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Work-From-Home Tax Credits for Businesses in Washington State

By:Christine Fettinger

Commuting in Seattle has steadily gotten worse, but a Washington senator has proposed something that may help: incentivizing businesses to allow employees to telecommute.

Telecommuting in Washington State

The bill, sponsored by Senator Kevin Van de Wege, would give companies a tax break for allowing employees to work remotely. It would offer a $500 per employee tax credit for those who work remotely at least 12 days out of the month. The cap for the tax break is currently set at $20,000. The credit may not sound like a lot, but if the bill is enacted and proves to be popular, the allotments could be raised fairly easily, according to Van de Wege.

The bill could be presented in the next legislative session. (It only addresses the private sector.)

“The cheapest way for the government to decrease [gridlock] is by incentivizing people to stay at home, as opposed to building more infrastructure,” said Van de Wege.

Letting employees telecommute grants more benefits than just potentially reducing gridlock. The flexibility offered, even if it is only one or two days per week, is a great benefit:

  • Increase Productivity: Telecommuting gives employees more flexible work options, which can increase productivity. Research shows that employees are healthier, less stressed, and more productive when they make choices about how, where, and when they work.
  • Improve Morale and Decrease Turnover: Burnout and stress are lower among employees with workplace flexibility, which can improve workplace morale. The time saved commuting, which in Seattle could easily be 90 minutes or more a day, could easily improve morale since employees would have more free time and less unpaid time sitting in traffic. More satisfied employees mean less absenteeism and turnover.
  • Cost Effective: Telecommuting can be cost effective for both the employer and employee. Businesses could save money on purchasing or leasing office space if many of their workers telecommute. In the case of severe weather that screws up traffic or makes driving dangerous, employees will still be able to get work done from home. For employees, it saves on gas. It could save money in other ways since those who telecommute are less likely to go out for lunch or purchase coffee.
  • Eco-Friendly: It’s estimated that if 40% of the US population with telework-compatible jobs worked from home just half the time, 280 million barrels of oil a year would be saved. That would reduce greenhouse gas emissions equal to taking 9 million cars off the road.

However, there are some potential downsides to working at home. For teams with a mix of remote and in-the-office workers, communication can get tricky. Colleagues in the office can have a spur-of-the-moment discussion about a project, where remote workers aren’t included. Working from home comes with its own distractions, and the burden of constantly being ‘on the clock.’

It will take more than small telecommuting tax breaks to lessen Seattle’s growing gridlock problem, but getting this bill enacted can’t hurt. From 2010 to 2015, the number of mega commuters, those whose commutes take 90 minutes or more, increased by 72%. With the increasing cost of housing around Seattle and Bellevue, many choose to live a little farther out in cheaper areas like Renton or Everett. However, the cheaper cost of living comes at the cost of a long commute.

With commutes around Seattle only getting longer, the option to work remotely a day or two per week could boost your competitiveness in attracting new hires and improving morale. This proposed tax break could be a push for more employers to allow telecommuting and get some commuters off the road – to their probable relief.