This content was originally published in the Canadian Tax Foundations newsletter: Canadian Tax Focus. Republished with permission.
Travel between an employee’s residence and a regular place of employment (RPE) has long been considered by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to be personal travel and not part of the employee’s office or employment duties; therefore, any reimbursement or allowance relating to this travel is a taxable benefit. Conversely, where travel relating to a location other than an RPE is involved, such payments are non-taxable.
But what is an RPE in this era of remote work? A recent technical interpretation provides that a location used for a one-time, multi-day training session for remote workers is not an RPE for those workers (CRA document no. 2022-0936671I7, June 30, 2022); the CRA therefore concludes that the reimbursements and allowances for travelling there are generally non-taxable. However, the CRA notes one exception: allowances for meals (and presumably lodging) are non-taxable only if the rules for a special work site apply.
The CRA generally comments that whether a location is an RPE is a question of fact. CRA document no. 2012-0432671E5 (August 13, 2012) observes that a location could be an RPE even if the employee works there only once or twice a month, but the location might not be an RPE if the employee works there only once or for a few days during the year. In contrast, CRA document no. 2016-0643631E5 (August 17, 2020) declines to offer an opinion on a situation where an employee works at two different locations on alternating weeks. The 2022 technical interpretation takes more definitive positions, which are favourable to the employee.
The 2022 technical interpretation concerns an employer’s plans to hire new employees who reside far from the employer’s offices. The employees may work from home or designate one of the employer’s offices as their place of work, without requiring regular attendance or reserving an onsite workspace. The employer will also provide the necessary equipment for remote work. In addition, the employees will be required to attend a single three-day event during their employment contract for training and team-building activities. For employees who are required to attend, the employer will reimburse reasonable accommodation and transportation costs (bus, train) or provide a per-kilometre motor vehicle allowance. A meal allowance will also be provided.
The CRA concludes that the work location designated in the employment contract is not considered to be an RPE for the new employees. Therefore, reimbursements of travel expenses do not need to be included in their income under paragraph 6(1)(a). Also, reasonable per-kilometre allowances received by employees for the use of their motor vehicle for travel in the course of performing their duties will not be included in their income by virtue of subparagraph 6(1)(b)(vii.1).
The CRA notes that the situation for meal allowances is different. The exemption in subparagraph 6(1)(b)(vii) for reasonable allowances for travel expenses that are not for the use of a motor vehicle requires that the employee be travelling away from the municipality where the employer’s establishment is located. Since the employee’s home is not such an establishment, this condition is not satisfied. However, the CRA notes that the meal allowance could be non-taxable by virtue of subsection 6(6)—special work site. The CRA agrees that the work to be performed (that is, training and team-building activities) is considered temporary in nature and required as part of the employee’s duties. As such, the amounts paid for travel will not be required to be included in their income if all other conditions of the subsection are met. In particular, the employee must be away from home or at the special work site for at least 36 hours and cannot be expected to return home daily from the special work site because of the distance involved.
Similar reasoning would presumably apply to allowances for lodging expenses, although this issue was not discussed.