Through the provision of computers, tablets and mobile phones, employers generally seek to increase the efficiency and productivity of their employees. However, over the past few years, this practice has fallen out of fashion, to a certain extent. The prevailing trend is to allow employees to use their own devices for professional purposes, also known as "Bring Your Own Device" (BYOD) plans.
Advantages of BYOD plans
Employees generally prefer to use their own devices, with whose features they are familiar. In fact, employees who use their own devices tend to be more productive at work. From the employer's point of view, this practice represents a cost savings. Indeed, the employer need no longer invest substantial amounts in company mobile phones or laptops which, after a few years, are outdated. As far as the employee is concerned, however, the professional use of a private device should somehow be compensated.
Unclear tax and social security consequences
While the benefits of BYOD plans need no longer be proven, the tax and social security treatment of such plans is far from clear, most likely due to their rapid development.
Indeed, in the context of a BYOD plan, the line between private and professional use of a device tends to be very thin. It goes without saying that the use by employees of their own devices does not result in any taxable benefit in kind. However, the tax and social security treatment of possible reimbursement by the employer remains to be clarified. In certain cases, the rules used to assess employee benefits in kind may be applied to BYOD plans. Some examples are discussed below.
Over the past few years, private PC plans, whereby the employer contributes to the employee's purchase of a PC, have gained tremendously in popularity. From a tax perspective, the employer's contribution (which can cover not only the purchase price of the computer but also the Internet subscription) is not subject to tax provided it does not exceed EUR 830 per year. However, this exemption only applies if the employee's gross annual salary does not exceed EUR 32,520 (amount valid for 2013).
From a social security standpoint, the rules on private PC plans have recently been aligned with the tax rules on private PC plans stated above. Therefore, the employer's contribution to the purchase of a computer equipment is not subject to social security contributions, provided it does not exceed EUR 830 per year. This exemption is also excluded if the employee's gross annual salary exceeds EUR 32,520 (for 2013). In the absence a private PC plan, the employer can offer to cover the cost of the Internet subscription for employees who use their own computers to work from home. In practice, many employers offer a contribution of EUR 20 to EUR 40 per month. This contribution is, in general, not considered a benefit in kind which is subject to tax and social security contributions, provided it does not cover private use of the Internet connection. However, since precise amounts are not mentioned in the tax or social security legislation, employers tend in practice to request the Ruling Commission to approve a certain amount.
Alternatively, the employer can decide to provide the employee with a computer and/or full Internet subscription in its own name. In this case, the benefit in kind will be determined based on a standard rate, in accordance with harmonised tax and social security assessment rules. For a computer, the benefit in kind is generally valued at EUR 180 per year. For an Internet subscription, the benefit in kind is valued at EUR 60 per year.
Mobile phones and smartphones
Even though there are no official valuation rules for tax and social security purposes, it is generally accepted that the provision by the employer of a mixed-use mobile phone or smartphone generates a benefit in kind of EUR 12.50 per month. This amount is not official, however. Under a BYOD plan, the employer often covers, in practice, the full cost of the employee's mobile phone or smartphone, including both the monthly subscription and calls. Even in this case, however, the benefit in kind is still EUR 12.50 per month.
However, it is important to bear in mind the existence of alternatives such as split-billing, which allow the percentage of professional use made of a personal mobile phone or smartphone to be determined precisely for the purpose of reimbursement by the employer. In this way, the employee bears the cost of his or her private use, while the employer pays for professional communications. Thus, no social security or tax benefit arises.
Finally, the use of tablets at work is becoming more frequent. In this respect, it appears that when the employer covers the professional use of a private tablet (3G card), the benefit in kind is usually set at EUR 5 per month.
In conclusion, the choice of plan will determine the final "bill" to be paid to the tax authorities and the National Social Security Office. We therefore recommend that employers obtain an advance ruling from the tax authorities and submit questions to the ONSS/RSZ in order to make sure that the selected option will not be too burdensome in terms of taxes and social security contributions.