You eliminated your commute and your dry cleaning bills, but when the pandemic forced you to work remotely, you probably racked up a few other expenses.

Perhaps you sprang for that pricey mesh router or upgraded your internet speed to eliminate glitches in those Zoom calls. Maybe you bought a printer, an office chair or a new desk. Working from home likely caused a rise in your utility bills as well.

Now that tax season approaches, can any of those added expenses qualify as income tax deductions?

Don’t count on it, says tax specialist Pete Dufour, chief executive of the Dufour Tax Group in Portland.

The federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed in late 2017, eliminated miscellaneous itemized deductions – which included unreimbursed employee expenses – while nearly doubling standard deductions. So for most folks, itemizing doesn’t make sense.

“If you’re just a W-2 employee and you’re working from home, there’s no longer a home office deduction for you,” Dufour said. “Your only recourse is to negotiate with your employer to get those expenses reimbursed.”

Dufour said a business can set up an IRS-approved reimbursement program called an “accountable plan.” Employees provide receipts for their expenditures, the company pays them back and can qualify that amount as a business expense.

“It’s hard to justify letting those expenses fall on the shoulders of the employees only,” he said, “so I think employees do have some leverage to negotiate with their employers to get some of these expenses reimbursed.”

Of course, some companies recognized the need early on in the pandemic to assist with their displaced workers. Idexx Laboratories of Westbrook set up such a plan because a large number of employees began working remotely.

“When it became clear in late spring that the work-from-home situation would be prolonged, we launched our Temporary Remote Worker Equipment Support Program to make sure these employees were getting their ergonomic needs met,” the company said in response to a reporter’s question about the issue. “We see this important measure as part of our continued focus on the safety and well-being of our on-site employees, as it helps us to limit the number of people to those who have essential work requiring facility access.”

Dufour said his company set up an accountable plan and has one employee working full time from home. He has talked to other clients about springing for a standing desk, a laptop or to cover the cost of souped-up internet service for their remote workers.

“It doesn’t usually amount to much, really, to set up a home office,” he said, “I think it really helps employers build up goodwill with employees if they’re willing to do that.”

A limited class of workers known as statutory employees can continue to deduct home-office expenses, as can independent contractors and the self-employed. But those are often the folks who were working from home even before the pandemic hit.

“We had a lot of people who had home offices before the pandemic and when that deduction went away, it was a pain point for some of them,” Dufour said. “But some of that pain was offset by the higher standard deduction.”

For the 2020 tax year, standard deductions are $12,400 for single filers, $18,650 for heads of household and $24,800 for married couples filing jointly. Those numbers almost double the corresponding 2017 figures of $6,350 for single filers, $9,350 for heads of household and $12,700 for married couples.


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