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Avkastning från incitamentsprogram som tjänsteinkomst - om finansiella instruments verkliga innebörd

Wahlund, Axel LU (2016) JURM02 20162
Department of Law
Abstract
Employees taking part in incentive programs are offered financial instruments which offer them parts of their employer’s successes. In Swedish tax law, the returns from these instruments are normally taxed as capital income and not as labour income. The employees benefit in kind of receiving the instrument to a discounted price is however taxed as labour income. This essay attempts to analyse whether the returns from a financial instrument given to an employee can be taxed as labour income, through a substance-over-form analysis. Since the Swedish income tax act does not specifically regulate such questions, the essay’s conclusions are largely drawn upon case law from the Swedish supreme administrative court.

The essay shows that... (More)
Employees taking part in incentive programs are offered financial instruments which offer them parts of their employer’s successes. In Swedish tax law, the returns from these instruments are normally taxed as capital income and not as labour income. The employees benefit in kind of receiving the instrument to a discounted price is however taxed as labour income. This essay attempts to analyse whether the returns from a financial instrument given to an employee can be taxed as labour income, through a substance-over-form analysis. Since the Swedish income tax act does not specifically regulate such questions, the essay’s conclusions are largely drawn upon case law from the Swedish supreme administrative court.

The essay shows that although incentive programs can offer real advantages for companies, current Swedish tax practice can also be abused for tax planning. Since capital incomes enjoy lower tax rates than labour incomes, there are tax incentives for employers to compensate their employees through returns from financial instruments (dividends, interest or selling profits) instead of cash salaries. There are presently multiple legal ways to sidestep the Swedish income tax act’s barriers against such abuse, although the frequency or magnitude of such abuse is unclear.

The conclusion offered by the essay is that there are two substance-over-form answers to how returns from financial instruments may be taxed as labour income. Firstly, an analysis of the contract between the employer and employee may reveal that no financial instrument has been created, but rather an agreement over a future salary payment, calculated in a certain way. This could happen when the circumstances around, and the conditions set out in, the contract are clearly different from those typically seen in a financial instrument. Such indications may be that the employee is unable to freely sell the instrument, is entitled to payment only if the employment continues or is certain to receive a large profit despite assuming little risk or investment. According to the Swedish supreme administrative court’s case law, to reach such a conclusion is possible only in very unusual circumstances, and some types of instruments (such as shares) can almost never be seen as anything other than a financial instrument.

Secondly, the return may be taxed as labour income if its payment to the employee is clearly not based upon his or her holding of the instrument, but rather upon the employment relation. Such a conclusion may be reached through analysis of the return’s characteristics and sheer size; if the return is directly connected to the employee’s work achievements or is too large to have been created by the instrument, it can be seen as income from labour rather than capital. Such a conclusion, too, is reachable only in quite special circumstances, and may be very hard to prove in court for the tax authorities.

In conclusion, the essay finds that the Swedish tax system does allow for recharacterization of returns from financial instruments as labour income but only in very unusual situations, and that it does not effectively curb the possibilities for tax planning through incentive programs. Legislative initiatives may be warranted to eliminate such tax planning, or the incentives for it. (Less)
Abstract (Swedish)
Genom incitamentsprogram tilldelas anställda finansiella instrument som ger dem del av arbetsgivarens framgångar. Den avkastning som genom instrumenten tillkommer de anställda beskattas idag normalt i inkomstslaget kapital och inte, som lön, i inkomstslaget tjänst. Endast förmånen av att erhålla instrumentet till nedsatt pris beskattas normalt som arbetsinkomst. I denna uppsats undersöks utifrån rättsdogmatisk metod huruvida avkastningen från instrumentet helt eller delvis kan beskattas som inkomst av tjänst genom tillämpning av principen om verklig innebörd. Eftersom närmare lagreglering saknas bygger undersökningen till stor del på rättsfall från HFD.

I uppsatsen visas att även om incitamentsprogram i många fall kan ha positiva... (More)
Genom incitamentsprogram tilldelas anställda finansiella instrument som ger dem del av arbetsgivarens framgångar. Den avkastning som genom instrumenten tillkommer de anställda beskattas idag normalt i inkomstslaget kapital och inte, som lön, i inkomstslaget tjänst. Endast förmånen av att erhålla instrumentet till nedsatt pris beskattas normalt som arbetsinkomst. I denna uppsats undersöks utifrån rättsdogmatisk metod huruvida avkastningen från instrumentet helt eller delvis kan beskattas som inkomst av tjänst genom tillämpning av principen om verklig innebörd. Eftersom närmare lagreglering saknas bygger undersökningen till stor del på rättsfall från HFD.

I uppsatsen visas att även om incitamentsprogram i många fall kan ha positiva effekter för bolaget och de anställda så finns det möjligheter att utnyttja den nuvarande beskattningsordningen för skatteplanering. Detta rör möjligheten till inkomstomvandling – att de anställda delvis får avkastning (utdelning, ränta eller försäljningslikvid) från ett finansiellt instrument i stället för kontant lön. Sådana åtgärder är ofta fördelaktiga för parterna eftersom kapitalinkomster beskattas betydligt lindrigare än arbetsinkomster. De spärrar som ska hindra inkomstomvandling kan ofta åsidosättas; det är dock inte klart hur utbredd sådan skatteplanering är.

Undersökningen visar på två rättsliga möjligheter att beskatta avkastningen från instrumentet som arbetsinkomst. För det första kan så ske om den verkliga innebörden av parternas avtal enligt en civilrättslig analys inte är ett värdepapper, utan snarare ett avtal om att att en löneersättning beräknad på visst sätt ska tillfalla den anställde i framtiden. En sådan slutsats kan nås om villkoren i och omständigheterna kring parternas avtal avviker mycket kraftigt från vad som är normalfallet för ett värdepapper. Indikationer på detta kan vara att den anställde inte kan avyttra instrumentet, inte får någon avkastning utan fortsatt anställning eller i praktiken är garanterad hög avkastning trots mycket låg investering och risktagande. En sådan slutsats kommer dock endast ifråga i undantagsfall och, enligt HFD:s praxis, i
princip aldrig för vissa typer av finansiella instrument, som aktier och teckningsoptioner.

För det andra kan avkastningen beskattas som arbetsinkomst om avkastningen inte kan anses utgå på grund av den anställdes innehav av instrumentet, utan på grund av anställningen. Denna slutsats kan nås genom en skatterättslig analys av avkastningens karaktär eller storlek; om avkastningen är avtalsmässigt kopplad till den anställdes prestation eller är för stor för att ha genererats av tillgången kan den ses som arbetsinkomst. Även denna form av beskattning kommer endast ifråga i mycket speciella situationer och de faktiska omständigheterna bör oftast vara svårbevisade.

Även om det nuvarande skattesystemet således medger omklassificering av avkastning från finansiella instrument till arbetsinkomst i vissa fall hindras inte de generella möjligheter till skatteplanering genom inkomstomvandling som finns. Det finns därför skäl att överväga lagstiftningsändringar som eliminerar möjligheterna eller incitamentet till skatteplanering. (Less)
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author
Wahlund, Axel LU
supervisor
organization
alternative title
Returns from incentive programs as labour income - on the substance-over-form of financial instruments
course
JURM02 20162
year
type
H3 - Professional qualifications (4 Years - )
subject
keywords
förfogandeinskränkningar, arbetsinkomst, kapitalinkomst, värdepapper, finansiella instrument, inkomstomvandling, omkarakterisering, omklassificering, genomsyn, verklig innebörd, Skatterätt, incitamentsprogram, differentierad utdelning, tilläggsköpeskilling, delägaraktier, dualistiska skattesystemet, likformighet
language
Swedish
id
8897712
date added to LUP
2017-01-21 13:34:40
date last changed
2017-01-21 13:34:40
@misc{8897712,
  abstract     = {Employees taking part in incentive programs are offered financial instruments which offer them parts of their employer’s successes. In Swedish tax law, the returns from these instruments are normally taxed as capital income and not as labour income. The employees benefit in kind of receiving the instrument to a discounted price is however taxed as labour income. This essay attempts to analyse whether the returns from a financial instrument given to an employee can be taxed as labour income, through a substance-over-form analysis. Since the Swedish income tax act does not specifically regulate such questions, the essay’s conclusions are largely drawn upon case law from the Swedish supreme administrative court.

The essay shows that although incentive programs can offer real advantages for companies, current Swedish tax practice can also be abused for tax planning. Since capital incomes enjoy lower tax rates than labour incomes, there are tax incentives for employers to compensate their employees through returns from financial instruments (dividends, interest or selling profits) instead of cash salaries. There are presently multiple legal ways to sidestep the Swedish income tax act’s barriers against such abuse, although the frequency or magnitude of such abuse is unclear.

The conclusion offered by the essay is that there are two substance-over-form answers to how returns from financial instruments may be taxed as labour income. Firstly, an analysis of the contract between the employer and employee may reveal that no financial instrument has been created, but rather an agreement over a future salary payment, calculated in a certain way. This could happen when the circumstances around, and the conditions set out in, the contract are clearly different from those typically seen in a financial instrument. Such indications may be that the employee is unable to freely sell the instrument, is entitled to payment only if the employment continues or is certain to receive a large profit despite assuming little risk or investment. According to the Swedish supreme administrative court’s case law, to reach such a conclusion is possible only in very unusual circumstances, and some types of instruments (such as shares) can almost never be seen as anything other than a financial instrument.

Secondly, the return may be taxed as labour income if its payment to the employee is clearly not based upon his or her holding of the instrument, but rather upon the employment relation. Such a conclusion may be reached through analysis of the return’s characteristics and sheer size; if the return is directly connected to the employee’s work achievements or is too large to have been created by the instrument, it can be seen as income from labour rather than capital. Such a conclusion, too, is reachable only in quite special circumstances, and may be very hard to prove in court for the tax authorities. 

In conclusion, the essay finds that the Swedish tax system does allow for recharacterization of returns from financial instruments as labour income but only in very unusual situations, and that it does not effectively curb the possibilities for tax planning through incentive programs. Legislative initiatives may be warranted to eliminate such tax planning, or the incentives for it.},
  author       = {Wahlund, Axel},
  keyword      = {förfogandeinskränkningar,arbetsinkomst,kapitalinkomst,värdepapper,finansiella instrument,inkomstomvandling,omkarakterisering,omklassificering,genomsyn,verklig innebörd,Skatterätt,incitamentsprogram,differentierad utdelning,tilläggsköpeskilling,delägaraktier,dualistiska skattesystemet,likformighet},
  language     = {swe},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  title        = {Avkastning från incitamentsprogram som tjänsteinkomst - om finansiella instruments verkliga innebörd},
  year         = {2016},
}