A better way to handle the busy tax season

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How has the long tax season impacted your employees’ ability to use their vacation time?

What happens when the tax extension shortens the window for employees to take PTO? For seasonal industries such as accounting, there has been a clearly defined time of year that employees are encouraged to take time off. On a typical tax season, the majority of individual and small business returns are completed by April 15th, giving accountants and tax professionals a few months of breathing room before the remaining business and individual returns on extension are due by October 15th. 

However, due to COVID-19, the IRS enacted new policies and has granted a 90-day extension to the standard individual filing deadline. With this extended filing deadline, that means a vastly shortened window for when they can feasibly take time off. So what does that mean for firms’ liabilities of outstanding PTO owed sitting on the books, not to mention the potential of employee burnout?

According to data from the “2018 Best Firms to Work For” list published by Accounting Today, 65% of the firms ranked give, on average, 19 days of PTO in a lump sum to employees after year one. With the current trends showing that most people are still uncomfortable traveling due to COVID-19 risk, and many counties are still in a state of mixed business openings, this year shows a much lower-than-average use by employees of their allotted time off. The tax season is still going strong, months into when many accountants would typically be using their time off to plan vacations or take a much-needed opportunity for rest and recuperation. What are some options for firms that encourage employees to start using their PTO and avoid burnout once they reach July 15th? How can firms ensure they’re not setting themselves up for large payouts of PTO or massive call-ins at year-end when the vacation season is so short due to the revised tax deadlines?

  1. Encourage an option of 4-day workweeks bi-weekly: This allows employees to use their time ongoing. Many studies, such as the one from Business Insider, show a 4-day workweek is one of the best ways to avoid disruption and actually increased productivity by 40% at Microsoft. Employees get long weekends, helping to prevent burnout without feeling like they need to risk going out of town or planning vacations that might increase the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

  2. Unlimited Vacation Policy: This has been a popular option for many companies over the past few years because it removes the possibility of large year-end payouts based on capping out. It requires quite a bit of trust and expectation setting, but employees are allowed then to use the time between seasons to determine what they personally need for downtime (within reason).

  3. Offering a “cash-in” window: For accounting firms that have changed their business model away from a “busy season” and find that they need staff “on” as much as possible throughout the year, they can change their policy to a “cash-on” option and allow their employees to take the payout in lieu of PTO. This option is great for firms that don’t mind the outstanding financial liability and may want to consider offering this option at various times throughout the year to avoid a large payment just at year-end.

It’s a bit of a balancing act right now to determine how to take care of employees’ wellness and needs for work reprieve, while still considering the firm’s liabilities. Navigating how this extension of tax season will affect the balances of employee PTO is crucial to helping firms prepare for the coming months and leading into what is hopefully a much calmer 2020 tax season ahead.

Stephanie Wagner

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