Working remotely: A tax practitioner's checklist.

Date01 January 2023
AuthorSimmens, Todd

As the world, hopefully, moves to the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, many routines, practices, and procedures have changed--likely for good. PwC, for example, announced in late 2021 that it would allow its U.S.-based client-serving professionals to work remotely going forward ("A 'Big Four' Firm Will Allow 40,000 Employees to Work From Home," CNN Business (Oct. 2, 2021)). Other firms are following suit.

The vision of what constitutes a workplace certainly has changed, with more individuals opting to work outside the office. Some, for example, are working from home by choice; others are doing so as businesses reduce their office space; and some are working in a hybrid model, splitting time between home and an office. As tax practitioners responding to this new environment, we must ensure that we continue to protect the confidentiality of our clients' information, comply with document-retention policies, work as efficiently as possible, ensure that deadlines are met, achieve the highest-quality work, and continue to obtain required training. In today's computerized world, many of the issues a remote tax practitioner should consider are not that different from what the in-office practitioner faces. This column reviews some of the nuances in these considerations that tax practitioners should think about as remote working continues to increase.

The many facets of client confidentiality

A tax practitioner's obligation to maintain client confidentiality derives from many sources. Under Sec. 7216 and the regulations thereunder, for example, practitioners are generally prohibited from disclosing or using client information without client consent. Such information includes a taxpayer's name, address, or identifying number, any of which were provided to the practitioner in connection with the taxpayer's return preparation. The "Confidential Client Information Rule" of the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct (ET [section]1.700.001) forbids AICPA members in public practice from disclosing "confidential client information" without the client's consent. For lawyers in practice, American Bar Association Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6 generally prohibits a lawyer from disclosing information related to a client representation without the client's consent. The accountancy and business laws of most states also place a duty of confidentiality on practitioners (see, e.g., Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code [section]5063.3 and N.J. Admin. Code tit. 13, [section]13:29-3.7).

In a traditional office environment, compliance with such rules is often a part of the practice's infrastructure. For example, policies and procedures are often in place to ensure that client-related conversations occur in closed-door offices or conference rooms. Staff members often have designated responsibility for receiving paper fax transmissions, mail, packages, and other items, ensuring these materials' proper handling so that...

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