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Swine flu and telecommuter taxes

How are all y'all feeling? I hope you've managed to fight off H1N1, otherwise known as swine flu.

The panic seems to have subsided, but there still is a substantial number of sufferers out there and, unfortunately, flu-related deaths are still being reported.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have confirmed more than 4,500 cases in 29 countries.

In North America, Mexico has reported at least 1,626 cases.

Our neighbors to the South got the early flu attention, but the United States actually has more sufferers -- at least 2,532.

And across our other contiguous border, health officials say there are only 280 H1N1 cases so far in Canada. There's got to be a Canadian bacon joke in there somewhere.

Keeping illness in check: Common sense can be a valuable inoculation when it comes to any infectious disease. I'm talking, of course, about staying home when you're sick, regardless of what you have or its seriousness.

Admit it. When you don't feel well but insist on going into the office anyway, you really don't get much work done. Sure you've saved a sick day, but you've also irritated your coworkers, who aren't happy you dragged your germy self into work.

The swine flu outbreak is a great argument for telecommuting. In the Oxford University Press blog, law professor Edward Zelinsky explores just that with his article Swine Flu, Telecommuting and New York's Extraterritorial Taxation.

Zelinsky is the Morris and Annie Trachman Professor of Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law of Yeshiva University in New York City. He also notes that, as a New Haven, Ct., resident, he is "something of a poster boy for the irrationality of New York’s extraterritorial taxation of nonresident telecommuters."

He's talking about the fact that the Empire State imposes income tax on telecommuting nonresidents.

"When New York sought to impose its income tax on me for the days I wrote and researched at home in Connecticut, I challenged this extraterritorial tax on constitutional grounds," says Zelinsky. He lost.

Telecommuting benefits: Now, however, the swine flu outbreak reveals another reason why telecommuting should be encouraged, rather than punished by New York's and other state's tax systems.

Georgia does essentially the same, collecting taxes on out-of-state workers simply because their incomes come from Peach State-based employers. You can read how the hubby and I found out about the Georgia law first-hand in The shared troubles of rich athletes and telecommuters.

"Now, telecommuting can achieve yet another important benefit by reducing individuals' potential exposure to swine flu on the days they work at home rather than travel to their employers' offices," writes Zelinsky.

He encourages Congress to pass legislation which has, over the years been introduced as the Telecommuter Tax Fairness Act, which would prevent states from taxing telecommuting nonresidents on the days they work at their out-of-state homes. I wholeheartedly concur.

However, I suspect that such nonresident taxing systems are here to stay. With states desperate for income, they're not likely to give up any revenue.

Streamlining the system: One Congressman, however, has introduced a measure to simplify the myriad state tax systems as they deal with workers who perform duties in different states.

Rep. Henry C. "Hank" Johnson, Jr. (D-Ga.) last month introduced H.R. 2110, the Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Fairness and Simplification Act. It would limit withholding and taxation of income to the state in which the employee resides.

In general, according to the bill's language:

No part of the wages or other remuneration earned by an employee who performs employment duties in more than one State shall be subject to income tax in any State other than --

(1) the State of the employee's residence; and

(2) the State within which the employee is present and performing employment duties for more than 30 days during the calendar year in which the income is earned.

Telecommuting isn't specifically addressed in the bill. But it appears it would benefit such workers

Business, accounting support: H.R. 2110 also has the support of the people show have to deal with the administrative hassles of taxes at multiple workplaces.

"Forty-one states tax out-of-state workers' wages, but the rules are not consistent from state to state, and that places a tremendous administrative burden on business owners," said Barry Melancon, president and CEO of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), in a statement issued after Johnson introduced his bill.

"Our CPA members see the compliance costs first-hand in two ways -- as advisors who see the costs incurred by businesses as they attempt to comply with the conflicting state laws --  and as employers making sure that their own firms comply," added Melancon.

In addition,more than 100 U.S. employers signed a letter to the Georgia Representative expressing their support for his legislation. The signers include such corporate heavyweights as the Walt Disney Company, Wells Fargo, Time Warner, Pepsico, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Costco, Coca-Cola, as well as several state Chambers of Commerce.

Thanks, Mom! I can't let Mothers Day 2009 pass without hugs and kisses and heartfelt thanks to my mom and all those across the world.

In addition to guiding, supporting and loving us, mothers are the ones who usually took care of us when we were sick, be it the flu or other run-of-the-mill sicknesses, as well as when we were suffering from just plain hurt feelings.

Here's hoping that my wonderful mother and all her counterparts have a wonderful day this Sunday and every day.


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Sujan Patricia

H1N1 (referred to as “swine flu” early on) is a new influenza virus causing illness in people. Symptoms of swine flu are similar to those caused by other influenza viruses. Health authorities across the globe are taking steps to try to stem the spread of swine flu after outbreaks in Mexico and the United States. The World Health Organization has called it a "public health emergency of international concern."

the weakonomist

The linking of swine flu to taxes was quite a stretch, but I do thank you for pointing out the legislation. Fascinating reading.

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