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My current salary is taxed at two levels: first, the employer has to pay a certain number of taxes on my wages. The rest of the money is then considered to be my salary and I pay other taxes (social security, medical insurance, income tax) from it. My real tax burden is around 47%, while my "visible" tax burden is 28%.

Why is the current system in place? Wouldn't it make more sense for employees to pay 100% of the taxes they own to the government, rather than pretending the employer owns some of them?

I live in Czech Republic, but I assume the same system exists in other European countries.

  • This was originally posted on Money.SE. Currently cross-posted. – Brythan Dec 13 '16 at 16:25
  • Are you familiar with the relationship between automatic deductions and unemployment investment? – Drunk Cynic Dec 13 '16 at 16:26
  • @Brythan yes, I've asked the mods to remove it – JonathanReez Dec 13 '16 at 17:01
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    @notstoreboughtdirt I'm referring to the total cost to the company. In reality the cost is to the employee, not the company. – JonathanReez Dec 14 '16 at 11:35
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    If the employer tax was raised would you expect to take home less money? If the employee tax was raised would you expect to take home less money? – user9389 Dec 14 '16 at 17:04
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(Note that in all European countries I know, the payments you are referring to are not really taxes – flowing to the state budget – but tax-like contributions to mandatory insurance systems, which is why I will mostly use the word “contributions” to refer to them.)

Arguably, the notion that employees “really” pay those taxes and contributions does not fully make sense. You might just as well consider that employers have to pay whatever wage result in a take-home pay that allows them to recruit workers that are good enough for their purpose and therefore that they are the ones “really” paying all taxes (together with the part of the wage that employees get as take-home pay). Who says that if these taxes and mandatory contributions were lower you would get all the difference as extra cash on hand and employers would continue to pay the exact same labour costs? In principle, employers might also pocket the difference, without changing their employees' take-home pay.

Whatever the case may be, it's true that both employers' and employees' mandatory contributions should in principle have the same effect, economically speaking. Certainly from a market perspective, employers would be expected to hire employees only if the marginal cost of one employee (that's take-home pay, “visible” and “invisible” income tax and mandatory contributions and all other costs) are lower than the increase in production they need to turn a profit from the product of that employee's work. If labour costs go up, it does not matter whether it's in the form of increased salary or additional employer contributions, it will be less profitable to hire someone and might price some workers and/or businesses out of the market.

Conversely and with the caveat that payments to mandatory insurance systems are really deferred income (and therefore that reduced benefits might need to be compensated through additional pay), employees who are ready to work for a certain take-home pay should still be ready to do it for the exact same price if all the “invisible taxes” would disappear overnight.

The reason why the distinction does matter is that wages (very much including the minimal wage) are defined before taxes but after employers' mandatory contributions in work contracts, collective bargaining agreements and the law. This means that when a government decides to raise the rate of the employers' contributions, they will increase labour costs, risk increased unemployment or the wrath of employers but not the discontent of workers who won't see any change to their take-home pay. Conversely, when it's the employees' contributions that increase, people will see their take-home pay decrease (or more often stall), while employers won't see any changes, at least in the short-term (i.e. before people switch jobs and negotiate other contracts, giving everybody an opportunity to adjust the wages they are willing to pay or receive to the new economic conditions). And if you do both at the same time, you can always go on TV to argue that “everybody has to pay their fair share” and hope for some psychological effect.

  • I'm not saying that employee taxes should become zero and the government should magically find the money elsewhere. Rather, the question is only why the wage taxes are "divided" between the employer and the employee, even though they're really just a single tax. However your explanation stating that it's a way for the government to control who pays more (or less) tax in the short-term is reasonable. – JonathanReez Dec 14 '16 at 22:00
  • @JonathanReez I didn't think that it was what you were saying either, I am just using this as a thought experiment to clarify the effect of (changes to) these contributions and to what extent it does or does not make sense to consider that it is the employees who are “really” paying them. – Relaxed Dec 14 '16 at 22:03
  • At the very least my current employer puts a very strong emphasis on how much tax I'm "really" paying. The payslip shows the total expenses at the top in big bold letters and then proceeds to chop off 47% to various taxes, although they are divided into 'employer' and 'employee' sections. So from the point of view of the accounting office (and possibly the management, not sure how much input they've had into the payslip design), it's just me that's "really" pays them. – JonathanReez Dec 14 '16 at 22:43
  • @JonathanReez I am not 100% positive but I think payslips must include both employee and employer's contributions, by law, EU-wide (not in big bold letters of course). Employers (and their representatives) will of course lie through their teeth about this, promising that any tax relief will be passed one-to-one to either customers or employees (sometimes in the form of new jobs rather than pay increase). Usually it does not and their pretending that it would does not mean they really believe that you are paying these taxes in any meaningful sense. – Relaxed Dec 14 '16 at 22:48
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    In fact, I would argue that it's the exact opposite: Your employer knows full well what it costs them and does not believe for one second that you are really paying anything. Mandatory contributions are just deferred income and what the law is doing is forcing your employer to pay you more. That's why it cares about making it appear like it's costing you a lot in the first place. For it's easier to argue that the little guy should get a break than to claim that businesses should get more money or wages should be decreased (which would be equivalent, economically speaking). – Relaxed Dec 14 '16 at 23:04
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They Aren't

Part of the answer is that your premise is incorrect - employers do not pay part of an employee's tax burden. KPMG (one of the largest auditing firms in the world and a prestigious member of the 'Big Four') have published a guide to Czech taxes. To summarize that guide:

  • The Czech Republic has several social and health insurance taxes.
  • Each program requires a tax both on the individual and the employer.
  • The individual pays a portion of their income.
  • The employer is also taxed based on the employee's income.

Example

Let's use health insurance as an example. Our fictional person will have been paid €1.000 in some period.

  • Their pay was €1.000.
  • Their employer is taxed 9% of that amount, or €90.
  • That €90 is also a form of income, so the employee's taxable income for this period (for the purposes of health insurance) is €1.090.
  • The employee is taxed at 4,5% of this taxable income, which is €49,05.

To address a concern from the comments on another answer - this is the way the tax is structured. Of course a person may interpret this a variety of ways based on their own evaluation.

Accounting vs Economic Cost

There is something of a "question behind the question" here. Certainly in an overt sense the only tax burden on an employee is their share of the social and health insurance costs; the employer's burden is irrelevant. This is the accounting cost: the amount that you actually pay.

However, you might also be interested in the economic cost. Economic cost includes less direct (and less easily measured) elements. For example, if an employer offers lower salaries to compensate for the extra cost of the health insurance program, than the lost wages are an economic cost (but not accounting cost) to the employee.

  • I've endeavored to use the European system of decimals and commas, but I have no idea if it's right. If I mucked it up someone please just edit the correction in. – indigochild Dec 14 '16 at 19:43
  • My logic is very simple. Let's say I have a company and want to hire 1 employee. I have exatly 1000 euros to cover my expenses on said employee. Whatever money is leftover after all taxes are paid is my employee's real income, while the rest is the tax on his salary. So the question becomes why not pay 1000 euros to the employee and then have him deal with the government? – JonathanReez Dec 14 '16 at 20:21
  • That seems reasonable, but that is substantially different from the question that is posted here. You might get answers more in that line with a question more like "why are some payroll taxes seemingly shared by the employer and employee". As it stands, this answers this question. – indigochild Dec 14 '16 at 20:28
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    @JonathanReez Except there is absolutely no reason to assume that's how wages are set. – Relaxed Dec 14 '16 at 21:04
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These tax systems are implemented, so that the employees pay a part of their wage and the employer pays taxes on top of the wage, as an example: You earn 100$, taxing is 10% is on you and 5% on your employer. that means you get 90$ after tax and your employer is paying 105$ for your work.

Now you can say that basicly your employer pays you 105$ and you pay 14,3% in taxes, but that assumes that, as soon as the 5% on your employer disappear, you will get the 5$, which I can assure you won't happen.

And here is the actual difference: If the tax on your wage gets smaller, usually you don't gain anything, since the state has to ether take the losses from somewhere else by for example rising sales taxes, or by reducing public services.

But if they reduce the taxes on your employers side, you will loose, because you won't get more or just a very little bit more out of the lower tax rate, but again, the state has to rebalance their budged by ether taking more from you or reducing costs on services. And don't believe that in this day and age the state will take from your employer.

  • Are there countries where employees pay 100% of their real taxes? The only example I can think off is UAE, where there's only one tiny tax. – JonathanReez Dec 14 '16 at 12:06
  • Not that I know of, also I never searched for such kind of state. – Etaila Dec 14 '16 at 12:11
  • @JonathanReez In one reasonable interpretation, all employees pay 100% of their taxes. In this viewpoint the employer contributions are taxes on the asset of having an employee, with the capability to do things like reduce the rate/rebate money for small businesses. – origimbo Dec 14 '16 at 13:01
  • @indigochild I am sorry I meant wage, somehow I keep mixing these two up. – Etaila Dec 14 '16 at 14:53
  • @origimbo You can interpret this in an direction you like, the employee pays all, the employer pays all, the customer pays all. The best way is to interpret it, is the way it was introduced. At first one side paid and then the other side paid as well. This is also the best interpretation if it goes to discussions about lowering one side, because it is quite popular to sell a "wage side cost reduction" as something good for the average employee, while it is actually bad for him. – Etaila Dec 14 '16 at 14:54

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