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Tuesday, June 6 2023 — Articles of Interest

Shedding Light on Payroll Tax Exposure: How Smith Coffey Can Help Medical Practice Owners Navigate Legal Considerations

Written by FSD Team

As a medical practice owner, you’re well aware of the challenges and complexities involved in running a successful healthcare business. However, one aspect that often catches many practitioners off guard is payroll tax exposure. The burden of managing payroll taxes can be overwhelming, and failing to navigate the legal considerations properly can lead to significant financial consequences. In this blog post, we will explore the concept of payroll tax exposure for medical practice owners and discuss how Smith Coffey can help outline the path forward.

A” typical service trust arrangement” is an arrangement in which an entity (being either a trust or company) provides administrative or support services to medical or dental practitioners to assist practitioners to carry on their medical or dental practices.   Those administrative or support services may include the provision of:

  • Room rental
  • Patient administration and billing 
  • Equipment rental 
  • Administrative staff 
  • Medical or dental support staff 
  • Treatment consumables 
  • Advertising 

And so on…..

These services are provided pursuant to a written agreement between the service entity and each practitioner.   That agreement will cast the relationship between the practitioner and service entity as one of principal (the practitioner) and contractor (the service entity).  

Understanding Payroll Tax Exposure

Payroll tax exposure refers to the risk of non-compliance with payroll tax obligations imposed by state or federal authorities. It arises from various factors such as misclassification of employees, incorrect tax calculations, failure to remit taxes on time, or inadequate record-keeping. The consequences of non-compliance can be severe, including hefty penalties, interest charges, and even legal action.

From a pay-roll tax perspective, the principal issues to consider in the context of a service trust arrangement are:

  • Characterisation of the relationship between the service entity and the practitioner as one of employer and employee; and
  • Whether the service entity qualifies as an “employment agent” for the purposes of the Pay-roll Tax Assessment Act 2002 (WA) (“PTAA”).
  • Determination of the first issue requires careful analysis of the terms of the agreement between the practitioner and the service entity. Broadly, if the service entity engages the practitioner to provide medical services to patients, and if the nature of the relationship bears the hallmarks of an employer-employee relationship, then amounts paid to the practitioner by the service entity will be ‘wages’ for the purposes of the PTAA.
  • It should always be the case that the practitioner engages the service entity to provide administrative services to the practitioner, not the other way around. The practitioner must retain a high degree of (if not total) autonomy in determining how he or she will carry on his or her medical or dental practice.
  • Determination of the second issue requires careful analysis of the fee collection, banking and payment provisions of the agreement to provide services. Perhaps most important is the need to ensure that monies collected by the service entity from patients for services provided by the practitioner remain the property of the practitioner and can be identified as such. In practical terms, this requires that the service entity maintain a bank account into which patient receipts are deposited, separate to its own transactional account. Ideally, there should be a sub-account for each practitioner.
  • In all cases, the substance of how practices are conducted must match the form of the arrangements for which the services agreement provides. That is particularly so in the case of large general medical or dental practices, where there may be a tendency or desire to regulate the conduct and practices of practitioners in a manner which is akin to an employment relationship. It is likely that pay-roll tax will apply in such cases, notwithstanding the terms of the underlying services agreement. This is because the definition of employment agent’ in the PTAA captures arrangements which are similar to an employment relationship.

Navigating the Legal Considerations

Medical practice owners must be aware of the legal considerations surrounding payroll tax exposure to protect their businesses and ensure compliance. Here are some key points to consider:

  1. Employee Classification: Properly classifying your workers as employees or independent contractors is crucial. Misclassifying employees as contractors can result in significant payroll tax liabilities. Smith Coffey can help you review your employment practices and ensure compliance with relevant laws.
  2. Record-Keeping: Maintaining accurate and detailed payroll records is essential. This includes employee information, hours worked, wages paid, and tax deductions. Smith Coffey can assist in setting up robust record-keeping systems and provide guidance on best practices.
  3. Tax Calculation and Withholding: Calculating and withholding the correct amount of payroll taxes is vital. Errors in tax calculations or failure to withhold taxes can result in penalties. Smith Coffey’s team of experts can help you establish streamlined payroll processes and ensure accurate tax calculations.
  4. Compliance with Tax Laws: Staying updated with the ever-changing tax laws and regulations is challenging. Smith Coffey can monitor legal developments and keep you informed about any changes relevant to your medical practice. They can also guide you on compliance measures, minimising your exposure to payroll tax risks.

How Smith Coffey Can Help

Smith Coffey is a renowned accounting and advisory firm specialising in supporting medical practitioners and practice owners. Their experienced team understands the unique challenges faced by healthcare professionals and offers tailored solutions to navigate payroll tax exposure effectively. Here’s how they can assist you:

  1. Payroll Tax Compliance Review: Smith Coffey can conduct a comprehensive review of your payroll processes, identify potential areas of risk, and develop a strategy to mitigate payroll tax exposure.
  2. Payroll System Implementation: They can assist in implementing efficient payroll systems and software that automate tax calculations, streamline record-keeping, and ensure compliance with legal requirements.
  3. Proactive Tax Planning: Smith Coffey can help you develop proactive tax planning strategies, such as structuring employee compensation and benefits packages to minimise payroll tax liabilities.
  4. Ongoing Support and Monitoring: With Smith Coffey as your trusted partner, you can rely on their continuous support, including periodic payroll tax reviews, updates on legal changes, and proactive guidance to keep your medical practice in compliance.

Payroll tax exposure can pose significant challenges for medical practice owners, but with the right guidance and support, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Smith Coffey offers specialised expertise in helping healthcare professionals navigate complex payroll tax obligations, ensuring compliance, minimising risks, and ultimately allowing you to focus on providing exceptional patient care. By engaging their services, you can confidently navigate the legal considerations surrounding payroll tax exposure and secure a brighter future for your medical practice.


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