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Stock options exercised by railroad employees are a form of monetary compensation taxable to the employer and employee under the Railroad Retirement Tax Act, according to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (Wisconsin Central Ltd., et al. v. United States, No. 16‐3300 (7th Cir. 2017)).

In 1996, three Midwestern railroad subsidiaries of the Canadian National Railway Company began including stock options in their employees’ compensation plans. In its appeal from a district court ruling, the railway argued that income from the exercise of stock options that a railroad gives its employees is not a form of “money remuneration” to them and is therefore not taxable to the railway under the Act, which defines “compensation” as “any form of money remuneration paid to an individual for services rendered as an employee… .”

The Railroad Retirement Tax Act of 1937 is the railroad industry’s version of the Social Security Act; it imposes a payroll tax on both employer and employee to pay for pensions and other benefits.

The question before the Seventh Circuit was whether the tax should be levied on the value of stock options exercised by employees when the market price reaches a certain level. The Internal Revenue Service argued that it should, and in a 2-1 decision, the court agreed.

Writing for the majority, Judge Richard Posner stated: “Stock has so well‐defined a monetary value in our society that there is no significant economic difference between receiving a $1,000 salary bonus and a share or shares of stock having a market value of $1,000.” Continue reading ›

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