While many people have heard the Latin phrase “per diem,” which translates to “by the day,” not everyone has a thorough understanding of what it means and how a per diem is used in business. To add to the confusion, the term can describe both monetary allowances and a type of employee. Here’s a comprehensive guide to per diem in the workplace.
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The term “per diem” is used in business in two ways: allowances and employees.
A per diem allowance is a daily stipend that a business gives an employee to cover specific expenses incurred as part of their job. This allowance typically covers lodging, meals and incidental expenses. Occasionally, it also covers transportation. These expenses also may provide tax deductions for the business.
A per diem allowance may be given ahead of time, or employees may be reimbursed after they travel (more on this later).
A per diem employee works with a company on a daily basis at a previously agreed-upon rate. This is a worker without a consistent or permanent role with the business; they’re typically called in as needed. Their day rate and hours are usually set in advance, though they can vary.
Examples of per diem employees include travel nurses and substitute teachers.
The federal government sets maximum per diem rates in three categories: lodging, food and incidentals. The General Services Administration (GSA) sets the standard per diem rate for each category on the federal level each fiscal year based on local market costs.
Certain states and cities allow higher per diem payments, but they can’t be lower than the GSA rate. A company can also opt to give its employees a higher per diem rate.
The current standard GSA per diem rate for lodging is $107 per day, not including taxes. For meals and incidental expenses, the standard GSA per diem tier rate is $59 to $79 per day, depending on where you’re traveling. In some cases, the per diem rate may be higher if the city’s cost of living is higher than average. On its own, the standard rate for incidental expenses is $5 per day. Incidentals can include fees and tips the employee may give to hotel staff or restaurant waitstaff.
The food per diem a person receives depends on the location and meal. The GSA sets these standard per diem rates for each meal per person:
If an employee doesn’t spend the allotted amount per meal, in most cases, they can keep the additional funds without any tax implications and without having to return the money. If the business trip has multiple employees traveling together, they can combine their per diem when having a meal together to save money.
If an employee’s first or last day of travel consumes only part of the day, the GSA allows them to receive a portion of the per diem payment. Under most circumstances, this is 75 percent of the standard per diem, assuming the employee won’t need the total per diem for their meals and incidentals.
There are three primary per diem payout options:
The expense report reimbursement method is the most common way to pay out per diem money. With this method, employees charge all travel expenses to personal cards and submit receipts with an expense report when they return. Then, the company reimburses the employee via a separate check or includes the money in their paycheck when processing payroll.
The expense report reimbursement method is the most accurate way for companies to deliver a per diem allowance, but employees must be able to cover their expenses out of pocket before the company reimburses them.
You may opt to give employees the total amount of their per diem as a single check before their trip. This saves your team the trouble of completing and processing expense reports after the trip because employees receive their per diem as a lump sum.
A downside to this method is that if an employee must extend their business travel, it can be challenging to obtain additional funds before they return.
Employers can authorize team members to use a business credit card or purchasing card for the trip. When employees spend their per diem using a credit card, their receipts go directly to the company’s accounting department. However, the downside to this method is the risk that employees will overspend their per diem, in which case they must repay the overage or have it deducted from their paycheck.
These are a few key benefits of having a per diem policy in the workplace:
There are also a few downsides to having a per diem policy in the workplace:
The best payroll software and services can streamline all per diem payout methods, including direct deposit and paper checks, while simplifying payroll, ensuring accuracy and organizing expenses for tax season.
Consider the following top solutions:
If a company uses the federal government rates set by the GSA for their employees’ per diem, the employee has no additional payroll tax implications. In cases where a business offers a higher rate than what the federal government set, the excess amount is considered taxable income. This affects taxes for both employees and the company.
Because of the tax implications, most companies opt to use the per diem rates the government sets. This way, they can distribute the allotted amount without worrying about tax complications later. The IRS provides per diem payment guidance for employers about handling per diem expenses on their taxes, but if you’re unsure, it’s best to consult an accountant or bookkeeper.
When creating a per diem policy, determine the following:
“For employers to communicate policies surrounding compensation effectively, they first must create an overall strategy that is implemented from top leadership all the way to an entry-level employee,” said Rick Hammell, founder and chairman of Atlas.
In addition, business leaders must maintain an open line of communication about these policies and manage their employees’ expectations accordingly. “Make sure employees are aware of how additional pay decisions are made, and if employees have questions or concerns, leadership is available to answer those,” Hammell said.
Per diem can be an effective method of covering employee expenses at predetermined rates. It helps to reduce paperwork and facilitates budgeting and smarter spending. However, instituting a per diem policy is not foolproof.
Businesses that are looking to implement a per diem policy should carefully consider a traveling employee’s estimated costs, paying close attention to the location. They should also develop policies for covering unexpected costs and determine how employees will be reimbursed if they use their own money. Finally, employers should monitor set GSA rates, which are updated each fiscal year.
Jeremy Bender contributed to this article. Source articles were conducted for a previous version of this article.