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IRS: Employers Must Exercise Caution In Providing “Free Lunch” For Employees



William Byrnes 1

The IRS has released a technical advice memorandum (TAM) that sheds light on the potential tax implications when employers provide employees with free meals in the office. Post-tax reform, meals provided “for the convenience of the employer” may receive favorable tax treatment. In the TAM, the IRS denied exclusion of the meals’ value from employee compensation. Here, the employer provided free meals to all employees in snack areas, at their desks and in the cafeteria, justifying provision of these meals by citing need for a secure business environment for confidential discussions, employee protection, improvement of employee health and a shortened meal period policy.

The IRS rejected these rationales, stating that the employer was required to show that the policies existed in practice, not just in form, and that they were enforced upon specific employees. In this case, the employer had no policies relating to employee discussion of confidential information and provided no factual support for its other claims. General goals of improving employee health were found to be insufficient. The IRS also considered the availability of meal delivery services a factor in denying the exclusion, but indicated that if the employees were provided meals because they had to remain on the premises to respond to emergencies, that would be a factor indicating that the exclusion should be granted. For more information on “de minimis” type fringe benefits, visit Tax Facts Online.

Written By William Byrnes

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William H. Byrnes has achieved authoritative prominence with more than 20 books, treatise chapters and book supplements, 1,000 media articles, and the monthly subscriber Tax Facts Intelligence. Titles include: Lexis® Guide to FATCA Compliance, Foreign Tax and Trade Briefs, Practical Guide to U.S. Transfer Pricing, and Money Laundering, Asset Forfeiture; Recovery, and Compliance (a Global Guide). He is a principal author of the Tax Facts series. He was a Senior Manager, then Associate Director of international tax for Coopers and Lybrand, and practiced in Southern Africa, Western Europe, South East Asia, the Indian sub-continent, and the Caribbean. He has been commissioned by a number of governments on tax policy. Obtained the title of tenured law professor in 2005 at St. Thomas in Miami, and in 2008 the level of Associate Dean at Thomas Jefferson. William Byrnes pioneered online legal education in 1995, thereafter creating the first online LL.M. offered by an ABA accredited law school (International Taxation and Financial Services graduate program).

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