Payroll

Employee Gifts - Tax Implications of Giving Gifts to Staff

Paul Sharpe, CPA, CA
/
November 23, 2022

Affiliate disclosure

In this article we explain the tax implications of employee gifts and bonuses. We’ll look at the different kinds of gifts and their tax treatment for both the employer and employee.

Let them eat cake! (but make sure they pay the appropriate taxes and source deductions)
Photo courtesy of Sweet Impressions Bakery @sweetnutfree

In this article we explain the tax implications of employee gifts and bonuses. We’ll look at the different kinds of gifts and their tax treatment for both the employer and employee.

If you'd rather have Joe explain it to you, check out the video below 👇

Gifts Can Improve Employee Morale

The team here at Avalon have all filled out a survey to show what their appreciation language is.

Some people prefer words of affirmation so we try to always say “Great Jorb!” when we’re appreciating their work.

For other workers, though, the language of gifts is more up their alley.  

For this reason, we’ve implemented an Avalonian gift giving program where we cover the cost for team members to send gifts to each other to show their appreciation.

It’s just a small thing but it’s lots of fun for team members to get a surprise pumpkin spiced latte at their door on a random Tuesday.

The point I’m getting to is that gift giving, whether around the holidays or not, is a great way to improve the team’s morale and create employee satisfaction.

If you’re giving gifts to your team around the holidays, it’s important to understand the tax implications and any steps you might need to take to make sure you stay compliant. 

Cash Gifts 

We’ll start with cash gifts because that’s a common one around the holidays and usually the most popular type of gift for employees to receive!

For the Business

Giving an employee a cash bonus, whether it’s a performance-based bonus or a Christmas gift, will result in a deduction for the business.

For the Employee

It will also be a taxable benefit for the employee. This means that the gift will be included in the employee’s income in the year that it was received. 

Payroll Obligations

The employer will also need to calculate the payroll tax withholdings on this taxable benefit. 

These payroll deductions are then remitted to the CRA in exactly the same way that they do with the employee’s regular wages.

So, it’s important to understand that you’re actually giving your employee a dollar amount that is net of payroll deductions.

For example if you want your employee to receive $200 as a gift, you would have to calculate the gross amount and then subtract the appropriate amount of payroll deductions so you arrive at a net payment of $200.  

You can use your payroll software or the CRA payroll deductions calculator to make this calculation. 

The gross amount of the gift and employee source deductions both get included on the employee’s T4 at the end of the year.

From this we can see that the $200 gift might actually cost more like $300 for the business so it’s good to keep this in mind when giving out cash gifts or bonuses.

Cash Gifts Summary

  • For the Business - Cash gifts are a tax deduction for the business.
  • For the Employee - The gross amount of the gift is taxable for the employee.
  • Payroll Remittances - Payroll remittances (CPP, EI and Income Tax) must be calculated on the gross amount of the gift and remitted to the Receiver General.
  • Employee T4 - You’ll need to include the gross amount of the gift and source deductions withheld on the employee’s annual T4.

Gift Certificates (Near-Cash Gift)

Ok well if cash gifts sound like a bit more work than expected, what about gift certificates?  

You know your employee has always wanted to go scuba diving so you decide to buy him a $200 gift certificate at the “Esteban’s School of Scuba.”  

This gift certificate will actually be considered a “near cash” gift in the eyes of CRA.  

Same Tax Treatment as Cash Gifts

Near cash gifts carry a tax treatment that is the same as a cash gift.  

The business will have a deductible expense and the employee will have taxable income.

You will again have to calculate the appropriate amount and types of payroll source deductions to remit.

The gross amount and payroll deductions get added to your employee’s T4 just like the cash did.  

Gift Certificates Summary

  • For the Business - Gift certificates purchased by the business are a tax deduction for the business.
  • For the Employee - The gross amount of the gift is taxable for the employee.
  • Payroll Remittances - Payroll remittances (CPP, EI and Income Tax) must be calculated on the gross amount of the gift and remitted to the Receiver General.
  • Employee T4 - You’ll need to include the gross amount of the gift and source deductions withheld on the employee’s annual T4.

Non-Cash Gifts

Next up we’ll look at non-cash gifts, or “stuff” as I like to call it.

For the Business

When giving stuff to employees, the business will get a tax deduction for the cost of the gifts that were purchased.  

If that “stuff” falls under the category of “meals and entertainment” then it’s only 50% tax deductible for the business.

For the Employee

What about for employees?  Is a non-cash gift a taxable benefit?

The official line from CRA on stuff is that a gift or award given to an employee is a taxable benefit from employment…

…Except for an exemption for non-cash gifts and awards in some cases.  

That doesn’t sound very charitable, but I guess that’s the way it is.

So what are those “some cases” CRA is talking about where the gift isn’t a taxable benefit?  

First, to be considered for the exemption, the gift must be for a special occasion such as a religious holiday, a birthday, a wedding, the birth of a child, etc.  

Secondly, the gift can only qualify for the exemption if the fair market value of the gift is $500 or less.  

You might be thinking you could get around this by buying multiple $499 gifts for your employees, but CRA has already thought of that.  

The rule is actually that the combined fair market value of all non-cash gifts given to an employee in a given year can’t exceed $500 for the gift not to be considered a taxable benefit.

If the fair market value of the non-cash gifts given to an employee in a year is greater than $500, then the taxable benefit is calculated as the total fair market value minus $500.  

So if you gave an employee $600 worth of gifts, then the taxable benefit would be $100 ($600 - $500).

Payroll Obligations

This taxable benefit also has to go on the employee’s T4, but you only need to withhold and remit CPP and income tax.  No EI deductions for non-cash gifts.

Small or Trivial Amounts

One last thing on non-cash gifts.

Items of “small or trivial” value don’t have to be included in the total fair market value calculation.  

If you have an employee who loves collecting coffee mugs and company t-shirts then you might be dealing with a hoarder, but at least they won’t have to include the value of those gifts as taxable income.

Non-Cash Gifts Summary

  • For the Business - They’re deductible for the business but only 50% deductible if the gift is classified as “meals and entertainment”
  • For the Employee Less Than $500 - They’re not taxable for employees if the total value received in a year is less than $500.  
  • For the Employee Greater Than $500 - Once you’ve hit $500 of gifts in a year, non-cash gifts are taxable income for employees. Only the amounts over $500 are included as taxable benefits.
  • Payroll Remittances - In the case where there is a taxable benefit for the employee, the business has to remit CPP and income tax, but not EI.
  • Employee T4 - Any amounts that are taxable benefits must be included on the employee’s T4 for the year. The source deductions withheld and remitted also must be included.

Bet you didn’t realize gift giving was so complicated!

Staff Parties

The last topic that we’ll look at is staff parties.

Staff get-togethers can be a fun way of showing appreciation for your employees and a great way to do some team building. 

For the Business

Staff parties fall under the tax treatment of “meals and entertainment”.  In general, only 50% of meals and entertainment costs are deductible as a business.  

However, there are some cases where the cost can be fully deducted. The main requirement for the staff event to be fully deductible is that it is open to all employees in the organization.  

If the event was just open to some of the group, like a management retreat for example, it would only be 50% deductible.

There can be up to 6 events per year that are considered 100% deductible.

For Employees

The staff parties are not considered to be taxable benefits for employees unless the cost of the event is greater than $150 per person. If the cost of the event is greater than $150 per person, then the entire amount is considered a taxable benefit for the employee.  

For virtual events, the per-employee threshold goes down to $50.

Clearly CRA’s take is “let’s have fun, but not THAT much fun.”

Payroll Obligations

Any taxable benefit (when the per person cost is over $150 or over $50 for virtual events) gets included on the employee’s T4. You’ll also have to remit CPP and income tax but not EI.

Staff Parties Summary

  • For the Business (General) - In general, meals and entertainment costs are 50% deductible for the business.
  • For the Business (All Staff) - If the entire staff is invited, you can deduct 100% of the costs.  You can do that up to 6 times per year.
  • For the Employee - It’s not a taxable benefit to your employees unless the per-person cost is over $150 for an in-person gathering or over $50 for a virtual gathering.
  • Payroll Remittances - If there is a taxable benefit to employees, then CPP and income tax need to be remitted for employee taxable benefits but not EI.
  • Employee T4 - If you go over the cost threshold, then the full per-person cost needs to be added to your employee’s taxable income and T4.

Recommendation

After all of that, we recommend not to worry too much about all of that. Show your employees that you appreciate their work in whatever way suits them or your business. Recognition goes a long way to creating a positive work environment.

If you have any questions or are looking for some help with bookkeeping, payroll or tax, just send us a message. We’re always happy to hear from readers and are taking on new clients as well.

Article by
Paul Sharpe, CPA, CA
.
Originally published
November 23, 2022
.
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