Tuesday, June 15, 2010

HHS Wants Us Fit—IRS Wants the Tax

It’s been in the news a lot lately—how unfit Americans have become. The First Lady is advocating programs to fight childhood obesity while AARP is starting an online movement to get fit over the summer. Everyone is being asked to join in and help. But for employers helping fight obesity is a two-edged sword.

If the employer takes office space and puts in a gym on site for employees to use, it is tax free and employee good will is created in addition to the benefit of giving employees a chance to work out. But for the employer to use valuable and sometimes nonexistent “extra” office space to put in a gym can cause a lot of “bad will” among workers who are crammed into cubicles. And let’s face it not too many companies have an extra 500 square feet just laying empty. Plus I really have to ask how many of us overweight and out of shape payroll professionals want to huff, puff, and sweat in front of our staff and fellow co-workers. I know I never did. Plus with no shower that’s not too pleasant back in the small and cramped payroll office. And if the employer does put in a shower, I really don’t want to strip and shower in front of my staff!

But the employer really wants to offer a healthier lifestyle to its employees. And many local businesses want to help other local businesses by buying services. So they buy a gym membership for all their employees. It might be a one-off benefit or even part of a larger and more complex wellness program that includes quitting smoking and diet tips. Either way it doesn’t matter. If the employer buys the gym membership everyone is paying taxes on it. FIT, FICA, FUTA, SIT, SDI (where required), SUI, Local Taxes. All of them. In essence the employer is made to pay more simply because they don’t want a gym next to their conference room.

My point is if the government wants Americans to get fit why make it harder and more expensive to buy a gym membership rather than gym equipment. Why should employers have to pay more for offering basically the same thing.

That’s my thought, what do you think?

Does your company have a gym? Do they buy memberships? Let us know what you do and how you handle it.

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