Employers with a globally mobile workforce are used to the challenges in navigating offshore employment compliance. The fast paced responses by governments such as travel bans and lockdowns as a result of the COVID-19 emergency, will add new layers of complexity to these arrangements.
Many employers are also requesting for health and safety reasons, together with calls from the government to undertake social distancing, that employees should work from home. As a result, a business may find itself having an accidental foreign workforce – particularly frontier workers where employees reside in another jurisdiction. Such employers may find themselves with unexpected foreign tax obligations, if an employee is now performing their duties in a different jurisdiction to their normal place of employment.
Usually the time a worker spends in an offshore workplace determines the tax reporting and withholding obligations for both the employer and employee. There is a wide global network of cross border agreements and concessions in place to protect workers from double taxation however, how they are operated often depend on the residency position of the employee and the duties they are performing.
In the UK, the ‘day count’ rules on residency allow for ‘exceptional’ days to be discounted for tax residency purposes however, employers should review the position where workers are now prevented from travelling. Broadly, the ‘day count’ rules for overseas reporting obligations do not currently allow for such exceptions.
In addition, the following employment tax reporting arrangements may be impacted where employees working patterns change as a result of the Covid-19 measures:
- Short term business visitor agreements (‘STBVA’) permit overseas business visitors to work in the UK for up to a maximum of 183 days provided certain conditions are met, before UK payroll is required.
- Appendix 5 arrangements allow employees to claim relief from foreign tax through the UK payroll; and
- S690 relief permit employers of some UK residents working abroad, to split their payroll reporting obligations between jurisdictions.
A number of overseas tax authorities have brought in emergency time to pay arrangements and extension to certain deadlines. For example, Italy has suspended all tax withholding and related obligations and Hong Kong have announced one off tax reductions and payments. The US is currently reviewing a payroll tax relief and China is addressing residency status for foreigners unable to leave.
To ease the burden on employers, the UK government has pushed out proposed changes to the contractor tax legislation due to start in April 2020 for 12 months, which will provide much needed delay on significant administration and increased payroll costs.
However, it remains to be seen how HM Revenue and Customs, along for other foreign tax authorities will address these new challenges for employers with mobile workforces.
If you need any advice on how to deal with your employees who are currently overseas or have any queries, please contact Jane Lee.