Articles Posted in Payroll Tax Audits

The California Employment Development Department (EDD) announced that it will be exchanging payroll tax information with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) . The EDD is the state agency which includes in its duties making sure that employers withhold and payover state payroll taxes. The EDD programs include payroll tax audits of business owners to make sure that all workers who have been treated as independent contractors are truly independent contractors, and not employees. In determining whether workers are properly classified the EDD sometimes relies on the 20 factor test set forth by the IRS in Rev. Proc. 87-41. It also relies on a 9 factor test set forth in the California Supreme Court case set forth in Tieberg v. California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (1970), 2 Cal. 3d 943 P. 2d 975; 88 Cal. Rptr. 175. The factors listed are:

1) Whether or not the one employed is engaged in a distinct occupation or business;

(2) The kind of occupation, with reference to whether, in the locality, the work is usually done under the direction of a principal or by a specialist without supervision;

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ( has reversed its previous lenient policy of allowing the IRS Appeals Division to consider untimely protests of the Trust Fund Recovery Penalty (TFRP). First, what is a trust fund recovery penalty? Actually, its not really a penalty. It’s simply a collection tool that the IRS uses to collect payroll taxes owed by corporations. Under Internal Revenue Code § 6672 the IRS may collect the trust fund portion of the taxes owed by a company from so-called responsible officers who willfully fail to collect or pay over payroll taxes.

The TFRP used to be known as the 100 per cent penalty, but the name probably created too much confusion so it was changed. Before the TFRP can be collected from an individual the IRS must issue a 60 day letter, allowing for a tax appeal to the IRS Appeals Division. In the past IRS procedures provided that even if a protest was filed late it would be forwarded to the Appeals Division for review. See IRM (04-13-2006)

The IRS has issued an internal memorandum which provides that if the tax appeal is not filed in a timely manner than the case will not be heard. It’s definitely not the kinder gentler IRS.

Small businesses which get behind on their debts also often fail to pay their payroll taxes resulting in payroll tax problems for the owners. Not paying payroll taxes is a big mistake since the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can collect the trust fund portion of the payroll tax debt from responsible officers of a corporation under Internal Revenue Code § 6672. Not all corporate shareholders , however, are necessarily persons liable for trust fund taxes under Internal Revenue Code § 6672. For example, if the payroll tax problems were concealed from the owner he might not be personally liable. Some tax lawyers may have thought that an LLC would provide similar protection for its members, but that’s not always true.

According to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York that’s not the case for a sole member of an LLC. McNamee v. IRS, 488 F. 3d 100 (2nd Circuit 2007). McNamee, who was apparently an accountant (I don’t know whether he was a CPA), represented himself in court, and didn’t have a tax lawyer. McNamee was the sole member of a limited liability company formed under Connecticut state law. Like most states, Connecticut provides that a member of a single owner LLC is generally not liable for its debts.

IRS regulations allow single-owner limited liability company to choose whether to be treated as a corporation–or to be disregarded as a separate entity. If an LLC elects to be treated as a corporation the owner is subject to double taxation–once at the corporate level and once at the individual shareholder level. On the other hand, the LLC may chooses not to be treated as a corporation, either by affirmative election or by the failure to make any election. In the later instance IRS regulations provide that the LLC is disregarded, and that the member is fully liable not just for the trust fund taxes, but all the payroll taxes including interest and penalties accrued on the overdue payroll taxes. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals found that the IRS regulations were valid, and in so doing hit McNamee personally with a large tax debt.