Confessions of a benefits manager: A taxing situation

A change to the expenses system for senior staff throws Candid into confusion when duplicate claims begin to appear

I want you to know it was not my decision to start giving the Higher Beings cash to fiddle their taxes. Until now, we have given them an allowance that they could use with any firm for financial planning advice, and all they had to do was claim it on their expenses. But Big Bad Boss decided that approach was too much work and we should give them cash instead.

I have never done the expenses, but now I have to arrange the cash payments, so it means more work for me. I’d really like him to explain how it saves any time.

He also thinks the change gives us more control. Well, I can’t see how I have any control either way, but there are battles you should fight and battles you should concede, and this one didn’t seem worth the bother.

Mistake. I get five calls from Higher Beings asking me what the extra payment is for, then four emails asking me what the rules for using the cash are. I say we don’t have any rules for that programme; it is just extra cash for being such a wonderful executive. But Big Bad Boss thinks we should develop some guidelines, so I spend a sunny afternoon writing a paper on guidelines that no one will ever adhere to and we have no way to police anyway. Less work?

Then I have a call from Nancy the woman who does our expenses. She is annoyed because several Higher Beings have already submitted claims for financial planning and are demanding to be paid. I say we shouldn’t pay any claims for this year because they have already had the cash. Nancy is quite formidable and would have no problem telling the chief exec his expenses won’t be paid, but I can count the seconds before Big Bad Boss’ phone rings. It isn’t too long before he comes storming out to me. Any existing claims should be honoured, he tells me. So that means there will be several guys who will get paid twice. Oh, to be on the top floor.

Then, by spooky coincidence, the HR manager in Germany rings to ask me for details of taxes on our share plan. She also wants a copy of the rules document, which is a vast tome that no one in HR has ever seen, let alone read. What can she possibly want with that? No, she doesn’t need it herself, but Smarmy Consulting has asked for it. Eh? If Smarmy Consulting is doing any share plan work, it should be doing it for me, and I haven’t asked for any. So what is it talking to Germany about?

Explain taxes on share schemes

The manager tells me it has arranged a meeting to explain the taxes on our share schemes to the Higher Beings there.

It is going to do what? The pitch of my voice raises several octaves. It’s all right, she tells me: the top Higher Being there has arranged it all. He is concerned that the team doesn’t understand their benefits and they might be paying more tax than they have to. But they already get an allowance to cover advice, I point out.

Well, they just don’t understand, she tells me. It is surprising just how little Higher Beings do understand. Most of the time, they flap around from meeting to meeting taking none of it in, but when it is their own money, suddenly they want to get a handle on it.

Mind you, having sat down and explained relatively simple incentive schemes to senior finance guys, I can tell you there aren’t a whole lot of brain cells on the top floor. I’m not sure they will ever get their heads around the need to pay tax.

Anyway, I want to know who is paying for Smarmy Consulting. Well, the company, of course. And which Smarmy Consulting is it? Well, Smarmy in Germany; the top Higher Being knows the guy there. Well, Smarmy Germany doesn’t know anything about our share schemes because it is Smarmy in the US that handles all that. I don’t like the idea of the company paying some local Smarmy office to learn about our share schemes, so it can explain it to our Higher Beings, especially if it plans to charge us for reading the rules document. I once had to send it to a lawyer and it had to be split into 17 emails to get through the large email filters. We could rack up a fortune in charges.

Worse still, understanding taxes on share schemes is effectively a benefit we have already paid for in the financial planning allowance; twice for those who put it through on expenses as well. I bring this to the attention of Big Bad Boss. I like people to trust me, so I don’t like to be a snitch; it can make me unpopular with the field. However, the folks in the US are all over our spending right now.

They got quite hysterical when we failed to point out that Switzerland had raised the cost of its health benefits by 10 euros a head. The US benefits guy got quite nasty and accused me of ‘going native’ and siding with those ‘continentals’ over there. Now, I feel obliged to let them know when there are guys who have effectively claimed the same benefit three times over.

But despite several reminders, Big Bad Boss doesn’t respond. It looks to me like he wants one of his unofficial cover-ups. When it comes to the Higher Beings, he seems to have ‘gone native’ too.

Next time…Candid applies for another job.

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