'We're not doing this' says Brison of employee discount tax edict
Published Wednesday, October 11, 2017 6:30PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 11, 2017 6:49PM EDT
OTTAWA – After widespread confusion that resulted in the government pulling a Canada Revenue Agency edict to employers around taxable employee discounts, Treasury Board President Scott Brison is doubling down on the government’s promise that it doesn’t intend to pursue retail employers for taxable benefit claims.
“We’re not doing this,” said Brison in an interview with CTV Power Play’s Don Martin, downplaying concerns that the tax agency’s recently updated interpretation of the tax law would impact the retail sector. “We are not going to be doing anything to hurt retail workers,” he said.
A July 2016 update to a guidance document for employers about what employee merchandise benefits are considered taxable came to light earlier this week, prompting concern among mainly retail stakeholders that the CRA’s updated interpretation of the law would result in major headaches for employers come tax time because they’d have to claim employee discounts on merchandise that weren’t explicitly required to be claimed previously.
In the contentious document at the heart of this, the CRA advised employers that, in certain instances, employee discounts count as part of income and the Agency considers them fair game to tax. The exception to this being: if the discount was available to members of the public at any point during the year, the discount doesn’t have to be reported, as it’s no longer considered a taxable benefit.
The document was removed by the CRA on Wednesday and is being reviewed by National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier’s office. A revised edict explaining the CRA’s expectations for what employers have to report will then be put out for stakeholder consultation.
Brison said the document created an impression that was “not consistent” with the government’s approach to the middle class.
He chalked the confusion and pulling of the document to a case of “mixed up communications that does not reflect at all the intention of our government,” and avoided pointing fingers at the bureaucracy.
The document was published without Lebouthillier’s approval and her office has spent much of the time since questions started to be asked, attempting to explain what is meant by the change.
It was not immediately clear if the government reviewing the document’s wording will also change how the CRA interprets the law on this going forward. The update was prompted by the tax court ruling in 2011 that the CRA's old guidance for employers was inaccurate and had to be updated.