A recent tax court case is a warning to taxpayers who assume that, if their employer does not issue a slip, the related income need not be reported. Forty-six Pfizer Canada employees exercised stock options from 1993 to 1997. Twenty-three of them did not report the benefits related to the exercise of their stock options in their tax returns. The stock options that were exercised were options to acquire shares of Pfizer U.S.A., not Pfizer Canada. For reasons of confidentiality, U.S.-based employees of Pfizer dealt with the stock options. However, Canadian-based employees processed the T4 (employment income) slips. Consequently, no T4 slips were issued in respect of the stock option benefits even though they were taxable in Canada.
The CRA discovered that the 23 individuals did not report their stock option benefits when their employer, Pfizer Canada, was audited.
The CRA attempted to open the individuals' statute-barred years, pursuant to subsection 152(4) of the Income Tax Act, and also applied gross negligence penalties under subsection 163(2).
The taxpayers argued that because no stock option benefit was included on the T4, they believed that they did not have to include any amounts in income. They also claimed that section 7, which deals with stock option benefits, was a complicated provision and it would be unfair to penalize them for gross negligence because they did not understand the technicalities of that section. The taxpayers also argued that they did not intentionally omit the unreported income.
Unfortunately, the Court was provided with written evidence that all of the employees were told to consult a tax advisor to determine the implications of the stock option exercise and sale. The Court was not impressed with the other arguments and allowed the CRA to open the statute-barred years and to apply penalties under subsection 163(2).
The lesson to be learned is that each taxpayer is responsible for correctly reporting his/her income. Relying on the employer corporation to calculate their income does not absolve an individual from reporting income correctly. Moreover, taxpayers at a certain level of sophistication are expected to consult tax professionals. Not doing so can result in the application of penalties, as was the case here.
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