Considering tax implications for company gatherings

By |  November 16, 2016

The season for holiday parties and gift giving will soon be upon us. Although many aggregate business owners and managers clearly know how to celebrate and show their appreciation to both customers and employees, few are aware that Uncle Sam, in the form of our tax laws, is more than happy to pick up part of the cost.

While parties, business gifts and employee awards often qualify as tax deductible, giving gifts, bonuses or awards to employees suppliers or customers can have significant tax implications for both the aggregate producer and the recipients. The bottom line, however, is that every producer will be excited to know their annual employee holiday party may be 100-percent tax deductible.

Year-round gifting

The owners of small aggregate operations often give gifts to customers, particularly around the holidays. What is often overlooked is that only a portion of the cost of certain gifts may be deducted as a business expense.

Basically, the IRS will allow a crushed stone, sand and gravel business to deduct only $25 or less for business gifts given to any one person during the tax year. So, if a customer is given a $50 watch as a gift, only $25 may be deducted.

The $25 limit for business gifts doesn’t include incidental costs – for example, packaging, insurance and mailing costs, or the cost of engraving jewelry. Remember, however, related costs are considered incidental only if they don’t add some kind of substantial value to a gift.

If key chains or pens with the name of the business on them are given to customers, they are usually “exceptions” to the $25 limits for business gifts, and their cost is deductible without limitation. Also excepted are items that cost $4 or less, have the business’s name clearly and permanently imprinted on them, and are one of a number of identical items widely distributed.

Signs, display racks or other promotional material to be used on the business premises of the recipient are also ignored for purposes of the $25 limit.

Entertaining gifts

Photo: iStock.com/art-4-art

Holiday parties and annual picnics may qualify for a unique 100-percent tax deduction. Even employee meetings can be turned into a party with a tax deduction. Photo: iStock.com/art-4-art

It is not a secret that our tax rules allow businesses to claim a deduction for only 50 percent of business meal entertainment expenses. In fact, in order to be even 50 percent deductible, those meal and entertainment expenses must be “ordinary and necessary,” as well as closely related to the business.

And, unfortunately, even for those expenses considered related to the business, the sky is not the limit. No business can deduct meal and entertainment expenses that are lavish or extravagant. The expenses must be reasonable considering the facts and circumstances.

But about those parties: Holiday parties and annual picnics may qualify for a unique 100-percent tax deduction. Even employee meetings can be turned into a party with a tax deduction.

Holiday partying

Under our tax rules, entertainment expenses must be “primarily” for the benefit of employees other than those in a so-called “tainted group.” A tainted group consists of any employee paid more than $110,000 a year, a 10-percent owner or any family member of a 10-percent owner.

While the owner of a closely held aggregate business may belong to the so-called tainted group, it is not a big deal so long as the partying with the employees is primarily (more than 50 percent) for the benefit of the employees. Going one step further, the cost of entertaining employees’ spouses is also 100-percent deductible.

Of course, it is still necessary to satisfy the “ordinary and necessary” business purpose test, which simply means an expense that is “appropriate and helpful” to the business. Boosting the moral of workers, helping everyone feel appreciated, makes that Christmas party 100-percent deductible.

Just as any entertainment deduction must be documented, the 100-percent deductible employee entertainment expenses must be substantiated. Also, remember that in addition to receipts and cancelled checks, it is important to write down the “who, what, when, where and why’s,” since the write-off can’t be nailed down without writing it down.

Employee business gifts

Bonuses to employees are usually considered income and while obviously tax deductible by the aggregate business, they are taxable to the employee. Income taxes and FICA taxes on employee bonuses (unless the employee is over the Social Security maximum for the year) must be withheld.

It’s a slightly different story when it comes to employee awards. In general, up to $400 of the cost for employee awards of tangible personal property (such as a watch) for each employee each year can be deducted. This includes both service and safety awards. Unfortunately, there are limits on employee awards given by partnerships.

Service and safety awards are not taxable to employees if they are limited. There are limits on service awards (not during the first five years, and not more often than every five years) and safety awards (not to more than 10 percent of employees). Awards in excess of the limits are taxable to the recipient.

Gift cards and certificates

Gift certificates and gift cards are, for the most part, taxable to the employee/recipient because they can be converted to cash. While there has been no official guidance regarding small amount gift cards/certificates ($25 or less), they often qualify as “de minimis” fringe benefits. In general, however, if gift cards or gift certificates are given, taxes must be withheld from the employee’s pay.

Grossing up bonuses

Bonuses to employees are usually considered income and, while obviously tax deductible by the aggregate business, they are taxable to the employee. Photo: iStock.com/redmal

Bonuses to employees are usually considered income and, while obviously tax deductible by the aggregate business, they are taxable to the employee. Photo: iStock.com/redmal

Every aggregate producer, business owner and manager considering appropriate employee holiday gifts should not only aim for what they’ll enjoy but also think about how taxes will come into play. Because a “gift” is usually considered by the IRS to be compensation, it is important to note the rules so that employees are not responsible for paying taxes on their gifts.

Employee gifts are usually small enough that the business does not need to worry about employees wanting to change their withholding allowances. For larger bonuses, however, employees should be given the options of changing their Form W-4 withholding deduction amount for that one paycheck.

While some employees will want to change their withholding so as to receive more of the bonus, many employers will “gross up” a bonus, giving the employee more to allow for withholding. If, for example, an employee is given a $1,000 bonus, by the time taxes are taken out, the bonus check might be only, say, $750. Giving a higher amount for the bonus can result in a bonus check that shows the full $1,000.

Tax-free employee gifts

Among the options that will ensure employees won’t face a tax on their holiday gifts are smaller gifts. As mentioned, whether for customers or employees, gifts under $25 are tax-exempt. Taxes are also a non-factor if the holiday gift is a reward for service (i.e., highest sales) or longevity (i.e., the employee has been with the company for 10 years). If your gift to employees is a charitable contribution in their name, there is no worry about taxes regardless of the amount.

If a business is such that employees would enjoy its products such as with a clothing store or bakery, giving products or services as gifts can mean not having to pay taxes on them. In the case of a crushed stone, sand and gravel business, however, while an employee might not get too excited over something such as office supplies, this might be a good opportunity to get creative.

It should be kept in mind that merchandise given to either customers or employees may be subject to sales tax even though they are not for resale. It is the rule in many states.

An aggregate producer taking a group of employees, such as the management team, to an event, means the cost will usually be deductible and tax-free to the recipient. Naturally, the group can’t consist only of family members involved with the business if is a tax-free business expense.

Tax-free and tax deductible

As the holiday season fast approaches, every aggregate producer should keep in mind the role that taxes play. Those businesses considering a “small gift” for employees – fruit baskets, hams, turkeys, wine, flowers and occasional entertainment tickets, such as for a show or sporting event – will find they are generally nontaxable de minimis fringes and tax deductible by the business.

The cost of occasional parties is nontaxable to employees and their families as a de minimis fringe – if they are infrequent and for the purpose of promoting employee health, good will, contentment or efficiency.

Thus, occasional holiday celebrations, cocktail parties and company picnics are fully tax deductible by the crushed stone, sand and gravel usiness and not subject to the 50-percent limit on business meals. It is, however, always a good idea to consult a tax advisor.


Mark E. Battersby is a freelance writer who has specialized in taxes and finance for the last 25 years.


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