There’s no “permanent” in temporary work from abroad

July 5, 2022


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Workations are rapidly becoming an important employee benefit, and that´s for a good reason. If employees are no longer expected to work from the office, why should they only work from home? Although, not all people adapt at the same pace, and many consider it weird to go on an extended vacation only to work from there too. To be more specific,  our baby boomer parents probably think it’s a classic ‘Millennial’ or ‘Gen Z’ thing to do. Nevertheless, we expect workations to develop into something usual as more employers increasingly offer them and employees continue to enjoy them. 


Employers are sometimes hesitant to allow workations because of the compliance risks. Permanent Establishment (PE) risk, in particular, is considered a showstopper. The risk here is that  the employee could trigger a corporate tax liability in the destination country, meaning the employer would need to pay corporate taxes over the profits generated in the destination country. Given that the presence in the country is very limited, however, these corporate taxes generally aren´t the key problem. The biggest problem is the administrative burden that comes with having to pay the taxes which, besides setting up bookkeeping, includes registrations with authorities and documentation for intercompany billing and profit allocation. 


For this reason, it’s safe to say that employers really don´t want their employees to constitute a PE. After all, workations should be an employee benefit rather than an employer burden

This raises the questions; how does an employee temporarily working from abroad constitute a PE, as well as if, (and how) it can be prevented? And this is where we have good news — there’s no “permanent” in temporary work from abroad. As the name suggests, PE’s require a certain level of permanency. A workation is by character temporary and will therefore generally not be permanent enough. This is supported by both the OECD and the UN, the two organisations whose tax treaty models and commentaries have been most widely adopted. Both state that a so-called ‘fixed place of business PE’ and ‘service PE’ will usually not be constituted if the presence in the other country is below 183 days. This is one of the reasons why an international stay that exceeds this threshold no longer qualifies as “temporary”. In practice, workations are generally much shorter. 


Of the more than 1,000 workation requests processed through our WorkFlex platform, more than 95% were below 30 days. 

This makes it highly unlikely that these workations pose a PE-risk, even in countries that have adopted even tighter policies around ‘fixed place of business’ or ‘service PE’s’ than the OECD and UN policies. Yet, there are three additional factors that need to be considered; 


  1. That the company doesn’t have an office or entity in the destination country. If it does, it must be made clear that the employee did not visit the office or perform activities for the benefit of the local entity. Deviating from this will not always, nor automatically, create a significant PE-risk. However, it would make it difficult to confidently state that the workations are not likely to form a PE-risk.
  2.  For the 183-day threshold, you may be required to look at multiple workations in the same destination country. In other words, an accumulation of workationersin one country might increase the PE-risk in that location.It’s therefore recommended to have a single system in place, like WorkFlex, to manage all of the company’s workation requests. It’s also important to note that this accumulation doesn’t simply apply to employees from different departments who happen to enjoy a workation in the same country. PE-risk is more likely to increase  if there is some organisational overlap. For example, if various employees working on the same project accumulate in the same, destination country. Although this is often the case for business trips, it’s hardly the case for workations. It does show why it is important to distinguish between the two from each other, though.
  3. Lastly, is the only type of PE –- other than the previously discussed ‘fixed place of business’ and ’service PE’ – that can still pose significant risk even if the workation is below 183 days. This concerns the so-called ’dependent agent PE’. In short, the OECD and UN consider a ’dependent agent’ an employee that habitually plays the principal role leading to the conclusion of contracts. It is broadly accepted that “habitually” implies a certain frequency. For example, five contracts where the individual played the leading role. Still, this doesn’t exclude the theoretical possibility that a dependent agent constitutes a PE during a workation of one day. For this reason, it’s recommended to take two extra measures to mitigate and manage the dependent agent PE of workations. 


The first one is to determine who actually qualifies as a dependent agent. Normally, the vast majority of employees don’t, as they do not habitually play this leading role in the conclusion of contracts. Examples of employees who are more likely to qualify as dependent agent are senior managers and employees in sales and procurement roles. Workation requests of these employees need to be highlighted. A second measure is to assess the actual dependent agent PE risk for these requests. Questions to consider are; how often does the employee usually perform high-risk activities? Can they realistically refrain from performing these activities during the envisioned workation? 


Together with many specialists in the field, we are of the opinion that even the most senior employees should be able to enjoy a 30-day workation without triggering a material Dependent Agent PE risk. 

However, a case-by-case assessment is always required, and it’s important that the potential risks are managed. This is why WorkFlex performs an individual risk assessment of each workation request and generates relevant documentation such as employer statements and employee instructions. This way, both the employee and the employer can comfortably enjoy a workation.

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