Why Should You Have Concerns about a California State Payroll Tax Audit?

*The following article was updated in March 2024*

Most taxpayers and business owners do not know that they can be held personally liable for the payroll taxes of their business, even if it is a separate corporation. The EDD handles audits and collection of payroll taxes and maintains employment records for more than 17 million California workers. Most EDD audits are worker re-classification audits that occur when a business has classified a worker as an independent contractor instead of an employee. This classification occurs when the business owner does not believe that they exercise “control” over the worker and therefore they are not an employee. However, California generally encourages workers to be classified as employees to protect the workers. They want the worker to be covered by worker’s compensation and have the right to collect unemployment if they were to lose their employment.

Most EDD audits start when they send a letter to a business owner or taxpayer that may seem very vague and inconspicuous. It is a 3-page letter and sometimes it is even difficult to determine what years the EDD wants to audit. As opposed to an IRS audit notice, which is generally very detailed; stating the years and the line items that you need to substantiate for the IRS audit. After the 3-year audit, the agent may re-classify some of the workers to employees. Since, a business with employees is required to withhold payroll taxes from an employee’s paycheck and to pay applicable federal, state and local taxes, the business will then receive a proposed assessment. If it is not appealed or contested, the balance due will be transferred to the collections department.

However, with state payroll taxes, similar to the IRS trust fund recovery penalty, the EDD can personally assess the responsible parties who willfully did not pay the payroll tax liability. This generally means that the business owner could be personally responsible for these “unpaid” payroll taxes because the EDD has determined that they believe these workers are actually employees. This is very confusing and frustrating to many business owners and taxpayers, they set up a separate legal entity for legal protection from any individual liability. Therefore, when you receive an EDD notice it is very important to take it seriously and make sure you contact the EDD within the time-frame allotted.

Hire an Experienced Payroll Tax Audit Legal Practitioner

If the EDD has sent you a notice, you should hire a professional to help. We, at Allison Soares, Attorney at Law, have years of experience working with the EDD to obtain a quick resolution. Please call us or contact us for a free consultation.

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Allison Soares

Allison Soares, a renowned tax attorney, excels in representing clients before the IRS, FTB, EDD, and CDTFA. With a Bachelor of Arts in Finance from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and a transformative teaching stint in Brazil, Allison’s diverse background enriches her legal expertise. She pursued law at St. Thomas University School of Law, Miami, complementing it with an MBA in accounting and forensic accounting. Further honing her skills, she obtained a Master of Laws in Taxation from the University of San Diego School of Law. As an adjunct professor at San Diego State University, Allison imparts her knowledge in tax procedures, practice, and ethics. Her accolades include being named Best of the Bar by the San Diego Business Journal and multiple Super Lawyer recognitions. Committed to community service, she volunteers with Forever Balboa Park and Friends of Balboa Park. Allison’s authoritative contributions in tax law are showcased through her publications and speaking engagements.

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