specified employees SRED income tax act

What is a “specified employee” in SR&ED, and how does the understanding of this term impact an SR&ED claim?

Small businesses account for just under 98 percent of all firms in Canada,1 and a 2005 survey by Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) revealed that 69% of its respondents belonged to a corporation with fewer than 51 full-time employees.2 This suggests that in the small organizations claiming tax credits under the Scientific Research & Experimental Development (SR&ED) Program, specified employees are likely to be directly engaged in SR&ED work themselves.

In this post, we will discuss:

  • The definition of a specified employee;
  • The treatment of a specified employee under the Salary or Wages Policy;3 and
  • Any limitations placed on the expenditure claims of specified employees under the SR&ED program.

Definition of “Specified Employee”

A specified employee is an employee who does not deal at arm’s length with the employer or who is a specified shareholder of the employer. A specified shareholder is a person who owns, directly or indirectly, at any time during the year, 10% or more of the issued shares of any class of the capital stock of the employer or of any corporation related to the employer. A specified employee could also be someone related to a specified shareholder; e.g. a sister, a brother, a spouse, etc. For the purpose of determining the 10% threshold, shares owned by a person with whom the employee does not deal at arm’s length are included.4

Related SR&ED Employee Terms

Arm’s Length

Arm’s length refers to a situation where two parties that deal with each other are not related to each other and no control exists between them. It is a question of fact whether two parties not related to each other are dealing with each other at arm’s length.5

Related Individuals

According to paragraph 251 of the Income Tax Act, individuals connected by blood relationship, marriage, common-law partnership or adoption are related persons. These relationships include parents (biological, legal or parents of spouse), partners, children (biological, adopted or common-law), children’s partners (until death of child or divorce), brothers and sisters (siblings or siblings-in-law), descendants (grandchildren, etc.), but do not include nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts or cousins.6

Directly Engaged

Even though this term is not included in the definition of specified employees, its consideration is important due to its effect on SR&ED expense claims under salaries or wages for specified employees. An expenditure on SR&ED work is made with respect to an expense for salary or wages of an employee who is directly engaged in SR&ED in Canada. Therefore, SR&ED expense claims can only include the portion of an employee’s work that can reasonably and directly relate to SR&ED.

Whether an employee is directly engaged in SR&ED is based on the tasks that they perform and not on their job title. Directly engaged refers to “hands-on” work. Generally, employees (including managers and supervisors) conducting experimentation and analysis in the performance of basic research, applied research or experimental development (or when performing support work that is commensurate with the needs of the SR&ED project) are considered to be directly engaged in SR&ED.

Managers and supervisors who supervise the ongoing SR&ED work are also considered to be directly engaged in SR&ED when they are directing the course of the ongoing SR&ED work or when they are providing direct technical input into the SR&ED work. Non-technological management activities or decision-making functions that do not directly influence the course of the SR&ED, even if they relate to the SR&ED, are not considered direct engagement with SR&ED.7

Restrictions for Specified Employees

Salary Cap

The Income Tax Regulations restrict the amount (“salary cap”) that a claimant can include in the salary base for a specified employee to the lesser of the following amounts:

  • 75% of the specified employee’s total salary or wages, SR&ED and other (excluding bonuses, remuneration based on profits, taxable benefits, and prior years’ unpaid salary or wages paid in the last year); or

  • 2.5 times the year’s maximum pensionable earnings (YMPE) for the calendar year in which the claimant’s tax year ends, prorated for the number of days of employment in the year. There is no proration for the time during the year that the employee is not a specified employee.

The formula to determine the maximum amount that a claimant can include in the salary base for a specified employee for the year, in other words, for the second limit mentioned above, is:

2.5 x A x (B ÷ 365); in which A is the YMPE for the calendar year in which the tax year ends, and B is the number of days in the tax year that the claimant employed the individual.8

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) sets the YMPE each year.9

Disallowance of Bonus from SR&ED Claim

As can be surmised from the information above, an SR&ED-related expenditure carried out in Canada does not include any bonuses or remuneration based on profits paid to a “specified employee.” If a corporation pays or accrues a bonus to an employee who is its sole shareholder (and therefore a specified employee), the bonus is not an expenditure in respect of SR&ED.10

Specified Employees Across Associated Corporations

No expenditures may be claimed for the salary or wages of a specified employee of two or more associated corporations unless the associated corporations file an agreement with the CRA using Form T1174 – Agreement Between Associated Corporations to Allocate Salary or Wages of Specified Employees For Scientific Research And Experimental Development (SR&ED).11

The Prescribed Proxy Amount Policy states that the maximum salary or wages a claimant can include for a specified employee when calculating the salary base cannot be more than 2.5 times the YMPE, minus the amount the associated corporation included in its salary base for its tax year ending in the same calendar year for the specified employee.12

On the other hand, the SR&ED Salary or Wages Policy states that the amount that may be claimed as SR&ED expenditures in respect of salary or wages incurred for a specified employee is the amount allocated among associated corporations, and that the amount may not exceed five times the YMPE for the calendar year in which the tax year ends.13

Related Corporations

Paragraph 251(2)(c) provides that two corporations will be related if:

  1. The two corporations are controlled by the same person or group of persons.

  2. Each of the corporations is controlled by one person, and the person who controls one corporation is related to the person who controls the other corporation.

  3. One of the corporations is controlled by one person and that person is related to any member of a related group that controls the other corporation.

  4. One of the corporations is controlled by one person and that person is related to each member of an unrelated group that controls the other corporation.

  5. Any member of a related group that controls one of the corporations is related to each member of an unrelated group that controls the other corporation.

  6. Each member of an unrelated group that controls one of the corporations is related to at least one member of an unrelated group that controls the other corporation.14

Specified Employees and SR&ED: Summary

Considering the smaller size of most SR&ED organizations, it is crucial to understand the treatment of specified employees under the various policies of the CRA.

A specified employee is an employee who does not deal at arm’s length with the employer or who is a specified shareholder of the employer. The Income Tax Act caps the claimable salary for specified employees at the lesser between 75% of their total salary and wages (excluding bonuses, remunerations, etc.) or 2.5 times the yearly maximum pensionable earnings (YMPE).15

If a specified employee is on the payroll of two or more associated corporations, neither corporation will be able to add this employee’s expenses to their claims until they fill and submit Form T1147,16 through which they will allocate the employee’s capped expenses across the various organizations.

This article is based on CRA policy documents and an income tax folio available at the date of publication. Please consult the CRA website for the most recent versions of these documents.

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Do you have experience trying to claim for employees who were directly engaged in SR&ED, who were also “specified employees”?
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Show 16 footnotes

  1. Government of Canada. (November 17, 2017.) Key Small Business Statistics – June 2016. (Accessed: October 2, 2017.) Retrieved from: https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/061.nsf/eng/h_03018.html#toc-02.
  2. CATA Alliance. (2007). SR&ED Tax Incentive Program Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) 2005 Claimant Satisfaction Survey: Analysis of the CRA’s Report on the Results of their Survey (PDF document). (Accessed: September 21, 2015.) Retrieved from: http://www.cata.ca/files/PDF/Analysis_of_SRED_2005.pdf.
  3. Government of Canada. (December 14, 2014.) SR&ED Salary or Wages Policy. (Accessed: October 2, 2017.) Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/scientific-research-experimental-development-tax-incentive-program/salary-wages-policy.html.
  4. Government of Canada. (December 14, 2014.) SR&ED Salary or Wages Policy. Specified Employees (Section 6.0). (Accessed: October 2, 2017.) Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/scientific-research-experimental-development-tax-incentive-program/salary-wages-policy.html#s6_0.
  5. Government of Canada. (July 15, 2015.) Arm’s length. In SR&ED Glossary. (Accessed: October 2, 2017.) Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/scientific-research-experimental-development-tax-incentive-program/glossary.html#rmslngth.
  6. Canada Revenue Agency. (November 24, 2015.) Related individuals. In Income Tax Folio S1-F5-C1: Related persons and dealing at arm’s length. (Accessed: October 2, 2017.) Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/tax/technical-information/income-tax/income-tax-folios-index/series-1-individuals/series-1-individuals/income-tax-folio-s1-f5-c1-related-persons-dealing-arms-length.html#N101F8.
  7. Government of Canada. (December 18, 2014.) Salary or wages of employees directly engaged in SR&ED – Proxy method. In SR&ED Salary or Wages Policy (Chapter 7.0). Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/scientific-research-experimental-development-tax-incentive-program/salary-wages-policy.html#s7_0.
  8. Government of Canada. (December 18, 2014.) Restrictions for specified employees. In Prescribed Proxy Amount Policy (Chapter 4.1). (Accessed: October 2, 2017.) Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/scientific-research-experimental-development-tax-incentive-program/prescribed-proxy-amount-policy.html#s4_1.
  9. Government of Canada. (December 15, 2016.) MP, DB, RRSP, DPSP, and TFSA limits and the YMPE. (Accessed: October 2, 2017.) Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/tax/registered-plans-administrators/pspa/mp-rrsp-dpsp-tfsa-limits-ympe.html.
  10. Government of Canada. (December 18, 2014.) Bonuses or remuneration based on profits for specified employees. In SR&ED Salary or Wages Policy (Chapter 6.1). (Accessed: October 2, 2017.) Retrieved from: http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/txcrdt/sred-rsde/clmng/slrywgs-eng.html#s6_1.
  11. Government of Canada. (October 21, 2016.) T1174 Agreement Between Associated Corporations to Allocate Salary or Wages of Specified Employees for Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED). (Accessed: October 2, 2017.) Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/forms-publications/forms/t1174-agreement-between-associated-corporations-allocate-salary-wages-specified-employees-scientific-research-experimental-development.html.
  12. Canada Revenue Agency. (December 18, 2014.) Specified employees of associated corporations. In Prescribed Proxy Amount Policy (Chapter 4.2). (Accessed: October 2, 2017.) Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/scientific-research-experimental-development-tax-incentive-program/prescribed-proxy-amount-policy.html#s4_2.
  13. Canada Revenue Agency. (2014, December 18). Rules for associated corporations. In SR&ED Salary or Wages Policy (Chapter 6.1.2). (Accessed: October 2, 2017.) Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/scientific-research-experimental-development-tax-incentive-program/salary-wages-policy.html#s6_1_2.
  14. Government of Canada. (November 24, 2017.) Corporations and other persons. In Income Tax Folio S1-F5-C1: Related persons and dealing at arm’s length. (Accessed: October 2, 2017.) Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/tax/technical-information/income-tax/income-tax-folios-index/series-1-individuals/series-1-individuals/income-tax-folio-s1-f5-c1-related-persons-dealing-arms-length.html#N1044D.
  15. Government of Canada. (December 15, 2016.) MP, DB, RRSP, DPSP, and TFSA limits and the YMPE. (Accessed: October 2, 2017.) Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/tax/registered-plans-administrators/pspa/mp-rrsp-dpsp-tfsa-limits-ympe.html.
  16. Government of Canada. (October 21, 2016.) T1174 Agreement Between Associated Corporations to Allocate Salary or Wages of Specified Employees for Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED). (Accessed: October 2, 2017.) Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/forms-publications/forms/t1174-agreement-between-associated-corporations-allocate-salary-wages-specified-employees-scientific-research-experimental-development.html.

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