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Stimulus bill extends and expands the Employee Retention Credit

01.08.21

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

The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) stimulus package signed into law by President Trump on December 27 makes very favorable enhancements to the Employee Retention Credit (ERC) enacted under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. 

Background

The CARES Act passed in March 2020 provided certain employers with the opportunity to receive a refundable tax credit equal to 50 percent of the qualified wages (including allocable qualified health plan expenses) an eligible employer paid to its employees. This tax credit applied 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 eligible employee for all calendar quarters in 2020 is $10,000, so that the maximum credit an eligible employer can receive in 2020 on qualified wages paid to any eligible employee is $5,000.

The ERC was for eligible employers who carried on a trade or business during calendar year 2020, including certain 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
  • Experienced a significant decline in gross receipts during the calendar quarter.

If an eligible employer averaged more than 100 full-time employees in 2019, qualified wages were limited to wages paid to an employee for time that the employee was not providing services due to an economic hardship described above. 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 above.

Updated guidance: ERC changes

The bill makes the following changes to the ERC, which will apply from January 1 to June 30, 2021:

  • The credit rate increases from 50% to 70% of qualified wages and the limit on per-employee wages increases from $10,000 per year to $10,000 per quarter.
  • The gross receipts eligibility threshold for employers changes from a more than 50% decline to a more than 20% decline in gross receipts for the same calendar quarter in 2019. A safe harbor is provided, allowing employers that were not in existence during any quarter in 2019 to use prior quarter gross receipts to determine eligibility and the ERC. 
  • The 100-employee threshold for determining “qualified wages” based on all wages increases to 500 or fewer employees.
  • The credit is available to state or local run colleges, universities, organizations providing medical or hospital care, and certain organizations chartered by Congress (including organizations such as Fannie Mae, FDIC, Federal Home Loan Banks, and Federal Credit Unions). 
  • New, expansive provisions regarding advance payments of the ERC to small employers are included, including special rules for seasonal employers and employers that were not in existence in 2019. The bill also provides reconciliation rules and provides that excess advance payments of the credit during a calendar quarter will be subject to tax that is the amount of the excess.
  • Employers who received PPP loans may still qualify for the ERC with respect to wages that are not paid for with proceeds from a forgiven PPP loan. This change is retroactive to March 12, 2020. Treasury and the SBA will issue guidance providing that payroll costs paid during the PPP covered period can be treated as qualified wages to the extent that such wages were not paid from the proceeds of a forgiven PPP loan.
  • Removal of the limitation that qualified wages paid or incurred by an eligible employer with respect to an employee may not exceed the amount that employee would have been paid for working during the 30 days immediately preceding that period (which, for example, allows employers to take the ERC for bonuses paid to essential workers).

Takeaways

For most employers, the ERC has been difficult to use due to original requirements that prevented employers who received a PPP loan from ERC eligibility and, for those employers who did not receive a PPP loan, the requirement that there be a more than 50% decline in gross receipts. In addition, those employers who qualified for the ERC and had more than 100 employees could only receive the credit for wages paid to employees who did not perform services.

It is important to note that most of the new rules are prospective only and do not change the rules that applied in 2020. The new guidance should make it easier for more employers to utilize the ERC for the first two quarters of 2021. The following types of employers should evaluate the ability to receive the ERC during the first and/or second quarter of 2021:

  • Those that used the ERC in 2020 (the wage limit for the credit is now based on wages paid each quarter and the credit is 70% of eligible wages);
  • Those that previously received a PPP loan;
  • Those that have a more than 20% reduction in gross receipts in 2021 over the same calendar quarter in 2019;
  • Those employers with more than 100 but less than 500 employees who have had a significant reduction in gross receipts (i.e., more than 20%)1

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.

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Read this if you are an employer with more than 10 employees in Maine.

With 2020 quickly coming to an end, employers must be prepared to implement the new Maine Earned Paid Leave Law (EPL), effective January 1, 2021. The EPL law requires employers with more than 10 employees in Maine, for more than 120 days in any calendar year, to permit eligible employees to earn one (1) hour of earned time for every 40 hours worked, up to a maximum of 40 hours per year. 

A notable highlight of Maine’s EPL law, is that leave may be taken for any reason, making it the first law of its kind in the country. EPL may be taken for, but not limited to, an emergency, illness, sudden necessity, and planned vacation. Employees are required to notify employers as soon as practicable if EPL is to be taken for an emergency, illness, or sudden necessity. For any other reason, an employer may require that employees give up to four (4) weeks advance notice.

Covered employees and base rate of pay

The EPL law applies to all full-time, part-time, and per diem employees. Generally, seasonal employees, including summer interns and international workers, are exempt from the EPL rules. A determination of whether a business is seasonal and/or has a seasonal period must be made considering the rules defined by 26 M.R.S.A. § 1043, subsections 9 and 11, and § 1251 before seasonal employees can be excluded.

Employers are required to pay EPL at least at the same “base rate of pay” that an employee received in the week prior to taking leave. The base rate of pay is calculated by dividing total earnings from the week immediately prior by the total hours worked during the same period. Important to note, earnings for this purpose include bonuses, commissions, and other compensation as provided in 26 M.R.S. §664(3). This means that an employer will need to consider overtime and/or other special payments received by the employee during the week prior to the week leave is taken. Employers may need to make adjustments to existing policies and procedures to incorporate the definition of “base rate of pay” for the leave earned under the EPL. If an employer offers more than 40 hours of leave to an employee annually, the first 40 hours of leave available each year must be paid at the employee’s “base rate of pay”.

Additionally, employees must receive the same benefits as those provided under other established employer policies pertaining to other types of paid leave.

Timing & accrual

EPL accrual begins on an employee’s first day of employment. However, an employer may require that new employees wait for a period of up to 120 calendar days during a one-year period before taking EPL. For example, an employee who begins work on November 1st, 2020 would be eligible to use accrued leave after March 1st, 2021, if an employer elected to use the 120-day waiting period. Those employees who have been employed for at least 120 days during a one-year period prior to January 1, 2021, may use their leave as soon as it is earned.

Should an employer allow employees to take EPL before it has been earned, any unearned amount may be withheld from an employee’s final paycheck in the event of separation from employment. Additionally, an employer may elect to provide additional leave above and beyond the 40-hour maximum, at its discretion.

Employees may earn and take up to 40 hours of EPL in any defined year, and can carry over up to 40 hours of accrued and unused EPL from one defined year to the next. For this purpose, a defined year, as stated by the employer, may include, but is not limited to, a calendar year or an employee’s anniversary date. If an employee rolls over 40 hours of unused accrued EPL from one year to the next, the employee will not accrue any additional hours until the following year. If an employee rolls over less than 40 hours, the employee will only accrue hours until the 40-hour maximum is met. For example, if an employee rolls over eight (8) hours of unused accrued EPL from the previous year the employee is only entitled to accrue up to 32 additional hours of EPL in the present year, regardless of how much leave the employee uses in the current year. Employers may require  EPL to be taken in increments of one hour or less. However, an employer may not require EPL to be taken in larger than one-hour increments. 

The EPL law does not address the treatment of any earned paid leave remaining upon an employee’s separation from employment. However, the relevant guidance indicates an employer should honor its written policy or established practice in this area. This means if an employer typically pays out unused vacation/earned benefit/paid time off then unused EPL must be paid out when an employee’s employment ends. If an employer does not compensate an employee for the unused balance of EPL when employment ends, based on its policy and practice, then it will need to make the leave available to the employee if they return to work for that employer within a one-year period.

Exceptions

The EPL law does not apply to an employee covered by a collective bargaining agreement during the period between January 1, 2021 and the expiration of the agreement. Any subsequent agreement would be required to comply with the EPL law.

Compliance

Employers are not required to, but it is recommended that they create a written policy to clearly communicate restrictions and to avoid any misunderstandings. For example, there may be planning opportunities with identifying times of the year, month, or week that leave may be restricted due to operational needs, other than leave for an emergency, illness, or sudden necessity. In doing so, employers must be able to prove undue hardship if they deny the use of EPL for any reason. Considerations for determining undue hardship could include significant expenses, financial resources available, and the size of the workforce, among others. 

A written policy should also help to ensure compliance with the EPL rules. Failure to do so may result in penalties being assessed of up to $1,000 per violation, where each denial of paid leave constitutes a separate violation. For more information, employers may visit the ME DOL's website, which includes a link to its Frequently Asked Questions.

Article
Maine's new earned paid leave law―What employers need to know

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.

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

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 your company would like to request an advance payment of the tax credits.

In response to the paid sick and family medical leave credit provisions enacted by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the employee retention credit enacted by the CARES Act, the IRS has issued Form 7200 to request an advance payment of the tax credits.

Who may file Form 7200?

Employers that file Form(s) 941, 943, 944, or CT-1 may file Form 7200 to request an advance payment of the tax credit for qualified sick and family leave wages and the employee retention credit.

Eligible employers who pay qualified sick and family leave wages or qualified wages eligible for the employee retention credit should retain the amounts qualified for either credit rather than depositing these amounts with the IRS.

With respect to the sick and family leave payments, the credit includes amounts paid for qualified sick and family leave wages, related health plan expenses, and the employer’s share of the Medicare taxes on the qualified wages.

With respect to the employee retention credit, the credit equals 50% of the qualified wages, including certain health plan expense allocable to the wages, and may not exceed $5,000 per qualifying employee. Of note:

  • Employment taxes available for the credits include withheld federal income tax, the employee's share of Social Security and Medicare taxes, and the employer's share of Social Security and Medicare taxes with respect to all employees.
  • If there aren’t sufficient employment taxes to cover the cost of qualified sick and family leave wages (plus the qualified health expenses and the employer share of Medicare tax on the qualified leave wages) and the employee retention credit, employers can file Form 7200 to request an advance payment from the IRS.
  • The IRS instructs employers not to reduce their deposits and request advance credit payments for the same expected credit. Rather, an employer will need to reconcile any advance credit payments and reduced deposits on its applicable employment tax return.

Examples

If an employer is entitled to a credit of $5,000 for qualified sick leave, certain related health plan expenses, and the employer’s share of Medicare tax on the leave wages and is otherwise required to deposit $8,000 in employment taxes, the employer could reduce its federal employment tax deposits by $5,000. The employer would only be required to deposit the remaining $3,000 on its next regular deposit date.

If an employer is entitled to an employee retention credit of $10,000 and was required to deposit $8,000 in employment taxes, the employer could retain the entire $8,000 of taxes as a portion of the refundable tax credit it is entitled to and file a request for an advance payment for the remaining $2,000 using Form 7200.

When to file

Form 7200 can be filed at any time before the end of the month following the quarter in which qualified wages were paid, and may be filed several times during each quarter, if needed. The form cannot be filed after an employer has filed its last employment tax return for 2020.

Please note that Form 7200 cannot be corrected. Any error made on Form 7200 will be corrected when the employer files its employment tax form.

How to file

Fax Form 7200, which you can access here, to 855-248-0552. Form 7200 instructions.

If you need more information, or have any questions, please contact a BerryDunn tax professional. We’re here to help.

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IRS releases Form 7200: Advance payment of employer credits due to COVID-19