees have already paid income tax on their earnings. To prove its position that the workers were independent contractors and alternatively to reduce any potential withholding tax liability if the workers were classified as employees, the Mescalero Apache Tribe asked each worker to complete Form 4669, Statement of Payments Received. However, the Mescalero Apache Tribe had trouble locating each of its workers because many had moved or lived in hard-to-reach areas without phone service or basic utilities. Continue Reading IRS is Required to Search Tax Return Information Records to Help Determine Worker Classification

Reasonable compensation is a fact based analysis, and once again has been decided against the taxpayer. In Transupport, Inc. v Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2016-216, the issue presented for decision was whether amounts deducted by the taxpayer, a distributor and supplier of aircraft engines and parts, during 2006‒2008 as compensation that was paid to the four sons of taxpayer’s president and majority shareholder were reasonable and deductible pursuant to Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 162 and whether accuracy related penalties applied. In 2005, the president and 98-percent owner of Transupport, gifted and sold shares in equal percentages to his four sons. The president and his four sons were the sole employees and officers for the tax years at issue. The president determined the compensation payable to his sons without consultation with his accountant or anyone else, and the only factors considered were reduction of reported taxable income, equal treatment of each son and share ownership. Continue Reading Court Holds Compensation Paid to Four Sons Was Not Reasonable

The Internal Revenue Service has made available unofficial but detailed and instructive guidance on the application of Social Security and Medicare taxes (FICA) to wages paid to employees working abroad. The new November 14, 2016, International Practice Unit (IPU) makes clear that both US citizens and resident aliens (green card holders) remain subject to payment of FICA taxes despite the fact the services are performed outside of the United States, in those instances where the employer is an American employer, certain foreign affiliates thereof, or a foreign person treated as an American employer. The IPU notes that an important exception to the general rule of FICA application is where the IRS has entered into a Totalization Agreement, a type of FICA tax treaty, with the country where the services are performed and the requirements of the Totalization Agreement have been met.