Payroll expense tax

Note: Businesses subject to the payroll expense tax

Year Total Seattle
Payroll Expense
At Least One Employee
With Annual Compensation of
2024 $8,511,281 or more in 2023 $182,385 or more in 2024
2023 $8,135,746 or more in 2022 $174,337 or more in 2023
2022 $7,386,494 or more in 2021 $158,282 or more in 2022
2021 $7 million or more in 2020 $150,000 or more in 2021

Each year the Payroll Expense Tax thresholds may increase based on the annual Consumer Price Index. See the thresholds.

Businesses with less in payroll expense do not need to file or pay this tax, but they are still responsible for filing and paying other general business taxes to which they are subject.

On Nov. 21, 2023, the Seattle City Council approved legislation that increases the tax rates in each category, depending on the total payroll expense of the business. See the new tax rates effective Jan. 1, 2024.

Subscribe to Payroll Expense Tax email updates.

View the presentation from the Jan. 17, 2024 webinar

Download the Payroll Expense Tax form

Select the year for the periods you wish to file. Use the Payroll Expense Tax Form to file for 1st through 3rd Quarter and use the Payroll Expense Tax Packet to file for 4th Quarter.

2024

2024 Payroll Expense Tax Form - due quarterly beginning April 30, 2024

2023

2023 Payroll Expense Tax Form – due quarterly for Q1-Q3

Q4 2023 Payroll Expense Tax Packet – for Q4-2023, due Jan. 31, 2024

2022

2022 Payroll Expense Tax Form – due quarterly for Q1-Q3

Q4 2022 Payroll Expense Tax Packet – for Q4-2022, was due Jan. 31, 2023

2021

2021 Payroll Expense Tax Form - was due Jan. 31, 2022. For this year, please file reporting all payroll expense for Q1-Q4 2021. This was the year this tax was first implemented.

File online or send original form via U.S. Mail (including payment and postmarked by the due date) to:
City of Seattle-LTA
PO Box 34214
Seattle, WA 98124-4214

The payroll expense tax in 2024 is required of businesses with:

  • $8,511,281 or more of payroll expense in Seattle for the past calendar year (2023), and compensation in Seattle for the current calendar year (2024) paid to at least one employee whose annual compensation is $182,385 or more.

Director's Rule 5-980 provides information and examples to determine whether your business is subject to the Payroll Expense Tax and how to calculate your tax payment.

If you have questions, please email tax@seattle.gov or call our general information line at (206) 684-8484.

Read the Code SMC Chapter 5.38

  • This tax is imposed in addition to any license fee or tax imposed by the City, State or other government agency.
  • The payroll expense tax is in addition to the City of Seattle's fees for business license tax certificates and both the Washington State and City of Seattle B & O tax.

Payroll Processing Companies
If you are a payroll processing company remitting the Seattle Payroll Expense Tax on behalf of clients, you will need to submit a Taxpayer Authorization Form with each initial tax filing.
A signed authorization will not need to be submitted each quarter. We are requiring one authorization per business/client. We may reach out at any time and request updated documentation. The signed authorization form should be submitted with the next manual filing and payment for each client. If you are filing online using the FileLocal system, you do not need to submit this authorization form. Filings without a signed authorization form may be rejected and returned. If you have any questions, please contact us at tax@seattle.gov.

Payroll Expense Tax FAQs

The Seattle Payroll Expense Tax is a business excise tax applicable to all business that are engaging in business in Seattle.   

Businesses subject to the Payroll Expense Tax:

Tax Year Total Payroll Expense At Least One Employee
With Annual Compensation of
2024   $8,511,281 or more in 2023   $182,385 or more in 2024
2023   $8,135,746 or more in 2022   $174,337 or more in 2023
2022   $7,386,494 or more in 2021   $158,282 or more in 2022
2021   $7 million or more in 2020   $150,000 or more in 2021



The first tax return was due January 31, 2022. Businesses subject to the tax will file and pay on a quarterly basis by January 31, April 30, July 31, and October 31.

No. The payroll expense tax is a tax on employers that have Seattle annual payroll expense of $8,511,281 or more. The payroll expense tax is levied upon businesses, not individual employees. The tax is paid by the employer and there is no individual withholding. The law specifically precludes employers from withholding the tax from their employees.

In 2024 only businesses that had $8,511,281 or more of payroll expense in Seattle in the previous calendar year (2023) and have at least one employee in Seattle whose annual compensation is $182,385 or more in 2024.

In 2023 businesses that had $8,135,746 or more of payroll expense in Seattle in the previous calendar year (2022) and have at least one employee in Seattle whose annual compensation is $174,337 or more in 2023.

In 2022 businesses subject to the tax had $7,386,494 or more of payroll expense in Seattle in the previous calendar year and had payroll expense in Seattle paid to employees whose annual compensation is $158,282 or more in the current calendar year.

For 2021 obligations, which were due Jan. 31, 2022, businesses are subject to the tax if they had $7 million or more in payroll expense in Seattle in 2020 and at least one employee whose annual compensation in 2021 was $150,000 or more. 

On Nov. 21, 2023, the Seattle City Council approved legislation that increases the tax rates. The table below includes the new tax rates effective Jan. 1, 2024.

2024 Payroll Expense Tax Thresholds and Rates

Payroll expense of
less than $121,589,724
Payroll expense of $121,589,724 but less than $1,215,897,244 Payroll expense of $1,215,897,244 or greater
Annual compensation
$0 - less than $182,385
N/A N/A N/A
Annual compensation
$182,385 - less than $486,359
Rate = 0.746% Rate = 0.746% Rate = 1.492%
Annual compensation
$486,359 or more
Rate = 1.811% Rate = 2.024% Rate = 2.557%

2023 Payroll Expense Tax Thresholds and Rates

   Payroll expense of
less than
$116,224,938
Payroll expense of $116,224,938 but less than $1,162,249,382 Payroll expense of $1,162,249,382 or greater
Annual compensation
$0 - less than $174,337
N/A N/A N/A
Annual compensation
$$174,337 - less than $464,900
Rate = 0.7% Rate = 0.7% Rate = 1.4%
Annual compensation
$464,900 or more
Rate = 1.7% Rate = 1.9% Rate = 2.4%

Each year the Payroll Expense Tax thresholds may increase based on the annual Consumer Price Index. The thresholds for 2024 and 2023 are shown below.

Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) 5.38.070 specifies annual adjustments to the payroll expense dollar exemption and thresholds for the Payroll Expense Tax. Beginning Jan. 1, 2022, and on January 1 of every year thereafter, the dollar thresholds will increase based on the rate of growth of the prior year's June-to-June Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) for the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area as published by the United States Department of Labor. The following thresholds adjust annually:

  • The amount of payroll expense dollar thresholds (SMC 5.38.030)
  • The amount of the exemption (SMC 5.38.040.A.1)
  • The amount of the employee annual compensation thresholds used to calculate the non-profit healthcare entity deduction (SMC 5.38.045).

The inflation adjustment that applies to the employee annual compensation thresholds used to calculate the non-profit healthcare entity deduction (SMC 5.38.045) begins Jan. 1, 2024 and only applies prospectively (SMC 5.38.070(C)).

The amounts calculated shall be rounded to the nearest whole dollar.

On Nov. 21, 2023, the Seattle City Council approved legislation that increases the tax rates in each category, depending on the total payroll expense of the business. The table below includes the new tax rates effective Jan. 1, 2024.

2024 Payroll Expense Tax Thresholds and Rates

2024 Thresholds Payroll expense
of less than $121,589,724
Payroll expense of $121,589,724 but less than $1,215,897,244 Payroll expense of $1,215,897,244 or greater
Annual compensation
$0 - less than $182,385
N/A N/A N/A
Annual compensation
$182,385 - less than $486,359
Rate = 0.746% Rate = 0.746% Rate = 1.492%
Annual compensation
$486,359 or more
Rate = 1.811% Rate = 2.024% Rate = 2.557%

2023 Payroll Expense Tax Thresholds and Rates

  2023 Thresholds Payroll expense
of less than $116,224,938
Payroll expense of $116,224,938 but less than $1,162,249,382 Payroll expense of $1,162,249,382 or greater
Annual compensation
$0 - less than $174,337
N/A N/A N/A
Annual compensation
$174,337 - less than $464,900
Rate = 0.7% Rate = 0.7% Rate = 1.4%
Annual compensation
$464,900 or more
Rate = 1.7% Rate = 1.9% Rate = 2.4%

SMC 5.38.045 states that for the period from Jan. 1, 2021 through Dec. 31, 2026, taxpayers that are non-profit healthcare entities may deduct from the measure of the tax the payroll expense of employees with annual compensation of $150,000 to $399,999.99.

SMC 5.38.070 provides for a CPI-linked inflation adjustment for the amount of the deduction beginning Jan. 1, 2024. As a result, the deduction for 2024 increases to include payroll expense of employees whose annual compensation is $182,385 to $486,358.99. Prior to Jan. 1, 2024, the deduction was not adjusted for inflation.

Non-profit healthcare entities that utilize this deduction are only permitted to deduct the payroll expense of employees that were included in the calculation of the payroll expense total subject to the tax.

The payroll expense tax can be paid electronically or manually. FileLocal is the online tax filing portal for the City of Seattle. This is the same portal many taxpayers currently use to file and pay a variety of other Seattle business taxes, including B&O, Commercial Parking, Admissions, etc. Manual forms can be completed and mailed to the address provided on the back of the form. Returns are not deemed filed until both tax filing and payment are received. 

The payroll expense tax can be filed through FileLocal using the business's customer number. Businesses engaging in business in Seattle must have a Seattle Business License Tax Certificate. This certificate contains the customer number assigned to the business. Businesses filing the payroll expense tax manually need to include the customer number as well as legal name and address on the filed form. If a business does not have a Business License Tax Certificate, they can apply for a Business License Tax Certificate at FileLocal. If you are filing returns as a preparer on behalf of another business, you can create a Preparer Account in FileLocal to file returns on behalf of your client. The business will need to grant you permission to file their returns in FileLocal

The preferred method of filing this tax is electronically, using FileLocal. If you must use a paper form, use the appropriate form below:

Download a form for Q1-Q3 2024

Download a form for Q4 2023

Download a form for Q1-Q3 2023

Download a form for Q4 2022

Download a form for Q1-Q3 2022

Download a form for Q1-Q4 2021

Payroll expense means compensation paid in Seattle to employees. Compensation has the same meaning for purposes of the payroll expense tax as it does for the Washington State Family and Medical Leave program. Compensation includes all payments for personal services, including commissions and bonuses and the cash value of all earnings paid in any medium other than cash.

For each tax year, the taxpayer shall select one of the two methods listed below to determine the compensation paid in Seattle to the taxpayer's employees. The taxpayer shall follow the same method for all employees for the entire tax year.

Hours method

The amount of compensation paid in Seattle to employees shall be:

1. One hundred percent of the compensation paid to employees who perform work exclusively within Seattle; and

2. For employees who perform work partly within and partly outside Seattle, the compensation paid in Seattle to those employees shall be, for each individual employee, the portion of the employee's annual compensation which the total number of the employee's hours worked within Seattle bears to the total number of the employee's hours worked within and outside Seattle.

3. Taxpayers who calculate payroll expense using this method may exclude from the measure of the tax the payroll expense of employees who work within Seattle less than 40 hours during the tax year.

If the taxpayer does not select the method above, then the amount of compensation paid in Seattle to employees shall be determined as follows.

Primarily-assigned method

Compensation is paid in Seattle to an employee if:

1. The employee is primarily assigned within Seattle;

2. The employee is not primarily assigned to any place of business for the tax period and the employee performs 50 percent or more of their service for the tax period in Seattle; or

3. The employee is not primarily assigned to any place of business for the tax period, the employee does not perform 50 percent or more of their service in any city, and the employee resides in Seattle.

An employee that performs more than 50 percent of their duties during the calendar year at a business location of the taxpayer, will be primarily assigned to that business location.

Compensation includes all payments for personal services, including commissions and bonuses and the cash value of all compensation paid in any medium other than cash. Compensation includes remuneration as defined by the Washington State Family and Medical Leave program in RCW 50A.05.010. A list of items that the Washington State Employment Security Department considers compensation can be found in Seattle Rule 5-980(2)(a)(ii)

Compensation does not include:

  1. Tips;
  2. Supplemental benefit payments made by an employer to an employee in addition to any paid family or medical leave benefits received by the employee;
  3. Employee exercised stock options (incentive stock options (ISOs) or non-qualified stock options (NQSOs));
  4. Payments provided to cover a past or future cost incurred by the employee as a result of the employee's expected job functions;
  5. Employer contributions into retirement or disability plans; or
  6. Payments to an owner of a pass-through entity that are not earned for services rendered or work performed (i.e., return of capital, investment income, or other passive activities). 

Compensation includes the value of stocks transferred to the employee during the calendar year if part of a compensation package. This would include stock grants, Restricted Stock Units (RSUs), and Performance Stock Units (PSUs). Stock options and any related gains from exercising stock options are not considered compensation for purposes of the payroll expense tax. 

Yes, compensation also includes employee contributions to deferred compensation plans (e.g., 401(k), 403(b), or other deferred compensation plans) in which a portion of an employee's salary or wages are set aside to be paid at a later date. 

Compensation means remuneration as defined by the RCW 50A.05.010. If the amounts are included as compensation for purposes of the Washington State Employment Security Department's State Family and Medical Leave program, then they should be included for purposes of the payroll expense tax. If employee deductions would not reduce wages reported to the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD) for purposes of the Family and Medical Leave program, then they would not be excluded from compensation for the payroll expense tax.

Compensation is based on gross pay. Payroll expense is the gross compensation paid in Seattle to employees. 

The total payroll expense for employees in Seattle that have annual compensation of $182,385 or more, starting with the first dollar paid, must be included in the amount subject to the payroll expense tax. 

Businesses subject to the payroll expense tax are required to maintain and keep complete and adequate records. Records must be kept in such a manner as to enable the tax administrator to determine the payroll expense tax liability of the taxpayer. Records retained must be presented upon request of the tax administrator and demonstrate the payroll expense of the business, including but not limited to; where employees are primarily assigned, perform their services, and reside, and employee compensation. Examples include but are not limited to; W-2 and earnings summaries and workpapers and other employment tax records; work location schedules; teleworking agreements between employee and employer; payroll expense reports; copies of state employment security returns and their workpapers; etc.

Certain business activities are exempt from the tax. These include:

• Grocery businesses. Those businesses in which at least 70 percent of their gross sales is exempt from retail sales tax. This includes wholesalers of food and food ingredients that would be exempt from tax when resold would also be exempt from retail sales tax under RCW 82.08.0293;

• Any business having compensation paid in Seattle to employees of less than $8,511,281 in the previous calendar year;

• Compensation paid in Seattle to an independent contractor whose compensation is included in another business's payroll expense; and

• Any business engaged in business in Seattle that is preempted from taxation by cities under federal or state statutes or regulations. These include insurance businesses and their appointed insurance producers; businesses that only sell motor vehicle fuel; businesses that only distribute liquor; and federal, state, and local government entities. 

Yes. There is not a general payroll expense tax exemption for non-profit 501 C organizations. 

The $8,511,281 exemption threshold is based on the prior year's compensation paid to Seattle employees. For example, to determine if an employer is subject to the payroll expense tax in 2024, an employer will use its 2023 compensation paid to Seattle employees to determine if they have met the $8,511,281 or more in payroll expense threshold. However, businesses must use the current year's compensation paid in Seattle to determine the payroll expense tax due for the year. For example, in 2024, businesses that had $8,511,281 or more in Seattle payroll expenses in 2023 would apply the tax rates based on their 2024 Seattle payroll expense of employees with annual compensation of $182,385 or more. 

A deduction is available for the employer through Dec. 31, 2026 if they are a non-profit healthcare entity. A business that qualifies as a non-profit healthcare entity may deduct the payroll expense of employees whose compensation is $150,000 to $399,999.99 from the payroll expense of the business. Commencing Jan. 1, 2024, an inflation adjustment will apply prospectively to the employee annual compensation used to calculate the non-profit healthcare entity deduction. In 2024 this deduction increases to the payroll expense of employees whose compensation is $182,385 to $486,358.99. The employer would deduct the payroll expense of such employees on the tax return.

A non-profit health-care entity is (1) a non-profit entity that provides comprehensive healthcare services, including primary and specialty care, and non-profit healthcare entities that provides at least 50% of its services to patients covered by Apple Health and TRICARE and to patients who do not have a third-party payor; (2) a non-profit entity that conducts life sciences research and development; or (3) a predominantly capitated provider group with an integrated delivery system operated by a fully non-profit carrier.

The payroll expense tax was adopted by Ordinance 126108 and amended by Ordinance 126309.

You may contact License and Tax Administration at (206) 684-8484 or tax@seattle.gov.

City Finance

Jamie Carnell, Interim Director
Address: 700 Fifth Ave., 4th Floor, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 34214, Seattle, WA, 98124-4214
Phone: (206) 684-8484
tax@seattle.gov
Hours: 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.

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City Finance manages the financial operations of the City of Seattle and oversees the City’s financial controls and enterprise reporting while working to achieve the goals set by the Mayor and the City Council.