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COVID-
19 and Section 139: Tax-free payments or reimbursements to employees

11.06.20

Read this if you are an employer. 

On March 13th, 2020, the President issued a national emergency declaration due to the novel Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). As a result, the COVID-19 pandemic was designated as a federal disaster under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. This designation allows employers to make tax-free payments or reimbursements to employees as “qualified disaster payments” under Section 139 of the Internal Revenue Code (Section 139). 

Overview

Under Section 139, employers can reimburse or directly pay reasonable and necessary personal, family, living, or funeral expenses incurred as a result of a qualified disaster expenses incurred by the employee as a result of COVID-19 that are not otherwise reimbursed by insurance. The Internal Revenue Service has not provided guidance on what constitutes “reasonable and necessary” expenses with respect to COVID-19; however, such expenses could potentially include:

  • Medical expenses not covered by insurance (e.g., over-the-counter medication and cleaning supplies)
  • Expenses related to child care or tutoring
  • Expenses incurred to allow the employee to work from home (e.g., costs to set up a home office and increased utilities)
  • Lodging if the employee or a family member has to stay at a location besides his/her home to avoid a family member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19
  • Commuting expenses
  • Funeral expenses
  • Caregiver expenses
  • Legal and accounting expenses

Payments not eligible for relief under Section 139 include the following:

  • Non-essential, decorative, or luxury items or services
  • Wage replacement (e.g., paid sick or other leave)
  • Expenses compensated by insurance 

There are no limits on the dollar amount or frequency of qualified disaster payments. However, the payment(s) must be reasonably expected to be commensurate with the amount of unreimbursed reasonable and necessary COVID-19-related expenses. Employers may also provide assistance to any individual employee or to all employees with no discrimination restrictions.

Recordkeeping

Under Section 139, there are no administrative or substantiation requirements for the employee or the employer. While the IRS does not provide guidance on administering a program under Section 139, it is recommended that employers adopt a written policy that specifies the following:

  • The employees eligible under the plan
  • The administrative process and restrictions
  • Start and end date of the program
  • Types of expenses that will be paid or reimbursed on behalf of the employees
  • Amount of expenses that will be paid or reimbursed on behalf of the employees with a defined maximum amount per employee
  • How and when payments will be made

Tax implications―tax-free and fully deductible

The qualified disaster payments are tax-free to the employee and fully deductible to the employer. Additionally, payments are not subject to federal income or payroll tax withholding, and there are no federal disclosure or reporting requirements. While many states follow the federal treatment of qualified disaster payments, employers should determine any income tax or payroll tax withholding requirements on a state-by-state basis with their tax advisor.

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Read this if you are an employer.

Note: The tax deferral situation is very fluid, and information may change frequently. Please check back for updates.

The Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service released Notice 2020-65 on August 28th, addressing the following questions highlighted in our earlier payroll tax deferral article.

Does the employer or the employee elect to defer taxes?

Notice 2020-65 provides that Affected Taxpayers are defined for purposes of the Notice as the employer, not employee. Therefore, employers will have to choose whether or not to opt-in and defer taxes. Important to note: while the notice doesn’t specifically state that deferral is optional, the IRS press release implies that it is. 

It is unclear if an employee can elect out of the payroll tax deferral, if their employer elects to defer taxes. Absent guidance, it seems that an employer who elects to defer the payroll tax should apply the payroll tax deferral to all employees and not permit an employee to elect out of the deferral. 

The other question for an employer is whether the payroll software will be able to accommodate the deferral feature as of September 1st. It seems highly unlikely that payroll software will be ready for the September 1st effective date. Employers should reach out to their payroll vendor to determine when the system/software will be ready.

How do bonuses, commissions, or other irregular payroll items impact the $4,000/biweekly compensation limit?

Per the Notice, Applicable Wages include wages as defined in Internal Revenue Code (“Code”) Section 3121(a) (i.e., wages for withholding FICA taxes) or compensation as defined in Code Section 3231(e) (i.e., wages for the Railroad Retirement tax) only if the amount of such wages or compensation paid for a bi-weekly pay period is less than the threshold amount of $4,000, or the equivalent threshold amount with respect to other pay periods. Additionally, the Notice states that the determination of Applicable Wages is made on a "pay-period-by-pay period" basis. Therefore, Applicable Wages would include items such as bonuses and commissions. For example, if a bonus of $2,000 caused an employee’s total Applicable Wages to exceed the $4,000 bi-weekly threshold for the respective pay period to which it relates, deferral would not be required for that pay period. In other words, payroll tax deferral applies to Applicable Wages of $4,000 or less for any bi-weekly pay period (or the equivalent threshold for other pay periods) irrespective of amounts paid in other pay periods.

Based on the guidance, an employer’s payroll system will need to be programmed to automatically monitor the $4,000 bi-weekly threshold and accumulate the tax deferral for each employee.

When and how are amounts deferred due to be paid by the employee?

An employer must withhold and pay the deferred taxes ratably from wages and compensation paid between January 1, 2021 and April 30, 2021. Interest, penalties, and additions to tax will begin to accrue on May 1, 2021 with respect to any unpaid taxes.

This means that employers who elect to initiate the payroll tax deferral will double the Social Security tax withholding during the first four months of 2021. The President’s memorandum issued on August 8th states that Secretary of the Treasury shall explore avenues, including legislation, to eliminate the obligation to pay the taxes deferred pursuant to the implementation of this memorandum. However, only Congress can pass legislation to forgive the uncollected taxes, and has thus far been unwilling to do so.

What happens if an employee who is deferring taxes stops working for the employer? Is the employer responsible for collecting the taxes that were deferred?

This question is not addressed; however, the Notice does provide that an employer may make arrangements to otherwise collect the total taxes from the employee, if other than ratably from wages and compensation.

Employers electing to implement the payroll tax deferral may be assuming unnecessary financial risk related to employees who terminate employment during the period of deferral or during the period of repayment. Prior to initiating the payroll tax deferral, an employer will need to determine (and communicate to employees) how it will collect any unpaid tax deferrals when an employee terminates employment. For example, an employer could decide to withhold the deferred taxes from the employee’s final paycheck, if it can do so legally. Further guidance is necessary so an employer can determine the appropriate way to receive payment from employees who terminate employment.

Notice 2020-65 leaves many questions still unanswered.

Most notably, who is responsible for the taxes if an employer is unable to withhold due to an employee terminating employment? The IRS issued a draft version of a revised Form 941 to take into account the deferred payroll taxes.

Additional guidance will hopefully be forthcoming. Until further guidance is issued and payroll systems are updated, it is difficult for an employer to initiate the payroll tax deferral. 
 
 

Article
Payroll tax deferral update

Read this if you are an employer.

President Trump signed a memorandum on August 8 (hereinafter the “Memorandum”) ordering the Treasury Department to defer the withholding, deposit, and payment of the Social Security portion of the payroll taxes during the period September 1 through December 31, 2020. 

We have heard from a few employers who have employees asking them when the tax withholding will stop since September 1st is right around the corner. The short answer for employers and employees is the withholding deferral will begin “when Treasury and/or the IRS issues guidance”.

“Defer” and “deferral” are underlined for a reason. Employees must understand that the Memorandum provides for a “deferral” of the Social Security tax. The tax is not eliminated for the period September 1st through December 31st. This means that while an employee may enjoy some additional take-home pay during the period of deferral, the amounts deferred must still be paid to the IRS at some point. Only Congress can eliminate the payroll tax.

This is what we know so far:

  • The deferral only applies to the employee’s share of the Social Security taxes. It does not apply to the employee’s share of the Medicare taxes.
  • The deferral is only available to an employee with biweekly income of $4,000 or less, which translates to annual income of $104,000. 
  • Amounts deferred pursuant to the Memorandum shall be deferred without any penalties or interest.
  • For example, an employee earning $40,000 annually could potentially defer approximately $825 in payroll taxes and would need to pay that amount at a future date.

There are many open questions for both employees and employers to consider. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to move forward with the tax deferral guidance outlined in the memorandum. 

So, what are the operations questions that employers and employees need answers to before any deferrals can begin? Here are some that come to mind:

  • Does the employer or the employee elect to defer taxes?
  • If it is an employee election, how is that election made?
  • How do bonuses, commissions, or other irregular payroll items impact the $4,000/biweekly compensation limit?
  • When and how are amounts deferred due to be paid by the employee?
  • Are the amounts deferred repaid in a lump sum or in installments?
  • How does an employer report the deferred taxes to the IRS?
  • What happens if an employee who is deferring taxes stops working for the employer? Is the employer responsible for collecting the taxes that were deferred?
  • How quickly can payroll systems be set up to accommodate the payroll deferral?

At the moment, all employees and employers can do is wait for the relevant guidance. Hopefully, guidance is issued soon but it is unlikely any employees can begin the tax deferral on September 1st. 

As soon as guidance is issued, we will be sure to communicate the requirements and timing.

Article
To withhold or not to withhold payroll taxes―The dilemma facing employers

Read this if you are an employer looking for more information on the Employee Retention Credit (ERC).

If you are an employer who did not qualify for or request a Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) loan, the ERC provisions of the CARES Act may be available to you.

The ERC is a fully refundable tax credit for eligible employers equal to 50 percent of qualified wages (including allocable qualified health plan expenses) an eligible employer pays their employees. This ERC applies to qualified wages paid after March 12, 2020, and before January 1, 2021. The maximum amount of qualified wages (including allocable qualified health plan expenses) taken into account with respect to each employee for all calendar quarters is $10,000, so that the maximum credit for an eligible employer can receive on qualified wages paid to any employee is $5,000.

Eligibility

Eligible employers for the ERC carry on a trade or business during calendar year 2020, including tax-exempt organizations, that either:

  • Fully or partially suspend operation during any calendar quarter in 2020 due to orders from an appropriate governmental authority limiting commerce, travel, or group meetings due to COVID-19; or
  • Experience a significant decline in gross receipts during the calendar quarter.

Self-employed individuals are not eligible for this credit for their own self-employment earnings, though they may be able to claim the credit for wages paid to their employees.

If an eligible employer averaged more than 100 full-time employees in 2019, qualified wages are limited to wages paid to an employee for time that the employee is not providing services due to an economic hardship, specifically, either (1) a full or partial suspension of operations by order of a governmental authority due to COVID-19, or (2) a significant decline in gross receipts. If the eligible employer averaged 100 or fewer full-time employees in 2019, qualified wages are the wages paid to any employee during any period of economic hardship described in (1) or (2) above.

As with most provisions of the CARES Act, very limited formal guidance has been issued by the IRS. Instead, the IRS issues and updates FAQs on the IRS website. 

One area where eligible employers have been seeking advice is what qualifies as wages and allocable health insurance costs. Qualified wages include an allocable portion of the qualified health plan expenses paid or incurred by an eligible employer to provide and maintain a group health plan. For purposes of the ERC, this also includes employee pre-tax contributions. 

IRS FAQs

The IRS recently updated the Employee Retention Credit FAQs to indicate an eligible employer can claim the ERC for qualified health plan expenses, regardless of whether the employee is paid qualified wages. Updated FAQs 64-65 clarify that health plan expenses paid to laid off or furloughed employees are considered qualified wages for purposes of the ERC. This is welcome news since most employers continue to a pay their share (if not the full amount) of the health insurance premiums for employees who have been laid off or furloughed. 

Read specific examples in the updated FAQs here.

How are qualified health plan expenses determined and allocated?

Qualified health plan expenses are determined separately for each plan sponsored by an employer. For employers sponsoring more than one health plan, for example a group health plan and a health flexible spending arrangement, expenses for each plan are allocated to the employees who participate in that plan. Allocated expenses will be aggregated for those employees who participate in more than one plan. 

Qualified health plan expenses may be allocated using any reasonable method by those employers sponsoring a fully-insured group health plan, including (1) the COBRA applicable premium for the employee, (2) one average premium rate for all employees, or (3) a substantially similar method that takes into account the average premium rate determined separately for employees with self-only and other than self-only coverage. An eligible employer allocating expenses using the average premium rate for all employees may determine a daily rate as detailed in FAQ 67.

Example

An employer sponsors an insured group health plan that covers 400 employees, some with self-only coverage and some with family coverage. Each employee is expected to have 260 work days a year (5 days/week for 52 weeks). The employees contribute a portion of their premium by pre-tax salary reduction, with different amounts for self-only and family. The total annual premium for the 400 employees is $5.2 million. Using the one average premium rate method, the annual premium rate is $13,000 ($5.2 million divided by 400 employees). For each employee expected to have 260 work days a year, the resulting daily average premium is $50 ($13,000 divided by 260 days). The $50 daily rate represents qualified health plan expenses allocated to each day of the qualified wages per employee.

For those employers sponsoring self-insured group health plans, qualified health plan expenses may be allocated using any reasonable method, including (1) the COBRA applicable premium for the employee, or (2) any reasonable actuarial method to determine the estimated annual expenses of the plan. 

An eligible employer sponsoring a self-insured group health plan and allocating expenses using a reasonable actuarial method to determine estimated annual expenses may determine a daily rate similar to the rules for fully-insured plans—that is, taking the estimated annual expenses, dividing by the number of employees covered, and then dividing by the average number of work days during the year by the employees. 

For both fully-insured and self-insured plans, paid-time off days are considered work days when determining the average daily rate.

FAQs 69 and 70 provide that qualified health plan expenses do not include eligible employer contributions to health savings accounts (HSA), Archer medical saving accounts (Archer MSA), or a qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement (QSEHRA). 

However, qualified health plan expenses may include contributions to a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA), including an individual coverage HRA, or a health flexible spending account (FSA). To allocate contributions to an HRA or a health FSA, eligible employers should use the amount of contributions made on behalf of the particular employee.

Additionally, qualified health plans expenses do not include health plan expenses allocated to any sick leave and family medical wages under the FFCRA (FAQ 71). 

Summary

For those eligible employers with 100 or more employees, the guidance that can be inferred from the available FAQs appears to be the following:

  • If an employer is paying an employee for more than the hours the employee is actually working then a credit would be available for the difference between wages paid and the wages for the hours worked.
  • If an employer has decreased the hours worked by an employee but continues to pay the same (or greater) cost for health insurance, a credit would be available for the allocable health insurance costs while the employee is not working. For example, if an employee is only working 60% of the his/her normal hours, an employer would be able to receive a credit equal to 40% of the health insurance costs paid for that employee.

For more information

If you have more questions, or have a specific question about your particular situation, please call us. We’re here to help. 

Article
Employee Retention Credit―Updated IRS FAQs provide clarification

Editor’s note: read this if you are a leader in a healthcare organization and have questions concerning the current definition of health care provider in recent legislation regarding COVID-19.

One of the more common questions we receive regarding the paid sick and family leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “Act”) is regarding which employees qualify as a “health care provider”, who an organization can elect to exempt from the paid sick and family leave provisions of the Act. The Department of Labor (DOL) has issued FAQs and temporary regulations addressing the issue.

For purposes of determining employees who could be exempt from the paid sick and family leave provisions of the Act, the definition of a “health care provider” has been broadened. It now includes “anyone employed at any doctor’s office, hospital, health care center, clinic, post-secondary educational institution offering health care instructions, medical school, local health department or agency, nursing facility, retirement facility, nursing home, home health care provider, any facility that performs laboratory or medical testing, pharmacy, or any similar institution, employer, or entity”. 

This includes any permanent or temporary institution, facility, location, or site where medical services are provided that are similar to such institutions. 

Additionally, the definition includes any individual employed by an entity that contracts with any of the above institutions to provide services or to maintain the operation of the facility. This also includes anyone employed by any entity that provides medical services, produces medical products, or is otherwise involved in the making of COVID-19 related medical equipment, tests, drugs, vaccines, diagnostic vehicles, or treatments. 

The DOL guidance also indicates the definition includes any individual the highest official of a state determines is a health care provider needed for the state’s response to COVID-19. 

For purposes of the health care provider exclusion for the sick and family leave provisions of the Act, the newly released DOL temporary regulations provide that the term health care provider is not limited to diagnosing medical professionals. Rather, such health care providers include any individual who is capable of providing health care services necessary to combat the COVID-19 public health emergency. Such individuals include not only medical professionals, but also other workers who are needed to keep hospitals and similar health care facilities well supplied and operational.

The DOL encourages employers to be judicious when using this definition to exempt health care providers to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

It is important to note that the preambles to the temporary regulations indicate an employer’s exercise of this option (i.e., to exclude a health care provider or emergency responder from the paid sick/family leave benefits) does not authorize an employer to prevent an employee who is a health care provider from taking earned or accrued leave in accordance with established employer policies.

The preamble to the temporary regulations further indicates the paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave provisions of the Act exist so employees will not be forced to choose between their paychecks and the individual and public health measures necessary to combat COVID-19. The preambles further state, conversely, providing paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave does not come at the expense of fully staffing the necessary functions of society.

Organizations face a difficult decision whether to exempt health care providers (and emergency responders) from the paid sick and family leave provisions of the Act. It is not an easy decision to make, and an organization may want to contact legal counsel to understand the legal implications with respect to the decision to exclude health care providers (or emergency responders). 

An organization trying to decide whether to exclude health care professionals (or emergency responders) should consider the following:

  • These employees can’t be prevented from taking paid time off under the organization’s existing paid time off guidelines.
  • Any decision related to the paid sick/family leave provisions doesn’t affect an employee’s eligibility to take FMLA leave under the normal FMLA rules.
  • The organization may want to include health care professionals (and emergency responders) in the sick leave provisions of the Act so the organization can be eligible for tax credits if an employee is diagnosed with or has symptoms of COVID-19 or is caring for an individual diagnosed with or who has symptoms of COVID-19. 
  • An organization may be able to elect to exclude health care providers (and first responders) from only the paid family leave provisions of the Act.

Ultimately, each organization must make a decision in the best interests of their business, their employees, and their consumers. Unfortunately, there is no single best answer that covers all organizations struggling with this decision. 

If the decision is made to exclude health care providers from all or a portion of the paid sick and family leave provisions of the Act, we recommend contacting your legal counsel to review the employee communications before it is provided to employees.

For more information
If you have more questions, or have a specific question about your particular situation, please call us. We’re here to help. 

Article
"Health care providers" and Department of Labor regulations under COVID-19

Read this if you are an employer that may have to close, or has closed, due to COVID-19.

Here is a brief recap of definitions and explanations of employee retention credits found in the CARES Act. If you have questions about your specific situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re here to help.

Eligible employer

The term ‘‘eligible employer’’ means any employer: 

(i) that was carrying on a trade or business during calendar year 2020, and 
(ii) with respect to any calendar quarter, for which...
a.     the operation of the trade or business is fully or partially suspended during the calendar quarter due to orders from an appropriate governmental authority limiting commerce, travel, or group meetings (for commercial, social, religious, or other purposes) due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID–19), or 
b. such calendar quarter where there is a significant decline in gross receipts...
i. beginning with the first calendar quarter in 2020, for which gross receipts for the calendar quarter are less than 50 percent of gross receipts for the same calendar quarter in the prior year, and 
ii. ending with the calendar quarter for which gross receipts of such employer are greater than 80 percent of gross receipts for the same calendar quarter in the prior year.


For tax-exempt organizations described in section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code and exempt from tax under section 501(a) of such Code, clauses (i) and (ii)(a) shall apply to all operations of such organization.

Generally, all organizations treated as a single employer under the controlled group or affiliated service group rules will be treated as one employer for purposes of this section.

If an eligible employer participates in the Paycheck Protection Program, such an employer is not eligible for the employee retention credits.

Amount of credit

There shall be allowed, as a credit against applicable employment taxes for each calendar quarter, an amount equal to 50 percent of the qualified wages with respect to each employee of such employer for such calendar quarter.

The amount of qualified wages with respect to any employee which may be taken into account by the eligible employer for all calendar quarters shall not exceed $10,000 (i.e., the maximum credit is $5,000 per employee).

If the credit exceeds the applicable employment taxes on the wages paid for such calendar quarter, such excess shall be treated as an overpayment that shall be refunded.

Qualified wages

The term ‘‘qualified wages’’ means:

(i) in the case of an eligible employer for which the average number of full-time employees (as defined by the Affordable Care Act Employer Mandate Provisions) employed by such eligible employer during 2019 was greater than 100:
a. wages paid by such eligible employer with respect to which an employee is not providing services due to the suspension of the business or a drop in gross receipts circumstances, or 
(ii) in the case of an eligible employer for which the average number of full-time employees (as defined by the Affordable Care Act Employer Mandate Provisions) employed by such eligible employer during 2019 was not greater than 100:
a. all wages paid by an eligible employer when shut down and each quarter where there was a sharp decline in year-over-year receipts.


Wages do not include amounts paid under the expanded sick/family leave provisions of the FFCRA.

Qualified wages paid or incurred by an eligible employer with respect to an employee who is not providing services may not exceed the amount such employee would have been paid for working an equivalent duration during the 30 days immediately preceding leave.

The term ‘‘qualified wages’’ shall include so much of the eligible employer’s qualified health plan expenses as are properly allocable to such wages.


CARES Act: Payroll tax payment delay

An extension of time to remit payroll taxes for the period beginning March 27, 2020 and ending before January 1, 2021 over a two-year period is allowed, with half due by December 31, 2021, and the remainder due by December 31, 2022.

If an eligible employer participates in the payroll tax delay programs, such an employer is not eligible for the employee retention credits.
 

Article
CARES Act―Employee retention credits for employers subject to closure due to COVID-19

Read this if you are a business owner, in management, or in HR at a company with less than 500 employees.

We have received many questions regarding the FFCRA and its provisions and how it affects different employers and their employees. Here are some of the questions our clients have asked the most. Please contact us if you have questions regarding your specific situation. We’re here to help.  

Besides compensation, what other costs paid by an employer are eligible for the credit (i.e., employer paid health insurance, employer payroll taxes)?
Employers can deduct the cost of providing continuing health care coverage, and the employer’s share of Medicare taxes related to the leave wages. Any compensation paid under the FFCRA is not subject to the employer’s portion of the Social Security tax.

How do you determine the total number of employees? 
In calculating the total number of employees, all full-time or part-time employees working within the US, including all US territories or possessions, are counted, including all employees on leave and temp employees who are jointly employed with another company as determined under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). 

How does a business know if it employs less than 500 employees and is subject to the FFCRA?
Generally, a private sector employer is subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) if it employs 50 or more employees for each working day during each of 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year. The FAQs issued by the Department of Labor (DOL) indicate an employer has fewer than 500 employees if, at the time an employee’s leave is to be taken, there are fewer than 500 full-time and part-time employees within the United States, which includes any state of the United States, the District of Columbia, or any territory or possession of the United States. 

In making this determination, an employer should include employees on leave; temporary employees who are jointly employed by you and another employer (regardless of whether the jointly-employed employees are maintained on only your or another employer’s payroll); and day laborers supplied by a temporary agency (regardless of whether you are the temporary agency or the client firm if there is a continuing employment relationship). Workers who are independent contractors under the FLSA, rather than employees, are not considered employees for purposes of the 500-employee threshold.

Where a corporation has an ownership interest in another corporation, the two corporations are separate employers unless they are joint employers under the FLSA with respect to certain employees. In general, two or more entities are separate employers unless they meet the integrated employer test under the FMLA.

Please check with your advisors if you believe the integrated employer test may apply to your businesses.

Which employees are entitled to the $511 payment under sick leave?
For an employee who is unable to work because of the coronavirus quarantine or self-quarantine or has COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis, the employee may receive sick leave wages equal to the employee’s regular rate of pay, up to $511 per day and $5,111 in the aggregate, for a total of 10 days. Note that only employers who employ less than 500 employer are required to provide sick leave payments. Such employees may also receive a refundable tax credit for sick leave paid to employees.

Which employees are entitled to the $200 payment under sick leave?
For an employee who is caring for someone with COVID-19, or is caring for a child because the child’s school or child care facility is closed, or the child care provider is unavailable due to the coronavirus, the employee may receive sick leave wages equal to two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay, up to $200 per day and $2,000 in the aggregate, for up to 10 days. Note that only employers who employ less than 500 employer are required to provide sick leave payments. Such employees may also receive a refundable tax credit for sick leave paid to employees.

Which employees are entitled to the $200 payment under the family leave portion of FFCRA?
For an employee who is unable to work because of a need to care for a child whose school or child care facility is closed or whose child care provider is unavailable due to the coronavirus, the employee may receive family leave wages equal to two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay, capped at $200 per day or $10,000 in the aggregate. Up to 10 weeks of qualifying leave can be counted towards the child care leave credit. Note that only employers who employ less than 500 employer are required to provide sick leave payments. Such employees may also receive a refundable tax credit for sick leave paid to employees.

What is “regular rate of pay” for purposes of the FFCRA?
For purposes of the FFCRA, the regular rate of pay used to calculate paid leave is the average of the employee’s regular rate over a period of up to six months prior to the date on which leave is taken. If an employee has not worked for the current employer for six months, the regular rate used to calculate paid leave is the average regular rate of pay for each week the employee has worked for the current employer.

If an employee is paid with commissions, tips, or piece rates, these amounts will be incorporated into the above calculation to the same extent they are included in the calculation of the regular rate under the FLSA.

You can also compute this amount for each employee by adding all compensation that is part of the regular rate over the above period and divide that sum by all hours actually worked in the same period.

What is the effective date of the sick leave/family leave provisions?
Employers must comply with the FFCRA from April 1, 2020, until it expires on December 31, 2020. Paid leave prior to April1, 2020 will not count. The IRS recently issued guidance indicating the tax credits for qualified sick leave wages and qualified family leave wages required to be paid by the FFRCA will apply to wages paid for the period beginning on April 1, 2020, and ending on December 31, 2020.

Who is considered a “health care provider”?
For the purposes of employees who may be exempted from paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave by their employer under the FFCRA, a health care provider is anyone employed at any doctor’s office, hospital, health care center, clinic, post-secondary educational institution offering health care instruction, medical school, local health department or agency, nursing facility, retirement facility, nursing home, home health care provider, any facility that performs laboratory or medical testing, pharmacy, or any similar institution, employer, or entity. This includes any permanent or temporary institution, facility, location, or site where medical services are provided that are similar to such institutions. 

This definition includes any individual employed by an entity that contracts with any of the above institutions, employers, or entities institutions to provide services or to maintain the operation of the facility. This also includes anyone employed by any entity that provides medical services, produces medical products, or is otherwise involved in the making of COVID-19 related medical equipment, tests, drugs, vaccines, diagnostic vehicles, or treatments. This also includes any individual that the highest official of a state or territory, including the District of Columbia, determines is a health care provider necessary for that state’s or territory’s or the District of Columbia’s response to COVID-19.

To minimize the spread of the virus associated with COVID-19, the DOL encourages employers to be judicious when using this definition to exempt health care providers from the provisions of the FFCRA.

For more information
If you have more questions, or have a specific question about your particular situation, please call us. We’re here to help. 

Article
Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA): FAQs for businesses

The President signed The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (hereinafter the “Act”) into law on March 18th and the provisions are effective April 2nd. You can read the congressional summary here. There are two provisions of the Act that deal with paid leave provisions for employees. Here are some highlights for employers.

The provisions of the Act are only required for employers with fewer than 500 employees. Employers with over 499 employees are not required to provide the sick/family leave contained in the Act, but could voluntarily elect to follow the new rules. The expectation is that employers with over 499 employees are providing some level of sick/family leave benefits already. In any case, employers with over 499 employees are not eligible for the tax credits. 

Employers with fewer than 500 employees are required to provide employees with up to 80 hours of paid sick leave over a two-week period if the employee:

  • Self-isolates because of a diagnosis with COVID-19, or to comply with a recommendation or order to quarantine;
  • Obtains a medical diagnosis or care if the employee is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms;
  • Needs to care for a family member who is self-isolating due to a COVID-19 diagnosis or quarantining due to COVID-19 symptoms; or
  • Is caring for a child whose school has closed, or childcare provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19.

These rules apply to all employees regardless of the length of time they have worked for the employer. The 80-hours would be pro-rated for those employees who do not normally work a 40-hour week. 

Employees who take leave because they themselves are sick (i.e., the first two bullets above) can receive up to $511 per day, with an aggregate limit of $5,110. If, on the other hand, an employee takes leave to care for a child or other family member (i.e., the last two bullets above), the employee will be paid two-thirds (2/3) of their regular weekly wages up to a maximum of $200 per day, with an aggregate limit of $2,000.

Days when an individual receives pay from their employer (regular wages, sick pay, or other paid time off) or unemployment compensation do not count as leave days for the purposes of this benefit.

Family and Medical Leave Act

Employees who have been employed for at least 30-days also have the right to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The Act requires that 10 of these 12 weeks (i.e., after the sick leave discussed above is taken) be paid at a rate of no less than two-thirds of the employee’s usual rate of pay. Any leave taken under this portion of the ACT will be limited to $200 per day with an aggregate limit of $10,000.

Exemptions

The Secretary of Labor has the authority to issue regulations exempting: (1) certain healthcare providers and emergency responders from taking leave under the Act; and (2) small businesses with fewer than 50 employees from the requirements of the Act if it would jeopardize the viability of the business.

Expiration

The provisions of the Act are set to expire on December 31, 2020, and unused time will not carry over from one year to the next.

Tax credits 

The Act provides for refundable tax credits to help an employer cover the costs associated with providing paid emergency sick leave or paid FMLA. The tax credits work as follows:

  • A refundable tax credit for employers equal to 100 percent of qualified family leave wages paid under the Act.
  • A refundable tax credit for employers equal to 100 percent of qualified paid sick leave wages paid under the Act. 
  • The tax credits are taken on Form 941 – Employer’s Quarterly Federal Income Tax Return filed for the calendar quarter when the leave is taken and reduce the employer’s portion of the Social Security taxes due. If the credit exceeds the employer’s total liability for Social Security taxes for all employees for any calendar quarter, the excess credit is refundable to the employer.

For more information

We are here to help. Please contact our benefit plan consultants if you have any questions or would like to discuss your specific situation. 

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Highlights of the recently passed paid sick and family leave act: What you need to know