A case involving embezzlement, tax liability, and good intentions added up to a nightmare for one man. Dr. Robert McClendon’s story proves there’s no amount of caution too intense when it comes to payroll tax liability.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions
In a sobering case reported in Forbes, a man who loaned $100,000 to a struggling business was fined $4.3 million for said company’s payroll tax liability. When you dig into the details, it’s not as unfair as it may seem at first blush, but that doesn’t make the situation any less painful for Dr. McClendon—the defendant and a legally-deemed responsible party. As the Forbes article states, “You can be ‘willful’ under the tax law even if you didn’t have a bad motive or evil intent.”
So what was the kiss of death for Dr. McClendon?
Responsible & willful: A match made in IRS hell
Dr. McClendon owned the business to which he loaned the money and the cash went toward the seemingly noble goal of paying employees to prevent shuttering the doors altogether. While it was an employee who’d embezzled the funds earmarked for payroll taxes, the case against Dr. McClendon was strong enough to prove him responsible and willful. He wasn’t responsible for the embezzlement but he was responsible for choosing to pay employees instead of the payroll taxes, which by that time, he knew about. The case against Dr. McClendon withstood the legal tests and left the doc to nurse his own wounds. Ouch.
How to protect yourself
Either learn the rules of payroll taxes and precisely follow them or hire a qualified company to do it for you. The Forbes article suggests that one benefit to hiring a payroll service is that “the employer doesn’t have discretion to use the money to pay vendors or for anything else.” It’s sort of like a much higher stakes version of a 401K: If you can’t access the money when the temptation for an out-of-reach car comes up, you’ll still have it when you need it for less sexy reasons. Additionally, hiring a payroll service takes the burden of having to understand all of the rules and make heavy decisions off the company leadership. The payroll service takes on the liability and frees up the small business to focus on business.
The bottom line:
There are too many ways to get in trouble with the IRS to choose ignorance. With fines and possible jail time on the line, legitimate small businesses must take payroll taxes seriously. The government sure does.
When it comes to payroll taxes and so much more, PayReel makes your life easier. Producing multimedia content and executing live events is chaotic. At PayReel, we make sure our clients are able to hire who they want, when they want and that everyone is paid properly. Leave all payroll services and details up to the PayReel team so you can focus on pulling off a flawless production. Contact us anytime at 303-526-4900 or by emailing us here.
Relax. We got it.