Partners can't be treated as employees

ALERT: IRS reaffirms a business' partners cannot be treated as employees

June 15, 2016

The IRS issued temporary regulations in May clarifying that partners in a partnership entity cannot be treated as employees of the partnership.

The IRS issued temporary regulations in May clarifying that partners in a partnership entity cannot be treated as employees of the partnership. Some partnerships currently treat partners as employees of a disregarded entity owned by the partnership and allow them to receive tax benefits and other employee benefits, such as participation in cafeteria plans.

What you need to know

Entities must comply with the new ruling by Aug. 1, 2016 or on the first day of the latest-starting benefit plan year following May 4, 2016, whichever is later. However, the IRS is also asking for comments on when it might be appropriate to allow partners to be employees of a partnership, so there could be additional flexibility in the future.

Currently, the IRS specifically prohibits partners from being employees of a disregarded entity owned by the partnership. This includes the following areas in which partners must be handled differently than employees:

  • Withholding income tax
  • Withholding FICA tax
  • Self-employment taxes
  • Treatment of health, welfare and fringe benefits
  • Cafeteria plans

Treating partners as employees can cause issues for both the partner and the partnership entity, including under or overpayment of employment taxes for the partner, complete disqualification of a cafeteria plan, failure of an unvested partnership interest to qualify for safe harbor tax treatment, and inaccurate employment reporting for purposes such as Affordable Care Act calculations.

As companies find ever more creative ways to recruit and retain key talent, including granting small or large partnership interests, it becomes more important for taxpayers to understand the critical difference in how partners and employees are treated for tax and other purposes.

For a more detailed analysis of this topic, see our white paper here.

Contact us

For more information, contact your AGH tax professional or Shawn Sullivan using the information below.

Shawn Sullivan

Executive Vice President
Tax Services

Shawn leads the firm’s tax group and serves on AGH’s board of directors. In addition to enhancing business performance to minimize tax consequences, he has extensive experience in mergers and acquisitions, international tax and business structuring. Shawn has public and private experience in the fields of tax and accounting and works frequently with clients in the manufacturing, automotive, wholesale distribution, real estate development and construction industries.

A certified public accountant, Shawn is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the Kansas Society of Certified Public Accountants (KSCPA) and chairs the KSCPA Committee on Taxation.

NOTE: Any advice contained in this material is not intended or written to be tax advice, and cannot be relied upon as such, nor can it be used for the purpose of avoiding tax penalties that may be imposed by the IRS or states, or promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed herein.

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