Estonian tax authority: Dividends may not substitute wages
The Estonian Tax and Customs Board (MTA) has drawn up a set of instructions for business owners to help them discern between payments to the owner of a business, a board member and an employee, and have them taxed correspondingly, stressing that while dividends are legal, they may not replace remuneration.
According to the MTA, their goal is to establish clarity in order to treat business operators equally when it comes to tax obligations, and prevent situations in which business owners forgo paying themselves for their work or the remuneration of member of the management board and take out money from the business as a dividend instead.
"A part of this is the payment of dividends by the owners of a business to themselves in lieu of remuneration," said Tiina Normak, director of the Bureau of Direct and Indirect Taxes at the MTA's Tax Department. "To ensure equal treatment of business operators, it is important for the MTA to establish more clarity and provide guidance on said topic as well."
Normak said that while dividends are lawful in all respects, they may not substitute wages. "While we do not establish or fix a level for how high wages should be, we emphasize that a person should receive remuneration on market terms, not get paid for work done in dividends," Normak added.
The guidelines drawn up in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance and partners are based on instructions provided by a circuit court. According to the court, it is not justified to provide a tax advantage to businesses where workers who are owners of the business are paid a remuneration significantly smaller that the remuneration paid for similar work on the labor market.
Eilike Pruuli, deputy director of the department for tax audit at the MTA, said that the Estonian tax authority wants to effect change in the current state of affairs by communicating with and advising business operators, just as it is addressing the issue of concealment of employment relationship.
"We would first like to contact the board members of active businesses who are owners of the business, and owner-employees whose business pays a dividend on a regular basis but pays no remuneration, or pays a remuneration in the amount of the minimum wage," Pruuli said. "We are aware that many business operators may be doing this out of ignorance, and therefore we will help them get their tax matters right, or will get a sufficient explanation from the business operator regarding why acting in this manner is justified in said case."
Pruuli added that for the MTA, the most important thing is that the business changes its tax behavior. "It is not our goal to go checking the past, but rather to make sure that the taxation of remuneration, the remuneration of management board members and dividends are consistent with their real economic substance in the future," she said.
Editor: Aili Vahtla