IRS tells Warner: Uniforms for public safety officials not taxable
In a letter to U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that firefighters and police officers will not be expected to pay taxes on common clothing items that they are required to wear while on duty.
“I am pleased that the IRS has clarified its policy on taxing police and fire department uniforms,” said Sen. Warner. “Now our firefighters and police officers can stop worrying about getting taxed for their clothing and concentrate on what they do best: keeping us safe.”
“On behalf of the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association, I want to thank Sen. Warner for standing up for our members all across Virginia,” said Lunenburg Sheriff Arthur Townsend, Virginia Sheriffs’ Association President. “He continues to demonstrate a clear understanding of our needs and a willingness to support the sheriffs and deputies who put their lives on the line and protect the public.”
Last year, Botetourt County, Va., was audited by the IRS and found to owe $91,000 in back taxes, stemming in part from an IRS finding that the locality erred in not taxing deputies for the value of certain common clothing items that are part of their uniforms.
In January, Sen. Warner wrote to the IRS, seeking the clarification on behalf of Virginia law enforcement concerned about the tax treatment of certain clothing items that are required as part of a uniform.
“Virginia sheriffs applaud Sen. Warner’s persistence and work on this important issue on behalf of the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association,” said Virginia Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director John W. Jones. “I also want to commend Sheriff Brian Roberts of Brunswick County, who visited Washington with me, for carrying a display of various uniforms used by deputy sheriffs that are being taxed to show firsthand how modern day uniforms used by deputy sheriffs are functional, less expensive than traditional uniforms, and should not be subject to taxes by the IRS.”
“Sen. Warner’s swift action on this matter will save Virginia’s sheriffs and deputies from unfair taxation during tough budget times,” said Brunswick County Sheriff Brian Roberts.
Under IRS regulations, uniforms are considered to be nontaxable if they are required as a condition of employment and the item(s) are “not suitable for everyday wear.” Due to the high costs of traditional patrol uniforms, to save money many departments issue some deputies clothing items such as polo style shirts, non-steel toe boots, or shorts to wear while working if their stations – such as providing jail security – do not require a full service uniform. These standard uniform items often come with distinctive agency logos and officials are prohibited by their departments from wearing them off duty. However, in the absence of clear guidance from the agency, many individual IRS agents have determined that these common public safety uniform items are suitable for everyday wear and are therefore subject to taxation.
Responding to questions from Sen. Warner, IRS Associate Chief Counsel Andrew J. Keyso wrote, “Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive list of clothing, or labels or markings on clothing, that make the clothing suitable or unsuitable for everyday wear in all circumstances.” However, “In cases where a law enforcement agency or fire department has a policy of prohibiting off-duty wearing of uniforms, the uniform is properly viewed as not suitable for everyday wear and the value of the uniform is not includible in the employees’ income.”