Cryptocurrency has made some remarkable progress in the past few years. Bitcoin hit a peak of more than $60,000 this year, a jump of more than $50,000 since the year prior. Services like PayPal are also expanding crypto support as the once-niche resource breaks into the mainstream.
Not long ago, businesses were hesitant to dip their toes into the world of cryptocurrency. It seemed like a fad, was too volatile, or lacked the legitimacy to be a worthwhile business investment. Now, with major banks and other companies embracing crypto, more start to believe its benefits finally outweigh its risks.
Many businesses now accept cryptocurrency payments for their products and services. Some have gone a step further, though. For example, there’s a blossoming trend of companies paying their employees with Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies.
If you’ve heard of this trend, you likely have a few questions. Is it legal to pay employees with crypto? Is it practical? How could a company do that? Here’s a closer look.
Benefits of Paying With Crypto
Why a business would want to establish a cryptocurrency payroll may not be immediately clear. Crypto compensation is a complicated process, but it can have several benefits, too. One of the most significant is its security and efficiency, especially for international payments.
With fiat currency, cross-border payments have to go through conversions and intermediaries, which can incur fees and slow things down. Since cryptocurrencies run on decentralized blockchains, they can reduce costs associated with these payments. For example, employers can send money to international employees instantly without any intermediaries.
The distributed and transparent nature of blockchains also gives crypto payments some security benefits. Anyone can see blockchain transactions, but no one can change them. This transparency and security help establish more trust for payments, which is particularly helpful for independent contractors and freelancers.
Employees may want crypto payments because they can help them make more money without extra work. For example, instead of immediately converting their crypto, workers could wait for its value to rise, then sell it and make a profit. This easy extra money could help workers like nurses, teachers, chefs, and truck drivers who face more challenges and risks than most professions in America.
Companies in some competitive fields like the tech industry could enable crypto payments to attract top talent. By offering this type of compensation, businesses show they’re forward-thinking early tech adopters, attracting similarly minded employees.
The best and brightest, interested in new and exciting tech, would bring their talents where they believe they’re most welcome.
Challenges With Crypto Compensation
For all of its benefits, crypto compensation still has some considerable obstacles in its way. Most notably, its legal status is hazy at best. The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay in cash or its equivalent. One could argue cryptocurrency is a legitimate substitute for cash, but without much legal precedent, the Department of Labor may not see it that way.
There are also state laws to consider. For example, some states require employers to pay wages in U.S. currency, which would disqualify decentralized alternatives like Bitcoin. Many of these have exceptions but would still need some potentially complicated legal loopholes to pay workers in crypto.
Crypto compensation may also be a headache when it comes time to file taxes. Regulations are still unclear about cryptocurrency’s taxable status, and they could change as crypto grows more popular. Companies may have the resources to understand and handle these strange tax situations, but individual employees may not.
Cryptocurrency’s volatility can benefit employees by giving them “free” money, but it can also have the opposite effect. For example, imagine if a company pays a worker in Bitcoin, but Bitcoin’s value drops before the payment hits the worker’s bank account. Quick value changes like this can end up with employees not getting their full compensation.
If companies use crypto compensation to attract tech-savvy workers, they could encounter interoperability issues. Different blockchains lack interoperability, so much so that users can’t transact Bitcoin for Ether without a centralized crypto exchange. So if companies pay in a different cryptocurrency than an employee uses, it would quickly lose its luster.
Is it Worth it to Pay Employees With Crypto?
It seems that for every benefit of crypto compensation, there’s a challenge to match it. Still, it’s difficult to say whether or not something is worth it based entirely on hypothetical situations. Looking at real-life examples of companies that have instituted some level of crypto payments can offer more guidance.
An employee for an unnamed U.S. company described their experience with crypto payments to MarketWatch. After paying this person for contract work, the company’s CEO asked that they return the crypto after its value rose 700%. Of course, the CEO can’t enforce this, as it would be a breach of contract, but the situation does highlight some of the troubles of crypto compensation.
Crypto’s rising or falling value can make employers feel they’ve overcompensated workers or workers feel employers have underpaid them. While these transactions may be perfectly legal, provided the employee elected to receive payment this way, they can create tension. So even if you have the legality, taxes, and logistics figured out, crypto payroll can still be a risk.
Of course, this one story may not represent how crypto compensation would play out for other companies. Nevertheless, other organizations are taking an interest in it and could serve as helpful examples.
As more prominent organizations embrace crypto payroll, the practice will gain legitimacy. In addition, standards for doing so will develop, and legal regulations could change to accommodate these payments. So, while crypto compensation may be a risky venture now, it may not be in the future.
How Crypto Payroll Could Work
Instituting a crypto payroll system today could take a considerable amount of preparation. It’s still a risky endeavor, so companies should plan thoroughly to mitigate the associated challenges. First, there’s the issue of legality. There are a few prerequisites for these payments to be legal.
Since many states require employers to pay workers in U.S. currency, they could use a conversion service. In this system, employers would send a payment in dollars, which then rapidly converts into crypto at that moment’s exchange rate. Alternatively, crypto payments could work as bonuses or overtime payments, while U.S. currency accounts for most workers’ paychecks.
Since regulations around independent contractors are less stringent, these workers are ideal for crypto compensation. No matter what type of worker receives crypto payments, though, it must be voluntary. In addition, employees have to elect to receive payments in cryptocurrency. Otherwise, employers could run into legal trouble.
Both employers and employees may need to create a crypto wallet to facilitate payment. Thankfully, this process is becoming easier all the time. Companies can even use peer-to-peer payment apps like PayPal to send crypto payments, which may be the easiest option. These third-party services come with built-in crypto wallets, but businesses must ensure they’re secure first.
Companies should also make sure everyone involved understands the risks too. All parties should know the potential complicated tax implications and accept crypto’s volatility. Everyone should also record conversion rates at the time of payment to help with their taxes later.
Cryptocurrency Is Becoming More Legitimate
Crypto compensation is still a new concept, so it will take some time before it’s a reliable, safe business practice. As more companies look into it, though, the process, as well as cryptocurrency itself, will gain legitimacy. As that happens, regulations will clear up, and new services will appear to facilitate these payments. Thus, in the future, crypto compensation may not carry many risks at all.
At this point, it’s clear that cryptocurrency is more than a trend. It’s a well-established, growing resource that businesses may not want to ignore for much longer. Before long, it could be a central part of how companies operate.
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