The value of employer-provided meals is not taxable if furnished on your employer’s business premises for the employer’s convenience. The value of lodging is not taxable if, as a condition of your employment, you must accept the lodging on the employer’s business premises for the employer’s convenience.
The IRS generally defines business premises as the place of employment, such as a company cafeteria in a factory for a cook or an employer’s home for a household employee. The Tax Court has a more liberal view, extending the area of business premises beyond the actual place of business.
Lodging in certain foreign “camps” is considered to be provided on the business premises of the employer. To qualify, lodging must be provided to employees working in remote foreign areas where satisfactory housing is not available on the open market, it must be located as near as practicable to where they work, and it must be in a common area or enclave that is not available to the public and which normally accommodates at least 10 employees.
The employer convenience test requires proof that an employer provides the free meals or lodging for a business purpose other than providing extra pay. In the case of meals, the employer convenience test is deemed to be satisfied for all meals provided on employer premises if a qualifying business purpose is shown for more than 50% of the meals. If meals and lodging are described in a contract as extra pay, this does not bar tax-free treatment provided they are also provided for other substantial, non-compensatory business reasons.
Your company may charge for meals on company premises and give you an option to accept or decline the meals. However, by law, the IRS must disregard the charge and option factors in determining whether meals that you buy are furnished for noncompensatory business reasons. If such business reasons exist, the convenience-of-employer test is satisfied. If such reasons do not exist, the value of the meals may be tax free as a de minimis benefit; otherwise, the value of the meal subsidy provided by the employer is taxable.
Where your employer provides meals on business premises at a fixed charge that is subtracted from your pay whether you accept the meals or not, the amount of the charge is excluded from your taxable pay. If the meal is provided for the employer’s convenience, the value of the meals received is also tax free. If it is not provided for the employer’s convenience, the value is taxable whether it exceeds or is less than the amount charged.
Lodging is necessary for you to perform your job properly, as where you are required to be available for duty at all times. The IRS may question the claim that you are required to be on 24-hour duty. For example, at one college, rent-free lodgings were provided to teaching and administrative staff members, maintenance workers, dormitory parents who supervised and resided with students, and an evening nurse. The IRS ruled that only the lodgings provided to the dorm parents and the nurse met the tax-free lodging tests because, for the convenience of the college, they had to be available after regular school hours to respond to emergencies.
If you are given the choice of free lodging at your place of employment or a cash allowance, the lodging is not considered to be a condition of employment, and its value is taxable.
If the lodging qualifies as tax free, so does the value of employer-paid utilities such as heat, electricity, gas, water, sewerage, and other utilities. Where these services are furnished by the employer and their value is deducted from your salary, the amount deducted is excluded from taxable wages on Form W-2. But if you pay for the utilities yourself, you may not exclude their cost from your income.
An employer may furnish unprepared food, such as groceries, rather than prepared meals. Courts are divided on whether the value of the groceries is excludable from income. One court allowed an exclusion for the value of nonfood items, such as napkins and soap– as well as for groceries– furnished to a doctor who ate at his home on the hospital grounds so that he would be available for emergencies.
Teachers and other employees (and their spouses and dependents) of an educational institution, including a state university system or academic health center, do not have to pay tax on the value of school-provided lodging if they pay a minimal rent. The lodging must be on or near the campus. The minimal required rent is the smaller of: (1) 5% of the appraised value of the lodging; or (2) the average rental paid for comparable school housing by persons who are neither employees nor students. Appraised value must be determined by an independent appraiser and the appraisal must be reviewed annually.