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A free meal does not always constitute an employee's income

As of September 1st, 2023, an amendment to the decree of the Minister of Family and Social Policy is in effect, according to which the monthly limit on meal subsidies for employees, on which Social Security Administration dues do not have to be paid, has increased.
Marta Michalik
Payroll Project Manager

The new limit is PLN 450 per employee per month.

This change applies to vouchers, coupons or prepaid cards received by employees, entitling them to purchase meals in catering or retail establishments.  

Exemption from Social Security contributions of up to PLN 450 applies to:

  • Employees hired under an employment contract
  • Employees hired under a civil contract
  • Persons on management contracts
  • members of the supervisory board remunerated on the basis of the resolution.


The Social Security exemption does not apply to B2B associates/contractors.

When must an employer provide meals for employees?

Meals in the scope of Occupational Health and Safety (OSH) - according to Art. 232 of the Labor Code - the employer is required to provide employees working in particularly demanding conditions which involves high physical effort, with appropriate meals and drinks free of charge, if deemed necessary for prophylactic reasons.


An employer issuing prophylactic meals to employees on an OSH basis should have a list of staff positions entitled to such meals and an assessment of energy required at the workstations, from which it will be clear that the effective energy expenditure of the body during a work shift requires the provision of such a meal to an employee working in a particular position.

Detailed rules for the issuance of meals and beverages and the requirements they should meet, as well as the cases and conditions under which they should be issued, are set forth in the Decree of the Council of Ministers of May 28, 1996 on prophylactic meals and beverages.

According to the regulation - prophylactic meals must be prepared from properly selected ingredients to cover the need for a certain amount of energy and nutrients. It is also worth recalling that the workplaces where employees should receive meals and drinks, as well as the detailed rules for serving them, are always determined by the employer in consultation with the company's trade unions or employee representatives.

If the employer does not have the possibility of providing meals due to the type of work performed by the employee or for organizational reasons, they may provide during working time:

  • Ordering of such meals in catering establishments
  • Preparation of meals by the employees themselves by using received products.

Conditions for exemption from Social Security contributions

In order to benefit from the exemption from social and health insurance contributions, the following conditions must be met:

  • The value of the meal subsidy must constitute income of employees from the employment relationship or, respectively, income from personally performed activities for contractors or members of supervisory boards.
  • An employee, contractor, or board member cannot be entitled to receive a cash allowance instead of a meal.
  • The exemption applies only to an amount of up to PLN 450 per month.

Tax exemption

The benefits are exempt from taxation, as they are covered by the exemptions regulated in Art. 21 (1) pt. 11 or pt. 11b of the Personal Income Tax Act. According to the wording of these provisions, the tax exemption applies to a benefit in kind, i.e. a prophylactic meal, as well as to the value of vouchers, coupons or other benefits received from the employer entitling an employee to obtain meals, food or non-alcoholic beverages on their basis, in cases where the employer, despite the obligation under the OHS regulations, is unable to issue meals, food or non-alcoholic beverages to their employees.


The tax exemption, as in the case of the Social Security exemption, can be applied only if the employer is obliged to issue benefits in the form of beverages and prophylactic and restorative meals by specific provisions of labor law, i.e. from the field of occupational health and safety.

The catalog of substitutes for a prophylactic meal that benefit from tax exemptions includes, among others, the issuance of prepaid cards, as long as the employee collects evidence in the form of receipts showing that the funds credited to the card were used to purchase prepared meals, food and non-alcoholic beverages (individual interpretation by the Director of the National  Tax Information dated March 3rd, 2022, No. 0112-KDIL2-1.4011.1217.2021.2.DJ).

When are meal benefits taxable?

If hot meals or their legally stipulated substitutes are also provided voluntarily by the employer to employees in other jobs, the value of these benefits should be added to the income of these persons from the employment relationship.

According to Article 12(1) of the Personal Income Tax Act, income from the employment relationship includes all kinds of monetary payments and the monetary value of benefits in kind or their equivalents, regardless of the source of financing of such payments and benefits, and in particular, among others, monetary benefits incurred for an employee, as well as the value of other gratuitous benefits or partially paid benefits.

The monetary value of the benefit should be determined according to the purchase price of the meal from another entity, or according to the price for external entities when the employer operates a public buffet or canteen, or according to the market price when an in-house buffet or canteen is available only to employees.

The Polish Constitutional Court, in a judgment dated July 8, 2014, ruled that we can speak of an employee's income in strictly defined cases:

  1. the employee must obtain a pecuniary benefit, i.e., resulting in an increase in his assets or the avoidance of a necessary expense that he would have had to incur;
  2. the benefit obtained must be measurable and attributable to a specific employee;
  3. the benefit is fulfilled in the interest of the employee and not in the interest of the employer.

Income arises on the condition that it is possible to determine the value of the meals consumed by a particular employee, i.e., to assign a specific meal income to the employee. An employee who receives a meal subsidy must pay tax on it as on wages. In the case of persons paid under employment contracts, this will be income from the employment relationship. For contractors and board members paid on this basis, it will be income from personal activities.

Vouchers for employees from the Social Fund

Vouchers for employees that are entirely financed from the Company Social Benefits Fund are subject to Social Security relief under § 2 (1) (19) of the Ordinance on detailed rules for determining the basis for calculating contributions to pension and disability insurance.

In order for the exemption to apply, the vouchers must be accounted for in accordance with the regulations of the Social Benefits Fund and should be awarded according to a social criterion that includes, among other things, the living and material situation of the employed persons.


Under Article 21(1)(67) of the Act on Personal Income Tax, the value of benefits in kind received by an employee and cash benefits received by him in this regard, financed entirely from the funds of the company's social benefits fund, was exempted from tax in total up to an amount not exceeding PLN 2,000 in a tax year, with the limit applying from 2020 until the end of the tax year following the year in which the state of epidemics declared due to COVID-19 was cancelled, i.e., until the end of 2023 (Article 21(1)(67) of the Act on Personal Income Tax). pt. 67 in conjunction with Article 52l pt. 3 of the Act on Personal Income Tax). The in-kind benefits referred to in this provision are not vouchers, vouchers and other tokens, entitling them to exchange for goods or services.

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