There is a pervasive myth within the emergency services professions regarding a tax deduction for meals during their on-shift days.
This myth is most common with the firefighter ranks, but is also seen within ambulance, police, and other emergency services professions.
Where this myth comes from, I’m not certain. But it definitely maintains it’s urban legend status due to being passed from one person to another. It can only be assumed that tens of thousands of emergency services personnel illegally take this deduction every year.
So let’s set the record straight: There is no on-shift meal deduction permitted for emergency services personnel.
It doesn’t matter if you work a 24-hour shift, and it doesn’t matter what you do for a living (this isn’t limited to emergency personnel, it’s EVERYBODY): If you’re at your job, in your home area, regardless of shift length, there is no meal deduction. Period.
Meal deductions, including per diem (Meals and Incidental Expenses – M&IE), are only permitted when you travel away from home for business or work, and are not reimbursed. If you actually get paid per diem, you can’t also deduct it (no double dipping, in other words).
Here is what firefighters and other workers can do, however. Some fire stations, police stations, and other work places where it is common to work long shifts have what is called a common meal fund. Basically, everybody pitches in a certain amount of money per day, and it pays for food for the entire crew for that day.
If everybody does it, and it’s required by the employer, then it’s deductible. In other words, your fire department or other agency must have made it a mandatory participation practice. In this case, the money you put into the food bucket every day is deductible on Form 2106 under Miscellaneous Deductions, which are subject to a “floor” of 2% of your Adjusted Gross Income.
Hopefully this will clarify this practice. If you work in emergency services, do your co-workers a favor, and refer them to this blog post — it may help them avoid an “undesired IRS interaction.”