Reporting Employer-Provided Health Insurance Benefits as Income
September 29, 2009
Many employers in New York employ those with a relatively low salary. Both the employer and the employee may be concerned that the employee remain eligible for the Child Health Plus health plan, WIC, free and reduced cost lunch programs, and food stamps. Thus, they both have an interest in making sure that the employer does not erroneously report too much income for the employee on pay stubs and W-2 forms, which may negatively affect the employee’s eligibility for these programs.
For example, does the employer have to report health insurance contributions made on behalf of the employee as part of the employee’s gross pay?
An employer must give the employee, with every paycheck, a statement (pay stub) indicating (1) the employee’s gross wages, (2) deductions from salary for taxes, benefit contributions, etc., and (3) net pay. NY Labor Law § 195(3).
In order to understand which wages and non-cash benefits an employer must report as gross income to the employee, we must first understand whether § 195(3)‘s requirement to specify the employee’s “gross wages” means that the employer must report the health plan contributions it made on the employee’s behalf.
The NY Labor Law Definitions do not define either “wages” or “gross wages.” Therefore, we turn to how the Internal Revenue Code defines “wages.” 26 USC § 3401(a)(21) says that “wages” means all remuneration an employer gives to an employee, including the cash value of non-cash benefits except for, among other things, payments made for the benefit of an employee if the non-cash benefit would not be included in the employee’s gross income under 26 USC § 106(b).
§ 106 says that generally, “gross income of an employee does not include employer-provided coverage under an accident or health plan.” U.S. Tax Court judges have interpreted this section to mean that payments by an employer to reimburse an employee for medical expenses or pay the employee’s health insurance premiums are not included in the employee’s gross income. Schmidt v. Comm’r, 2003 WL 22790862, *6 (T.C. Nov. 25, 2003). An earlier Tax Court clarified that “[s]ection 106 provides that an employee’s gross income does not include employer-provided coverage (e.g., accident and health insurance premiums) under an accident and health plan.” Rugby Productions Ltd. v. Comm’r, 100 T.C. 531, 535 (T.C. 1993).
Oddly, payments made directly to an employee for “personal injury or sickness” by a health plan which are attributable to an employer provided health insurance plan are included in the employee’s gross income. 26 USC § 105(a). But if the employee laid out the money directly and is being reimbursed for those payments by the health plan, then the reimbursements are not included in the employee’s gross income. 26 USC § 105(b).
Thus, because health insurance premium payments by an employer are not counted towards the employee’s “gross income,” they should not need to be listed as part of the employee’s “gross wages” under the NY Labor Law pay stub requirement mentioned above.
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