The Tail, the Dog, and Gig Workers

By: Diane Ring

tail.dog

New legislation has just been introduced in the Senate that creates a “safe harbor” for independent contractor status. The proposed legislation provides that if a worker relationship satisfies certain criteria, then that worker can bypass the sometimes messy, multi-factor test for distinguishing between employees and independent contractors, and will be classified as an independent contractor for tax purposes. What prompted action now to address what has been a decades-old classification challenge for workers, businesses and the IRS alike? The gig economy. (Hence, the not-so-catchy title for the legislation: The New Economy Works to Guarantee Independence and Growth (NEW GIG) Act of 2017 (S. 1549).)

The legislation’s sponsor, Senate Finance Committee member John Thune, (R-S.D), described the impetus for the legislation as follows: “My legislation would provide clear rules so that these freelance style workers can work as independent contractors with the peace of mind that their tax status will be respected by the IRS.”

Is this really what gig workers are worrying about? . . . Continue reading “The Tail, the Dog, and Gig Workers”

Macron and the Potential Future of Tax Leaks

By: Diane Ring

The French election for president—an event worthy of note in its own right (particularly on the heels of the Brexit vote)—generated a political, international relations, security and media firestorm due to a late-breaking data leak and hack. On Friday, the campaign of French centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron announced that it had been the subject of a major computer hack. At least 9GB of emails and personal and business documents from Macron’s campaign were posted to a document sharing site called Pastebin. Initial reports contended that the hack and leak were an effort to aid Macron’s far-right opponent Marine Le Pen, and may have been undertaken with Russian assistance. While Macron won the election, the potential fallout out from these leaks may have only just begun.

There’s an important tax dimension to the story, which may have been slightly overshadowed by Friday’s massive data dump. Two days before, on Wednesday, Le Pen hinted during a debate at possibility that Macron might have an offshore account in the Bahamas. Apparently, two hours before the debate, documents were anonymously posted on an internet forum that purported to include Macron’s signature and to show that he had a Bahamas bank account. During the debate, Macron responded that the claim was false and constituted “defamation.” On Thursday, Macron and his campaign outlined the spread of this offshore-account assertion on various sites and contended some were connected to “Russian interests.” On Friday, Macron lodged a complaint with the French prosecutor’s office regarding offshore account allegations made online.

Though the Friday hack and data dump have dominated the spotlight, the alleged tax leak is in fact part of the bigger and quite troubling picture of leaks in the modern cyber environment . . .

Continue reading “Macron and the Potential Future of Tax Leaks”

Panama Papers: The One-Year Anniversary

By: Diane Ring

This month marks the one-year anniversary of the Panama Papers leak. In April 2016, the ICIJ announced the leak and a few weeks later (May 9, 2016) released a database that included a subset of the leaked data. The leak itself comprised over 11 million records spanning 40 years from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. At its core, the leak revealed the true ownership of over 200,000 offshore entities, thereby raising a host of tax and political questions regarding many of the entities’ owners.

So what has happened over the past year as a result of the leak? Continue reading “Panama Papers: The One-Year Anniversary”

Taxation and Migration

By: Diane Ring
IMG_0592Today St. Louis University School of Law hosted the Sanford E. Sarasohn Conference on Critical Issues in Comparative International Taxation II: Taxation and Migration. This event offered a much needed forum to explore the intersection between international tax law and questions of migration and refugees. Topics addressed included using the tax system to remedy migration challenges (see, for example, Matthew Lister, “A Tax-Credit Approach to Addressing Brain-Drain” suggesting a tax transfer from jurisdictions on the receiving end of a brain drain to the countries losing skilled labor; and see Cristina Trenta, “Migrants and Refugees: An EU Perspective on Upholding Human Rights Through Taxation and Public Finance” advocating an EU-wide tax to finance members’ commitments to refugee human rights). Other papers considered the burdens that tax-induced migration creates for the society the migrant leaves and for some members of the jurisdiction the migrant joins (see, for example, Allison Christians, “Buying In: Citizenship and Residence by Investment”). The full set of 15 conference papers will be published in the St. Louis University Law Journal and will provide a valuable resource on the breadth of taxation and migration questions.

When your job is predicting the future

rainBy: Diane Ring

In a post earlier this week, I considered how the international tax conference I was attending (the annual worldwide meeting of the International Fiscal Association, IFA) had something in common with the Japanese anime and manga conference hosted in the adjacent venue. Soon the anime event ended and the tax conference continued, but with a new neighbor – the Meteorological Technology World Expo 2016. No costumes – but some interesting, though puzzling, equipment outside in the courtyard. I thought about the big task of meteorology—predicting the future. Turns out that in-house tax advisors have the same job, it’s just that instead of rain, they predict the tax implications of business decisions for the C-suite. But the tax advisors do it without the tech, and there is a lot to keep them up at night . . . Continue reading “When your job is predicting the future”

International tax meets Japanese anime

By: Diane Ring

On Sunday, international tax lawyers and advisers from private sector, government officials, tax representatives from international organizations, in-house counsel, and tax academics converged on the convention center in Madrid for the annual conference of the International Fiscal Association (IFA).

But we were not alone.

An adjacent exhibition hall hosted “Japan Weekend 2016” a celebration of Japanese anime and manga. I had no trouble finding my place – I was unlikely to confuse international tax lawyers with the costumed crowd that channeled Alice in Wonderland meets the Flash. Once the tax conference got underway, though, I began to contemplate similarities between the two events, in particular, the meaning and role of reality and its construction. . . Continue reading “International tax meets Japanese anime”

Court Says No to Uber Class Action Settlement: What does that mean for worker classification?

By: Diane Ring

A major question in the sharing economy is the status of workers – are they employees or independent contractors? Of course, no single answer would apply across the entire sector but the debate has been most prominent in ridesharing. At the center of this debate are two litigations against Uber in California and Massachusetts (in January 2015 the Massachusetts case was transferred to the Northern District of California). The suits, brought on behalf of Uber drivers in the two states, “alleged [among other claims] that Uber misclassified its drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.” Reclassification as an employee would entitle drivers to various protections and potential compensation under state labor law. Three years into the litigation, the plaintiffs agreed on a settlement with Uber, which would provide for monetary relief of $84 million (plus an additional $16 million contingent on an initial public offering). The bulk of this payment would be split into two funds, with approximately $5-6 million for Massachusetts drivers, and approximately $56-66.9 million for California drivers.  Payouts to drivers would be based on miles driven under a formula.  Continue reading “Court Says No to Uber Class Action Settlement: What does that mean for worker classification?”

Emerging Trend for Uber in Europe?

By: Diane Ring

Uber, one of the most prominent faces of the sharing economy, has not always been welcome in the EU. Similarly, Airbnb has experienced legal, regulatory, and public policy resistance across European countries. However, two recent developments in the EU suggest that, on balance, Europe might be staking out a regulatory path for the sharing economy that is intended to demonstrate the region’s support for the new sector. . . . Continue reading “Emerging Trend for Uber in Europe?”

Flying, an Alpaca Farm and Baseball Cards – What do they have in common?

By: Diane Ring

In teaching Basic Income Tax, I have found that teaching students about the lines between engaging in a trade or business, profit seeking, and hobbies helps them become comfortable using facts in tax analysis and argument. It confirms for students that tax law is a type of law demanding factual and legal analysis – facts do matter and they are not self-evident. Thus, in anticipation of my next class, I have been collecting (thanks to Tax Notes and the BNA Daily Tax Report) new examples of taxpayer failures to convince a court that their activity was, in fact, for profit. It turns out the pool is quite large, but some personal favorites have risen to the top . . . Continue reading “Flying, an Alpaca Farm and Baseball Cards – What do they have in common?”

The EU, Robots, and Star Trek

By Diane Ring

Even in the midst of great turmoil surrounding the Brexit vote, I was intrigued by recent reports that the EU is contemplating taxing robots on their “labor.” My initial reaction was that this focus on “sophisticated autonomous” robotic forms was Star Trek meets employment taxes, reminiscent of an episode in which the ship’s android officer, Data, asserts and argues for status as a sentient being rather than a piece of shipboard machinery to be disposed of at will. See generally Episode 9, Season 2 (“The Measure of a Man”) of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

While my sci-fi vision of EU legislation was enticing, it turns out that the motivations for this proposal were grounded in much more immediate concerns . . . Continue reading “The EU, Robots, and Star Trek”