In general, a de minimis benefit is one for which, considering its value and the frequency with which it is provided, is so small as to make accounting for it unreasonable or impractical. De minimis benefits are excluded under Internal Revenue Code section 132(a)(4) and include items which are not specifically excluded under other sections of the Code. These include such items as:
Controlled, occasional employee use of photocopier
Occasional snacks, coffee, doughnuts, etc.
Occasional tickets for entertainment events
Occasional meal money or transportation expense for working overtime
Group-term life insurance for employee spouse or dependent with face value not more than $2,000
Flowers, fruit, books, etc., provided under special circumstances
Personal use of a cell phone provided by an employer primarily for business purposes
In determining whether a benefit is de minimis, you should always consider its frequency and its value. An essential element of a de minimis benefit is that it is occasional or unusual in frequency. It also must not be a form of disguised compensation.
Whether an item or service is de minimis depends on all the facts and circumstances. In addition, if a benefit is too large to be considered de minimis, the entire value of the benefit is taxable to the employee, not just the excess over a designated de minimis amount. The IRS has ruled previously in a particular case that items with a value exceeding $100 could not be considered de minimis, even under unusual circumstances.