2017 Tax Advice Sackett copyYou have to decide how much to help pretty much right from the start.

New employee orientation: You have a greenhorn looking you dead in the eye and they ask the question, “How many deductions should I put down?”

You could go through the entire song and dance about how on the form, on the second page, there is a process you can go through that will tell them exactly how many. But it’s just easier if you help them. So, you ask the questions: Are you single? Does anyone claim you? Do you have any kids? Etc., etc. And you come up with what they should probably enter in the form.

“It’s only a W-4, it’s not a real tax form,” you tell yourself. “It’s not like it’s really going to make a difference.”

And then there are the questions employees ask beyond just W-4 stuff, like:

-Do you think I should defer income?

-Which forms should I use to fill out my taxes?

-What do I do if I have the right to certain deductions for say, charitable giving or working from home?

I’d guess that you, like 99% of us in HR, have given some advice about W-4s, because it’s something you understand. It’s probably less likely that you’ve given answers to the other three questions (You’re HR, not HR Block, am I right?) However, say you did understand this stuff and have answers…okay to help then?

I’m here with some answers.

Sort of.

Here’s what I know:

Filling out someone’s W-4–or any of their other forms– is illegal.

Giving advice isn’t. However, if you do give advice you could be made liable in the highly unlikely case someone might sue you for giving them bad advice.

That being said, if you were trained on what and how to give this advice, I would feel comfortable as an organization on providing this advice and taking on that slight risk.

Really, I guess what I’m saying is…if you’re nervous at all–consider going outside for some help. And it doesn’t need to be super-expensive either.

Top companies today are providing tax advice and tax help to their employees in a number of ways.

#1 Lunch and learns

Recently, companies have been offering onsite lunch and learns with certified tax professionals. At these events your employees can bring in their tax issue and get some real answers from people who actually know what they’re talking about.

The other nice thing about these events is your employees feel more comfortable dealing with stuff in a work setting. It’s intimidating going to an accountant’s office and not knowing what to ask or what to bring. This intro to tax type events can make this process less intimidating for your employees.

Check out 5 basic tips for a successful lunch and learn

#2. Employee discounts at a tax firm

Another great idea that some companies are using is partnering with a good local tax firm and offering their employees a discount to get their taxes done professionally. In this scenario, you should lean on your accounting and finance department to do some vetting for you, and come back with a recommendation of a local or national organization that can handle what you would like to offer.

#3. Offer DIY options with a corporate discount

Finally, many companies are offering up various technology options to their employees, more of a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) option, that is popular with so many of your employees. You see these commercials all the time around tax season (TurboTax and the like), and with a few calls, it’s easy to set up a corporate discount option with any of these firms.

So, to sum up: how far should you go in giving tax advice to your employees?

As far as you need to to make sure the advice is solid. Whether that involves boning up on the issues yourself and accepting the slight risks that come with that…or bringing in help from the outside, the important thing is that your employees will want to high-five you (and not slap you) when all is said and done.