Are Awards Taxable – A Tax Court of Canada Example
In 2020, the Tax Court of Canada published its decision for Saunders v The Queen (2020 TCC 114). The issue in this case is whether monetary awards received by employees following a successful grievance against their employer is taxable as employment income. The following provides a summary and brief comment.
The Tax Court Case
The Appellants, who were, at the time, experienced team leaders in the Revenue Collections Division of the CRA, made successful grievances to the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board. The grievances addressed an arbitrary overtime policy implemented by Terry Harder, the incoming assistant director of the Calgary Tax Services Office. Under this policy, overtime hours were no longer available to all Collections team leaders, and they were instead only available to team leaders already stationed at a particular section of Collections.
Before the Board, the Appellants successfully argued that the policy breached a clause of their collective agreement with their employer, which stated that the employer was to make every reasonable effort to offer overtime work on an equitable basis. Despite numerous inquiries about the policy change, and despite repeated expressions of interest in working overtime, Mr. Harder denied the appellants access to overtime work. They also described his behaviour toward them as bullying, aggressive, and harassing.
The Board left the parties to negotiate the appropriate amount of monetary compensation for the Appellants’ losses. Mr. Harder, with typical hostility, then sought to negotiate the compensation award himself despite the Appellants’ request for him to delegate the task. He intended to ensure that the compensation would be taxable as income. The parties settled despite the Appellants’ wish to word the settlement agreement to receive the compensation as non-taxable damages for personal injury rather than as taxable income.
The Tax Court Decision
The Honourable Justice Susan Wong of the Tax Court of Canada decided that the compensation did not meet the exception under paragraph 81(1)(g.1) of the Income Tax Act, which provides that “income for the year from any property acquired by or on behalf of a person as an award of, or pursuant to an action for, damages in respect of physical or mental injury to that person” is not taxable. The compensation was therefore employment income and not damages for personal injury.
Wong J relied on the two questions posed by the Supreme Court of Canada in Tsiaprailis v Canada (2005 SCC 8):
- (1) What was the payment intended to replace?
- (2) Would the replaced amount have been taxable in the recipient’s hands?
The compensation replaced the remuneration the Appellants would have received had they been offered, and accepted, overtime work. While Wong J acknowledged the Appellants’ distinguishing missed overtime, the remuneration for which ought to be taxable, from missed offers of overtime, which ought to be compensated with damages, she did not agree that it was appropriate in the circumstances. The compensation, which was calculated according to the approximate number of overtime hours that the appellants would have worked, replaced remuneration despite breach of the collective employment agreement.
Wong J distinguished the facts in this case from Schwartz v Canada ( SCR 254), which decided on the question whether compensation paid for losses arising from the retraction of an employment offer could be characterized as a retiring allowance and therefore taxable. The employment relationship, the breach of the collective employment agreement, and the lack of any issue concerning retiring allowances, were facts sufficient to depart from Schwartz.
Tax Court Comment – RKTL
With respect, it is questionable whether these facts are sufficient to distinguish Schwartz. In that case, the compensation was not characterized as a retiring allowance since the taxpayer was never “in the service” of the offeror and could not therefore be considered an employee under subsection 248(1) of the Act. While, in this case, the compensation may have replaced remuneration otherwise unearned in the service of the employer, this construal overlooks the context in which such remuneration went unearned.
In reaching a settlement, the Appellants referred to the approximate amount of otherwise unearned overtime hours to quantify the awardable compensation, but they would never have been compelled to do so without first suffering Mr. Harder’s un-admirable qualities and the subsequent breach of their collective employment agreement. This leaves open the possibility that the compensation was not paid as foregone earnings “in the service” of their employer but awarded as damages for earnings foregone because of the breach of their employment agreement.
If you are receiving an award, and want to know whether it is taxable or not, contact us today!
This article provides information of a general nature only. It does not provide legal advice nor can it or should it be relied upon. All tax situations are specific to their facts and will differ from the situations in this article. If you have specific legal questions you should consult a lawyer.