IRS Provides Guidance on Leave Donation Programs in Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

The IRS recently released Notice 2020-46, providing favorable tax relief for “leave-based donation programs” designed to aid victims of COVID-19 pandemic.  Under these programs, employees may elect to forgo vacation, sick, or personal leave in exchange for payments that the employer makes to charitable organizations described under section 170(c).  Under this notice, payments employees elect to forgo do not constitute income or wages of the employees for federal income and employment tax purposes if the employer makes the payments, before January 1, 2021, to charitable organizations for the relief of victims of the pandemic.  The IRS will not assert that an opportunity to make this election results in employees’ constructive receipt of the payments.  Accordingly, an employer would not need to include the payments in Box 1, 3 (if applicable), or 5 of the Forms W-2 for employees electing to forgo their vacation, sick, or personal leave.

With respect to employer deductions, the notice provides that the employer may deduct the cash payments under the rules of section 170, which provides rules for deductions for charitable contributions, or under the rules of section 162, if the employer otherwise meets the requirements of the applicable section.  Accordingly, the deduction will not be limited by the percentage limitation under section 170(b)(2)(A) or subject to the procedural requirements of section 170(a), if the employer deducts the payments under section 162.  In general, payments made to charitable organizations pursuant to leave-based donation programs are deductible to the extent the payments would be deductible under section 162 if paid to the employees (i.e., the payments would have constituted reasonable compensation and met certain other requirements).

The requirements of Notice 2020-46 are straightforward, but if an employer fails to comply, the general tax doctrines of assignment of income and constructive receipt would apply.  Under these doctrines, if an employee can choose between receiving compensation or assigning the right to that compensation to someone else, the employee has constructive receipt of the compensation even though he or she never actually receives it.  Applied to a leave donation program, the principles would result in an employee being taxes on compensation that the employee assigns to a charitable organization, and the employer would have corresponding income and employment tax withholding and reporting obligations.  Although the employee would be entitled to take an itemized deduction for charitable contributions in that amount, this below-the-line deduction only affects income taxes (and not FICA taxes), and would not fully offset the amount of the income for non-itemizers who claim the standard deduction ($12,200 for single filers and $24,400 for joint filers in 2019).  A smaller above-the-line donation was enacted as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act that is available regardless of whether the filer itemizes deductions.

Leave donation programs are only one tool to employers and their employees to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.  For example, Notice 2006-59 provides favorable tax treatment for “leave-sharing plans” that permits employees to deposit leave in an employer-sponsored leave bank for use by other employees who have been harmed by a major disaster.  (See earlier coverage.)  As we have previously reported, employers may provide tax-free qualified disaster relief payments to their employees under Section 139 to cover expenses incurred as a result of the pandemic.  Qualified disaster relief payments include payments for reasonable and necessary personal, family, living, or funeral expenses, among others.  The payments may be made directly by an employer or through company-sponsored private foundation or public charity.  On June 19, the IRS provided guidance on provisions in the CARES Act that provide for easier access to funds in qualified retirement plans in Notice 2020-50.  The notice followed earlier guidance in the form of FAQs on the IRS website and Notice 2020-42, which provided relief from in-person spousal consent requirements applicable to qualified retirement plans.

IRS Updates FAQs on Employee Retention Credit Enacted as Part of CARES Act

On Friday, June 19, the IRS updated several FAQs on its website related to the Employee Retention Credit adopted as part of the Coronavirus Relief, Aid, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act.  The updated FAQs provide additional insight into the IRS’s current thinking regarding employer eligibility for and determination of the credit.  Unfortunately, the updated FAQs still leave significant uncertainty regarding the eligibility of some employers, many of whom will be making a determination of their eligibility before filing their Forms 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, for the second quarter in July. Continue Reading

Some Employers Must Act Immediately to Take Advantage of CARES Act Social Security Tax Deferral for Deposits Made Early in the Second Quarter

The IRS recently released a second set of draft instructions for Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return.  The IRS also released the final Form 941, which was revised significantly from the prior form to accommodate the employer social security tax deferral and employer social security tax credits enacted as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”).  The final Form 941 is identical to the draft Form 941 released in April. To take full advantage of the employer social security tax deferral, however, some employers must take immediate steps within the next several days and in some cases, no later than today depending upon their pay cycles and when they implemented the deferral. Continue Reading

IRS Revises Administrative Waiver for Late Deposit Penalties Arising from Employment Taxes on Stock Options, SARs, and RSUs

The IRS has shortened the time in which employers must deposit payroll taxes related to certain stock-settled awards issued to employees, in order to be eligible for an administrative waiver of late-deposit penalties.  Through a non-publicized change to its Internal Revenue Manual, the IRS has shortened the applicable deadline for depositing owed and accumulated employment taxes related to stock-settled awards from three business days after exercise (T+3) to two business days after exercise (T+2), while also expanding the administrative waiver’s applicability to additional types of awards.  This change occurred a mere eight days after General Legal Advice Memorandum, GLAM 2020-004, which we discussed earlier this month, was issued to IRS Examination explaining the timing of income rules and the deposit requirements applicable to certain stock-settled awards, as well as the history of the long-standing administrative waiver dating from 2003. Continue Reading

Proposed Regulations Regarding TCJA Disallowance for Employee Commuting and Parking Costs a Mixed Bag

On June 23, Proposed Treasury Regulations §§ 1.274-13 and 1.274-14 were published in the Federal Register addressing the disallowance of employer deductions for the cost of providing commuting and parking benefits to employees.  The proposed regulations are a mixed bag with some clarifications being helpful and others less so.  Proposed Treasury Regulation § 1.274-13 addresses the deduction disallowance under section 274(a)(4) for the cost of qualified transportation fringe benefits (QTFs) provided under section 132(f), i.e., qualified parking, transit passes, and other tax-free commuting benefits.  Proposed Treasury Regulation § 1.274-14 addresses the deduction disallowance for employee transportation costs under section 274(l).  Both deduction disallowance provisions were adopted as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“TCJA”), and took effect for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017. Continue Reading

Paycheck Protection Flexibility Act Becomes Law; Extends Employer Social Security Tax Deferral for PPP Loan Recipients

Earlier today, President Trump signed the Paycheck Protection Flexibility Act (“PPFA”), making certain changes to the Paycheck Protection Program enacted as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act in March.  Section 4 of the PPFA amends Section 2302(a) of the CARES Act to delete section 2302(a)(3).  Accordingly, employers who obtain forgiveness of a Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) loan may now defer all employer social security tax deposits that would otherwise be required to be deposited before January 1, 2020. Continue Reading

Much Ado About Nothing Much New: IRS Releases GLAM Addressing Payroll Taxation of Equity Compensation

On May 22, 2020, the IRS released a Generic Legal Advice Memorandum, GLAM 2020-004, which addresses the timing of the taxation and withholding of payroll taxes on certain stock-settled awards issued to employees.  Specifically, the GLAM focuses on the treatment of stock options, stock-settled stock appreciation rights (SARs), and stock-settled restricted stock units (RSUs).

Employers should be aware that the GLAM does not appear to alter the Service’s existing position with respect to such awards—the fair market value of the stock underlying the award is includible in gross income when the stock is deemed transferred to the employee.  However, the GLAM does appear to offer some additional insight into the timing of income inclusion with respect to RSUs.  Perhaps most importantly, the GLAM reiterates the IRS’s 2003 administrative position regarding the application of late deposit penalties to payroll tax deposits due on the exercise of nonqualified stock options.  A question had arisen regarding whether SEC guidance shortening the standard settlement cycle for securities transactions to two business days had the effect of shortening the period for depositing payroll taxes.  Deposits owed with respect to option exercises will continue to be deemed timely if deposited within one day of settlement, so long as settlement occurs within three days of the exercise date. Continue Reading

IRS Adds Employment Tax Corrections to Expanding List of Postponed Time-Sensitive Actions Due to COVID-19

On May 28, 2020, the IRS issued Notice 2020-35, postponing deadlines for more time-sensitive actions until July 15, 2020.  Notice 2020-35 is the latest in a series of IRS notices issued since mid-March providing for delays under the authority of section 7508A due to the COVID-19 emergency declaration.  Specifically, the relief relates to employment tax returns and returns filed by employee benefit plans exempt organizations due on or after March 30, 2020, and before July 15, 2020.  The big news arising out of the notice—although certainly not broadcast by the IRS—pertains to the extension of the period for correcting errors that occurred in prior calendar years until July 15, 2020.  This extension of time until July 15, 2020, permits employers to correct errors ascertained with respect to calendar year 2016 employment taxes, which ordinarily would have to have been corrected on or before April 15, 2020—the day on which the period of limitations would otherwise have lapsed. Continue Reading

IRS Provides COVID-19 Emergency Relief for Individuals Planning to Claim the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

Prompted by the COVID-19 global health emergency (the “COVID-19 Emergency”), Treasury and the IRS recently issued Rev. Proc. 2020-27 to provide relief for U.S. citizens and residents planning to take advantage of the foreign earned income exclusion under section 911 of the Internal Revenue Code whose expatriate assignments were interrupted due to the pandemic.  The Revenue Procedure waives the time requirements of section 911(d)(1) for those individuals who reasonably expected to meet such requirements during 2019 and 2020, but for the COVID-19 Emergency interrupting normal business activities and forcing their return to the United States within certain time periods identified in the Revenue Procedure. Continue Reading

IRS Provides Relief for Nonresidents Unable to Depart U.S. Due to Pandemic

On March 13, 2020, the President issued a proclamation declaring a national emergency regarding the global outbreak of the COVID-19 virus (the “COVID-19 Emergency”).  Subsequently, FEMA approved all states and the District of Columbia for major disaster declarations to provide federal emergency assistance.  The Federal Government and state governments have also taken unprecedented preventative and proactive measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 by instituting stay-at-home orders and significantly curtailing travel.  These restrictions have caused concerns regarding the application of the U.S. tax residency rules to nonresidents who are unable to leave the United States due to the state of emergency.  In response, Treasury and the IRS issued Rev. Proc. 2020-20 to provide important relief under the substantial presence test for nonresidents unable to travel due to the COVID-19 Emergency. Continue Reading

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