Tax and Changing Labor Markets: The OECD Weighs In

By: Diane Ring

Across the globe, policy makers are wrestling with the possibility that the nature of work is changing and that those changes might be positive or negative. One of the most prominent changes identified is the rise of “non-standard” work, essentially work that is not part of a traditional employer-employee relationship. The rise of the gig economy, and perhaps its even greater growth in the public imagination, have fueled concerns about the prospect of disappearing employment and its replacement with less stable and less desirable non-employee work options.

The degree to which this shift is taking place is an empirical question which has been difficult to pin down. As my co-author Shu-Yi Oei and I have explored in our paper, Tax Law’s Workplace Shift (forthcoming in the Boston University Law Review), data on the changing nature of work comes from empirical studies, which suffer from limitations due to the questions asked, the terminology employed, and comparability of studies over time and across databases. But regardless of any precise conclusions on the rate at which work is changing, there are valid reasons to be concerned and inquire about the impact of tax law on any such shifts. The OECD has begun to weigh in on these questions, releasing a new working paper entitled Taxation and the Future of Work: How Tax Systems Influence Choice of Employment Form, by Anna Milanez and Barbara Bratta (March 21, 2019).

The OECD Project

In this paper, the OECD tackles the question of whether tax considerations may be driving any increases in non-standard work. Using three labor scenarios—traditional employee, self-employed worker, and incorporated worker (e.g., a personal services corporation)—the paper asks how the tax burdens change across the three labor scenarios in eight test countries (including the United States).

In particular, the paper measures the “tax payment wedge” in each labor scenario in each country.

Payment wedge = total employment costs minus worker take home pay                                                                                  total employment costs

where total employment costs equal take home pay, income tax, employee social security contributions, employer social contributions, and payroll taxes minus any cash transfers (i.e. cash payments from the government to the worker, such as those made with respect to dependent children).

What did the OECD find across these eight test countries? Continue reading “Tax and Changing Labor Markets: The OECD Weighs In”

TIGTA’s Report on the Growing Gig Economy

By: Joseph C. Dugan, Trial Attorney, Department of Justice, Civil Division

On February 14, 2019, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) released a Valentine’s Day treat: a comprehensive report following a TIGTA audit concerning self-employment tax compliance by taxpayers in the emerging “gig economy.”

As Forbes noted last year, over one-third of American workers participate in the gig economy, doing freelance or part-time work to supplement their regular incomes or stringing together a series of “gigs” to displace traditional employment.  Popular gig services include ride-sharing giants Uber and Lyft; arts-and-crafts hub Etsy; food delivery services GrubHub and Postmates; and domestic support networks Care.com and TaskRabbit.  Even Amazon.com, the second-largest retailer in the world and a traditional employer to many thousands of workers in Seattle and at Amazon distribution centers worldwide, has gotten in on the gig economy with its Amazon Flex service.  And for those interested in more professional work experience to pad their resumes, Fiverr connects businesses with freelance copywriters, marketers, and graphic designers.  The power of smartphones and social media, coupled with flat wage growth in recent years, makes the digital side hustle appealing and, for many households, necessary.

From a tax revenue perspective, the gig economy is great:  it is creating billions of dollars of additional wealth and helping to replenish government coffers that the so-called Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has left a little emptier than usual.  From a tax compliance perspective, however, the gig economy presents new challenges.  Gig payers generally treat their workers as independent contractors, which means that the payers do not withhold income tax and do not pay the employer portion of FICA.  Instead, the contractor is required to remit quarterly estimated income tax payments to the IRS and to pay the regressive self-employment tax, which works out to 15.3% on the first $128,400 in net earnings during TY2018, and 2.9% to 3.8% on additional net earnings.  That self-employment tax applies even for low-income freelancers (i.e., it cannot be canceled out by the standard deduction or nonrefundable credits). Continue reading “TIGTA’s Report on the Growing Gig Economy”

Section 199A’s Workplace Shift

By Diane Ring

As we mark the one year anniversary of tax reform, the aftermath continues to dominate tax policy analysis. New § 199A, which my co-author, Shu-Yi Oei, and I initially explored here and here and here, continues to attract significant attention, both in terms of the provision’s likely substantive effects, and the legislative, regulatory, and political issues it raises.

One of the most compelling, yet underanalyzed, questions is how § 199A could impact labor and dramatically reshape work, the workforce, and the workplace. In a new paper posted on SSRN on December 3, titled “Tax Law’s Workplace Shift,“ Shu-Yi and I tackle these issues in detail. In brief, the paper explores the factors that will determine whether § 199A is likely to cause a workplace shift from employee to independent contractor arrangements, and, if it does, how such a shift should be normatively evaluated. Ultimately, we show how our evaluation of these § 199A workplace effects must depend on the types of workers and work at issue. Continue reading “Section 199A’s Workplace Shift”

The Gig Economy Battles Continue: 9th Circuit Weighs In on Seattle Uber Driver Ordinance

By: Diane Ring

Today the 9th Circuit weighed in on the validity of a Seattle ordinance that requires businesses contracting with taxi-drivers, for-hire transportation companies, and “transportation network companies” to bargain with drivers if a majority of drivers seek such representation. The legislation, which effectively enables Uber and Lyft drivers to unionize, drew objections from Uber, Lyft and the Chamber of Commerce— which sued the City of Seattle. In an August 2017 post, I reviewed the ruling of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, which concluded that the Seattle ordinance was an appropriate exercise of the city’s authority and did not violate the Sherman Act (because of state action immunity) and was not preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).  So what did the 9th Circuit say?

Continue reading “The Gig Economy Battles Continue: 9th Circuit Weighs In on Seattle Uber Driver Ordinance”

Tax Implications of the Recent Dynamex Worker Classification Ruling

Heather Field
Professor of Law
UC Hastings College of the Law

Greetings from San Francisco, the epicenter of the gig economy, where workers-rights advocates are celebrating Monday’s California Supreme Court decision in the Dynamex case.  The ruling, which cites an article by my colleague Veena Dubal, is expected to make it harder for businesses in California to classify gig economy workers (and others) as independent contractors rather than employees.  As a result, these workers are more likely to be protected by rules about minimum wage, overtime, rest breaks, and other working conditions, although there are open questions about exactly how these rules will apply to gig workers.

But what is good for workers for employment/labor law purposes may not be so good for workers for federal income tax purposes.  As readers of this blog know, independent contractors can generally deduct their business expenses above-the-line and may be able to take the new Section 199A deduction equal to up to 20% of qualified business income (significantly reducing the effective tax rate). Employees, on the other hand, can do neither.  Thus, the employment/labor law win for workers in the Dynamex case may come with some unexpected and unwanted tax losses for these same workers.  This is especially true for workers with non-trivial amounts of unreimbursed business expenses (although the amount of a worker’s unreimbursed expenses may decline if the worker is classified as an employee because California Labor Code 2802 generally requires employers to reimburse significant business expenses of employees).

So, taking tax into account, is independent contractor status or employee status better for workers?  This question involves complicated employment/labor law and tax law tradeoffs. For example, despite the tax disadvantages of employee classification mentioned above, employee status can benefit workers for employment tax and tax compliance purposes.  Others (including Shuyi Oei here, Shuyi Oei and Diane Ring here, here and here, and Kathleen DeLaney Thomas here) have written extensively on worker classification/taxation topics, and at least some of them have additional articles forthcoming on these topics.  I will defer to them for more details as I am not an expert (at least right now) on worker classification or its tax implications.  But even I know that, when analyzing the implications of the Dynamex case, it will be important for commentators to consider the tax, not just employment/labor, consequences.

One possibility is that the Dynamex case will change California worker classification only for employment/labor purposes and not for tax purposes.  After all, the language of the ruling makes it clear that the issue addressed in the case is how to classify the workers “for purposes of California wage orders” (emphasis in original).  So the case does not technically have any impact on workers’ tax classifications.  Thus, a worker currently classified as an independent contractor for all purposes could be reclassified under the Dynamex standard as an employee for California wage order purposes but could remain classified as an independent contractor for tax and other purposes.  The applicable classification standards are different enough that, for some workers, it would be possible to have hybrid status.  But I am skeptical about whether businesses will do nuanced context-by-context worker classification determinations.  It is possible, particularly if workers (and scholars?) fight for hybrid worker status, but it seems more likely, at least to me, that businesses will just determine worker status based on the employment/labor standard and use that classification across the board.  Of course, a worker who believes they have been misclassified for one or more purposes could try to fight the classification, but that is a tough road.

Given the Dynamex decision, will worker classifications change, and if so, for which purposes?  I do not know.  We will have to wait and see how businesses react to the ruling.  Regardless of how businesses respond, I hope that, in analyses of the Dynamex decision and in future discussions about worker classification, commentators will be able to move beyond our legal silos, as Diane Ring recommends in a newly posted paper. This would advance a more holistic analysis that integrates labor, tax and any other relevant issues, and that approach could really help businesses and workers in our evolving economy.

Call for Papers: New Voices in Tax Policy and Public Finance (2019 AALS Annual Meeting, New Orleans, LA)

The AALS Tax Section committee is pleased to announce the following Call for Papers:

CALL FOR PAPERS
AALS SECTION ON TAXATION WORKS-IN-PROGRESS SESSION
2019 ANNUAL MEETING, JANUARY 2-6, 2019, NEW ORLEANS, LA
NEW VOICES IN TAX POLICY AND PUBLIC FINANCE
(co-sponsored by the Section on Nonprofit and Philanthropy Law and Section on Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation)

The AALS Section on Taxation is pleased to announce the following Call for Papers. Selected papers will be presented at a works-in-progress session at the 2019 AALS Annual Meeting in New Orleans, LA from January 2-6, 2019. The works-in-progress session is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, January 5.

Eligibility: Scholars teaching at AALS member schools or non-member fee-paid schools with seven or fewer years of full-time teaching experience as of the submission deadline are eligible to submit papers. For co-authored papers, both authors must satisfy the eligibility criteria.

Due Date: 5 pm, Wednesday, August 8, 2018.

Form and Content of submission: We welcome drafts of academic articles in the areas of taxation, tax policy, public finance, and related fields. We will consider drafts that have not yet been submitted for publication consideration as well as drafts that have been submitted for publication consideration or that have secured publication offers. However, drafts may not have been published at the time of the 2019 AALS Annual Meeting (January 2019). We welcome legal scholarship across a wide variety of methodological approaches, including empirical, doctrinal, socio-legal, critical, comparative, economic, and other approaches.

Submission method: Papers should be submitted electronically as Microsoft Word documents to the following email address: tax.section.cfp@gmail.com by 5 pm on Wednesday, August 8, 2018. The subject line should read “AALS Tax Section CFP Submission.” By submitting a paper for consideration, you agree to attend the 2019 AALS Annual Meeting Works-in-Progress Session should your paper be selected for presentation.

Submission review: Papers will be selected after review by the AALS Tax Section Committee and representatives from co-sponsoring committees. Authors whose papers are selected for presentation will be notified by Thursday, September 28, 2018.

Additional information: Call-for-Papers presenters will be responsible for paying their own AALS registration fee, hotel, and travel expenses. Inquiries about the Call for Papers should be submitted to: AALS Tax Section Chair, Professor Shu-Yi Oei, Boston College Law School, oeis@bc.edu.

Call for Papers: “Reshaping Work in the Platform Economy”

By: Diane Ring

Last October, the international conference “Reshaping Work in the Platform Economy” was held in Amsterdam. I blogged about the two-day event that explored a wide range of legal, business and social issues here and here.  The call for papers for the Fall 2018 conference (October 25 & 26, 2018, Amsterdam) has just been issued:

call for papers 2018 2_Page_1

call for papers 2018 2_Page_2

 

 

IU Tax Policy Colloquium: Ring, “Silos and First Movers In the Sharing Economy Debates”

IMG_5114
Prof. Diane Ring

By: Leandra Lederman

On March 1, the Indiana University Maurer School of Law welcomed Surly’s own Prof. Diane Ring from Boston College Law School as the fourth speaker of the year in our Tax Policy Colloquium. Diane presented a new paper, which I believe is not yet publicly available, titled “Silos and First Movers In the Sharing Economy Debates.” This interesting paper focuses on the classification of workers in the “sharing” or “gig” economy as employees or independent contractors, arguing that “[t]wo interacting forces create the most serious risk for inadequate policy formulation: (1) silos among legal experts, and (2) first-mover effects.” (Page 1 of the draft.) The silo argument is that lawyers operate in subject areas that are isolated from each other, such that tax experts, for example, fail to perceive the effects of tax-related worker-classification rule changes on non-tax (such as employment) law, and vice versa. The first-mover argument is that the first actors on the worker-classification issue can wield outsized influence, shaping the debate in legal contexts other than the one directly affected.

The paper and presentation provide interesting insights into how giants of the service-worker sharing economy—not just Uber and Lyft, but also TaskRabbit—influence the development of the law on worker status. And subject-matter silos are a common complaint among legal academics. That issue has arisen in administrative law, for example, where there may be different rules developed in the context of different agencies. Courts and policymakers may struggle with tax exceptionalism (in the parlance of Kristin Hickman). But I wonder both if the legal silos in the gig economy are as strong as the paper suggests, and whether the effects the paper observes are first-mover effects or something else. Continue reading “IU Tax Policy Colloquium: Ring, “Silos and First Movers In the Sharing Economy Debates””

Taxing R2-D2? ABA Tax Section Panel on Automation and AI

Kerry Ryan
Associate Professor
St. Louis University School of Law

I had the pleasure of attending the midyear meeting of the ABA Tax Section this past weekend in San Diego. The Tax Policy & Simplification committee organized an interesting panel entitled: “Taxing R2-D2: How Should We Think About the Taxation of Robots and AI.” The panel was organized and moderated by Surly’s own Leandra Lederman, and panelists included Shu-Yi Oei (Boston College), Roberta Mann (Oregon Law), and Robert Kovacev (Steptoe & Johnson LLP).

For those of you who read Shu-Yi’s post, you know that she is “deeply skeptical” of the “robot tax” frame. At best, it is misleading—no one is attempting to impose a tax on a “robot” (whatever that is?) per se. As Robert Kovacev succinctly put it: “robots don’t pay taxes, people pay taxes.” The key question is which people: owners, workers, and/or consumers? Roberta linked this question to the long-standing debate about who ultimately bears the burden of the corporate income tax.

At worst, the “robot tax” terminology captures (and perhaps amplifies) the fear (“the robots are coming!”) and angst driving much of this discussion. The underlying concern relates to the potential negative impact on labor of increased utilization of technology/artificial intelligence (AI)/automation in the production process. Experts disagree about whether, over the longer term, automation will reduce the number, or merely the type, of human workers. The unanswered question is whether this is just the next in a long line of technological shifts in the economy dating as far back as the Industrial Revolution, or whether AI/machine learning truly represents a technological tipping point.

What is clear is that the transition to this new automated workplace may lead to worker displacement (particularly for those in manual/routine jobs). Mass unemployment could negatively impact the tax base—fewer workers mean fewer taxpayers. Notice that any revenue loss would hit at the same time as funding demands increased for re-training and/or social protection programs (existing and/or proposed universal basic income) for displaced workers.

Assuming you believe there is a problem(s), what is the policy prescription? While most of the panelists agreed that tax has a role to play here, they disagreed as to the contours of that role. Should we plug the hole in the income tax base by shifting more of the tax burden onto capital, as opposed to labor? Do we attempt to tax work completed by robots in the same manner as comparable work by employees (see Bill Gates proposal)? Should we raise the overall level of taxation (under existing or new tax structures)? Do we view automation as imposing negative externalities on the labor market and impose some type of Pigouvian tax? Should we attempt to slow the pace of technological development, rather than workplace implementation, by reducing either direct funding or tax incentives for R&D and innovation (see South Korea)?

Many interesting questions with no easy answers. At the very least, we must resist allowing zeitgeist to drive the policy response, while at the same time affirming the legitimacy of the underlying concerns and working to minimize their negative consequences on workers and their families.

More on Section 199A and Worker Classification (**Threaded Tweet Alert!)

Shu-Yi Oei

Last Friday, Diane and I posted a new paper called “Is New Code Section 199A Really Going to Turn Us All into Independent Contractors?” on SSRN. This was something that started as a blog post but then grew too long and so became a short paper. We plan to develop the ideas in it more robustly in future work.

On Saturday, I made one of those goofy academic tweet threads summarizing the paper, and then it occurred to me that I really liked my goofy tweet thread! Therefore, I’ve taken the liberty of posting the tweets here for the marginal reader who is just interested enough in the topic to read the tweets but possibly not interested enough to read the actual paper.

Diane and I look forward to continuing conversation on this.