Sorry tech workers: your free food days might be numbered

Sorry tech workers: your free food days might be numbered

If there’s one gloat-worthy perk that techies have in their arsenal, it’s free food. Ranging from a perpetually-stocked magic snack cabinet to full-blown dining experiences separated by cuisine, food options at tech companies are largely designed to keep their workforce full, happy, and in close proximity to keep churning out their best work. And although the policy practically ensures that you won’t see sunshine on a given workday, employees seem quite pleased about it.

So if you’re one of the lucky few who gets to eat their chicken tenders on the company dime, enjoy it while you have it. According to an exclusive report from the Silicon Valley Business Journal, the IRS has moved forward from exploring the tax code surrounding free employee meals and now beginning a project that could regulate the practice going forward.

Nothing will change in the immediate future, but a potential possibility would be that the IRS moves to begin taxing free meals — which currently are tax-free according to sections 119 and 132 of the US Tax Code. In a nutshell, if the IRS chooses to revisit and clarify the definitions surrounding how employers can provide meals and who directly qualifies for them.

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The main crux of the issue is that meals on tech campuses can be provided free if they are for “employee convenience.” The IRS is contemplating whether tech companies providing free meals really is at the convenience of an employee, or just convenient for the company itself.

If meals do need to be taxed, then the current system than many employees enjoy could be radically changed. One example illustrated by the report is the idea that if a meal costs $10, then that money could be added to an employee’s W-2. So, at tax time, employees will have to sort out the taxes owed, depending on their tax bracket and the amount of money allotted for food for the year.

Whenever bureaucracy is involved, the process is bound to be slow, so it’s unlikely that the IRS will swoop in and begin regulating free food on tech campuses anytime soon. But the IRS is continuing to look earnestly, which may not bode well for your gratis sushi or mountain of potato chips in the long run.

Exclusive: No more free meals for tech workers? IRS advances project that could tax on-site food perks [Silicon Valley Business Journal]

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Photo: Flickr/Travis Wise

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