London: When does doing a little work on vacation turn into a stay that piques the interest of local tax authorities? And does a UK company, for example, face tax complications abroad if they have staff and key decision makers are dotted across Europe working remotely?
National tax authorities and the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development are grappling with those questions as the remote-working revolution blurs the lines between work, residency and time off.
The result could be tighter and clearer rules on how long people can work abroad before falling into another country’s tax net. It’s also opening questions about social security and pensions payments for staff that keep a home in a different jurisdiction from where they are employed.
The pandemic and rise of Zoom conference calls clouded the distinction between work and holiday and created a new generation of “digital nomads” that earn income in one place while physically basing themselves in another. That has confused traditional definitions of where people and companies should be taxed on earned income. The distinctions are important because falling afoul of the rules means you could pay tax in two places at once or be subject to a fine.
“Countries recognize that there’s an issue and that we need to make sure that the rules are up to date with the reality of the modern economy,” David Bradbury, deputy director of the OECD Center for Tax Policy and Administration, said in an interview. “We see it as an emerging set of challenges, but we think it’s fair to say that these challenges are only going to intensify.”
- 'Email in next 30 minutes': Zoom announces 1,300 job cut; 15% of global workforce
- Video: Dubai announces new initiative for working remotely from March 16
- UAE remote working initiative, ‘Family’ time at the UAE stock markets, and more, our editors comment on the top stories of Mar 16
- UAE announces 70 per cent remote work on Fridays during Ramadan for public sector
Early-stage discussions between the OECD, firms and countries have thrown up a host of potential difficulties from growing staff demands for flexibility to nervousness from some countries over reopening thorny cross-border tax issues.
As Zoom culture continues to dominate in offices worldwide, businesses are grappling with risks around double taxation and compliance headaches. Current treaties to avoid issues such as double taxation as seen by businesses as insufficient to deal with the new post-pandemic office norms while expert have said employees could also risk being liable to social security contributions in multiple countries.
Currently firms and workers are facing a jumble of complicated rules on when a worker needs to pay tax if they are staying in different countries for prolonged periods. Many places - like China, India and Britain - count people as tax resident after about six months. In the US, the guidelines known as the 183-day rule are more complicated and look at a person’s time in the country over three years. In most places, rules come with caveats and exceptions but importantly can be triggered far more easily in some jurisdictions.
But officials are unsure how to treat people doing a temporary stint abroad and how long those can last before it’s classed as permanent. Companies are worried they risk nasty surprises from foreign tax authorities, particularly if executives are making key decisions and deals from somewhere other than their home jurisdiction.
Some 30 per cent of Americans already plan to take a workcation this year, according to a survey by Go City. Airbnb has reported fast growth in its long-term stays of more than 28 days since the pandemic struck, a trend it has linked to greater flexibility on remote working.
Businesses have asked the Paris-based organization to find clarity to allow them to offer more remote working perks to staff. With labor markets across the world extremely tight, firms are keen to gain an edge over rivals by offering workers more flexibility.
The problem is also being looked at with growing interest elsewhere. The International Monetary Fund has flagged the potential problems emerging while the UK government’s official tax adviser published a report on the issue last year.
“As opportunities expand for cross-border remote work, a bigger segment of the labor income tax base becomes more mobile “- estimated currently at 1.25 per cent of the global personal income tax base,” the IMF said in its fiscal monitor last year. “In the future, personal tax coordination will gain importance and raise issues such as those related to corporate taxation.”