State Approaches to Telework and Withholding Taxes Differ During COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused turmoil throughout the economy as states have issued stay-at-home, shelter-in-place, and other orders closing offices and forcing employees who traditionally go to work each morning to work from their dining room tables or spare bedrooms of their own homes or from alternative locations such as rentals away from COVID-19 hotspots or the homes of relatives. Among those employees include employees in the human resources, payroll, and tax departments of employers. Similarly, employees of payroll processors—both large and small—may be working remotely and processing payroll using new processes and systems. Throw in a series of new federal payroll tax credits, the deferred deposit of employer social security taxes, new section 139 plans, and millions of furloughed and laid off employees, and the stage is set for a host of unintentional payroll processing errors that may subject employers to tax penalties. While the IRS is hard-at-work on a new Form 941 to reflect the changes adopted as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the CARES Act) some states have taken steps to address some of the payroll difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Continue Reading

IRS FAQs Provide More Guidance on Employee Retention Credit for Employers Using Third Party Payers

On April 29, the IRS released extensive new guidance in the form of frequently asked questions (“FAQs”) on the IRS website addressing various aspects of the employee retention credit.  Section 2301(l) of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) instructs Treasury to issue regulations concerning the application of the credit to employers that use third-party payers.  This is the fifth and final article in our series addressing various aspects of the FAQs.  This article addresses issues related to the use of a third-party payer, such as a reporting agent, payroll processor, section 3504 agent, or professional employer organization (“PEO”). Continue Reading

IRS FAQs Address Income and Deduction Issues around Employee Retention Credit

Late Wednesday, the IRS released extensive new guidance in the form of frequently asked questions (“FAQs”) on the IRS website addressing various aspects of the employee retention credit.  This is the fourth in a series of articles that will address various aspects of the FAQs.  This article addresses income and deduction issues related to the payment of qualified wages and the employee retention credit.  In our first article, we discussed the IRS’s interpretation of the aggregation rules under section 2301(d) of the CARES Act and the determination of employer eligibility based on a full or partial suspension of operations due to a government order.  Our second article addressed employer eligibility for the credit based on a significant decline in gross receipts, and our third article addressed the calculation of qualified wages and allocable qualified health plan expenses.  Our final article will address issues related to the use of third-party payers.  Before the release of the IRS FAQs, we addressed how employers can claim the employee retention credit and its interaction with the deferral of employer social security tax deposits (see earlier article).

Employers should carefully consider the FAQs, but remain mindful that although they represent the current thinking of the IRS, the FAQs are not binding guidance.

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IRS Employee Retention Credit FAQs Provide Guidance on Calculation of Qualified Wages and Qualified Health Plan Expenses

On Wednesday, the IRS released extensive new guidance in the form of frequently asked questions (“FAQs”) on the IRS website addressing various aspects of the employee retention credit.  This is the third in a series of articles addressing various aspects of these FAQs.  This article addresses the determination of qualified wages and allocable qualified health plan expenses.  Our first article discussed the IRS’s interpretation of the aggregation rules under section 2301(d) of the CARES Act and the determination of employer eligibility based on a full or partial suspension of operations due to a government order.  Our second article focused on employer eligibility for the credit based on a significant decline in gross receipts.  Subsequent articles will address issues related to the income and deduction treatment of qualified wages for employees and employers and issues related to the use of third-party payers.  Before the release of the IRS FAQs, we addressed how employers can claim the employee retention credit and its interaction with the deferral of employer social security tax deposits (see earlier article).

Although employers should carefully consider the FAQs, they should be mindful that these FAQs are not binding guidance but instead represent the current thinking of the IRS on the employee retention credit.

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IRS FAQs on Retention Credit Provides Guidance on “Significant Decline in Gross Receipts”

Late Wednesday, the IRS released extensive new guidance in the form of frequently asked questions (“FAQs”) on the IRS website addressing various aspects of the employee retention credit.  This is the second in a series of articles that will address various aspects of the FAQs.  This article addresses employer eligibility for the credit based on a significant decline in gross receipts.  In our first article, we discussed the IRS’s interpretation of the aggregation rules under section 2301(d) of the CARES Act and the determination of employer eligibility based on a full or partial suspension of operations due to a government order.  Subsequent articles will address the determination of qualified wages and allocable qualified health plan expenses, issues related to the income and deduction treatment of qualified wages for employees and employers, and issues related to the use of third-party payers.  Before the release of the IRS FAQs, we addressed how employers can claim the employee retention credit and its interaction with the deferral of employer social security tax deposits (see earlier article).

Employers should carefully consider the FAQs, but remain mindful that although they represent the current thinking of the IRS, the FAQs are not binding guidance. Continue Reading

IRS FAQs on Retention Credit Highlight Aggregation Concerns and Narrow Potential Eligibility

Late Wednesday, the IRS released extensive new guidance in the form of frequently asked questions (“FAQs”) on the IRS website addressing various aspects of the employee retention credit.  Covington continues to analyze the guidance, but employers who have made use of the employee retention credit—which took effect over a month ago with respect to wages paid as many as six weeks ago—should review the FAQs to determine how the guidance may affect their determination of eligibility for the credit and the calculation of the credit amount.  Unfortunately, several of the answers take a narrower approach to interpreting the law than is necessary and seem somewhat divorced from the economic reality that is effecting many employers—particularly large employers—given the COVID-19 pandemic.  Employers who have relied on reasonable, good faith determinations of their credit eligibility so that they could afford to keep workers on the payroll may now be put in an even more precarious financial position by FAQs that suggest the credit is not available to them generally or is not available with respect to some workers.

Employers should carefully consider the FAQs, but remain mindful that although they represent the current thinking of the IRS, the FAQs are not binding guidance.  This is the first in a series of articles that will address various aspects of the FAQs.  This article focuses on the IRS’s interpretation of the aggregation rules under section 2301(d) of the CARES Act and the determination of employer eligibility based on a full or partial suspension of operations due to a government order.  Later articles will address employer eligibility based on a significant decline in gross receipts, the determination of qualified wages and allocable qualified health plan expenses, and issues related to the income and deduction treatment of qualified wages for employees and employers.  In an earlier article, we addressed how employers can claim the employee retention credit and its interaction with the deferral of employer social security tax deposits.

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IRS Released New FAQs on Employee Retention Credit

On April 29, 2020, the IRS released new FAQs providing significant guidance on the employee retention credit.  We are still analyzing the guidance, but in general, we are concerned that the IRS’s approach to interpreting its application may make it difficult for some employers in difficult financial conditions to claim the credit.  Moreover, given that the credit has been available for over a month with respect to qualified wages paid as many as six weeks ago, employer may have made a reasonable good faith determination of their eligibility for and the amount of the credit, which now conflicts with some of the guidance in the FAQs.  Although caution should be taken to consider the IRS’s position in the FAQs, the information posted on the IRS website is the lowest form of guidance that the IRS issues.  As noted prominently on each page of FAQs posted to the IRS website, “This FAQ is not included in the Internal Revenue Bulletin, and therefore may not be relied upon as legal authority. This means that the information cannot be used to support a legal argument in a court case.”

We will post a series of articles summarizing the various aspects of the guidance over the next few days.  In the interim, Q&A-74 specifically confirms our analysis of the earlier guidance and is consistent with the methodology described in this post.

On April 30, we posted two articles in the series.  The first article analyzes the IRS FAQs related to the employer aggregation rules and an employer’s eligibility based on a governmental order fully or partially suspending its operations.  The second article analyzes employer eligibility on account of a “significant decline in gross receipts.”

 

A Primer for Employers: How to Stack the Employer Social Security Tax Deferral with the COVID-19 Payroll Tax Credits

Employers electing to defer the deposit of the employer share of Social Security taxes on wages, as permitted under section 2302 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act, are challenged with how to take the deferral in conjunction with the COVID-19 payroll tax credits—the employee retention credit authorized by section 2301 of the CARES Act and, if applicable, the two payroll tax credits applicable to employers employers of 500 or fewer employees that are required to provide paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (“FFCRA”).

The benefit of electing to defer the deposit of the employer share of Social Security taxes or claiming payroll tax credits may be realized in real time when the employer runs its payroll providing a near-immediate cash injection into the employer’s business to help defray the cost of employee wages.  In other words, the employer does not have to wait to enjoy the benefit until it files its quarterly employment tax return (Form 941).  The IRS is in the process of revising that return so that the reporting of the deferral and credits are reconciled with the payroll taxes (e.g., employer share of FICA taxes, the employee share of FICA taxes and federal income tax withholding) paid and withheld on payments made to employees during the calendar quarter. Continue Reading

IRS Reiterates Scope of Section 139 Disaster Relief Payments in FAQ

The IRS recently updated its FAQs discussing the two COVID-19-related payroll tax credits under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) to confirm the availability of section 139 disaster relief programs to respond to employee needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, the FAQ also serves to remind employers of the scope of Section 139:

58.  Are qualified sick leave wages and qualified family leave wages excluded from gross income as “qualified disaster relief payments”?

No.  Section 139 of the Internal Revenue Code (Code) excludes from a taxpayer’s gross income certain payments to individuals to reimburse or pay for expenses related to a qualified disaster (“qualified disaster relief payments”).  Although the COVID-19 outbreak is a “qualified disaster” for purposes of section 139 the Code (see below), qualified leave wages are not excludible qualified disaster relief payments, because qualified leave wages are intended to replace wages or compensation that an individual would otherwise earn, rather than to serve as payments to offset any particular expenses that an individual would incur due to COVID-19.

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IRS Releases FAQs on Federal Tax Consequences of Payroll Support for Air Carriers and Contractors under CARES Act

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) authorizes the Treasury Department to provide payments to passenger air carriers, cargo air carriers, and certain contractors that must be exclusively used for the continuation of payment of employee wages, salaries, and benefits.  The Payroll Support to Air Carriers and Contractors Program provides a total of up to $32 billion in payroll support to avoid layoffs and furloughs in the airline industry, which has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act authorizes up to $25 billion in payroll support for passenger air carriers; other air carriers and certain contractors may receive up to $4 billion and $3 billion in payroll support, respectively.  Section 4117 of the CARES Act provides that the Treasury Department may receive warrants, options, preferred stock, debt securities, notes, or other financial instruments issued by a company receiving payroll support payments to provide appropriate compensation to the Federal Government for the provision of the financial assistance.  Treasury has released a form to memorialize the terms and conditions of the Payroll Support Program Agreement. Continue Reading

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