On March 10, 2021, the House passed the fifth major COVID-relief legislation, the American Rescue Plan Act (the “Act”), which it originally passed last week before its amendment and passage by the Senate on March 6.  President Biden is expected to sign the Act on Friday, March 12, 2021.

The Act adopts a new payroll tax credit that is similar to the employee retention credit, which was originally enacted as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”) and amended by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (the “CAA”).  The new credit will be in effect from July 1, 2021, through December 31, 2021.  In addition, the Act significantly increases the exclusion for employer-provided dependent care assistance for 2021, and makes prospective changes to extend the availability of paid leave credits similar to those originally adopted as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “FFCRA”) and that are set to expire on March 31.  Finally, the Act will extend the deduction limitation under section 162(m) to additional employees.
Continue Reading American Rescue Plan Act Goes to Biden for Signature: Includes Changes to Employee Retention Tax Credit, Employer-Provided Dependent Care, Paid Leave Credits, and Deduction Limitations for Executive Compensation

After months of gridlock, the House and Senate, on December 21, both passed another round of COVID relief legislation (H.R. 133).  The 5,593-page bill, which gained momentum following the introduction of bipartisan compromise legislation, provides an enhanced employee retention credit (“ERC”), which is easier for employers to qualify during the first six months of 2021, as compared to the ERC enacted as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act.

The bill also includes extensions to a number of workforce-related tax credits, including the work opportunity tax credit (“WOTC”), the paid family and medical leave tax credit included in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act as a two-year pilot program, and the paid leave credits enacted as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”).  The bill would also extend the period during which employers may make student loan payments or reimbursements under an Internal Revenue Code Section 127 educational assistance plan, permit employers to provide additional flexibility under flexible spending accounts, and provide employers with a longer period in which to collect employee Social Security tax which was deferred during 2020 under IRS Notice 2020-65.

The bill would also add an employer income tax credit for qualified wages paid to employees in qualified disaster areas in 2020 for disasters other than COVID-19.  Finally, the bill addresses the deductibility of expenses paid with forgiven PPP loans.
Continue Reading Fourth (and Final?) COVID Relief Measure Clears House and Senate

The IRS recently announced that it erroneously sent failure-to-deposit (“FTD”) penalty notices to certain employers that reduced their employment tax deposits on Form 941 (Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return) in anticipation of claiming sick and family leave credits under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) or the employee retention credit (“ERC”) under the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Securities (“CARES”) Act.
Continue Reading IRS Warns Employers Claiming New Tax Credits of Erroneous Penalty Notices

On July 30, 2020, the IRS released guidance in the form of new frequently asked questions (“FAQs”)  addressing the deferral of the employer portion of Social Security taxes under section 2302 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act.  These FAQs are broad in nature, providing guidance on various considerations relevant to section 2302 of the CARES Act, including application of these rules to first calendar quarter deposits, coordination with the next-day deposit rule, and considerations for employers that use third parties to report and deposit employment taxes with the Treasury.  Covington continues to review this guidance, and has summarized in this blog post some of the provisions we consider most relevant to employers.

When reviewing this latest guidance from the IRS, employers should be mindful that although they represent the current thinking of the IRS regarding section 2302, these FAQs are  non-binding; the IRS is under no obligation to comply with these FAQs and could therefore take a different approach at any time.  As we have noted previously, the IRS has changed course with respect to FAQs issued in connection with other provisions in the CARES Act, such as the employee retention credit.
Continue Reading IRS Releases Additional FAQs on Deferral of Employment Tax Deposits Under Section 2302 of the CARES Act

On July 27, 2020, the IRS published Information Release 2020-169 announcing the issuance of new temporary and proposed regulations to implement procedures to assess, reconcile, and recapture any portion of the credits under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) erroneously credited, paid, or refunded in excess of the actual amount allowed.
Continue Reading Recapture of Excess COVID-19 Payroll Tax Credits Addressed in New Regs

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) mandates employers of fewer than 500 employees provide two types of paid leave and includes two employer social security tax credits equal to the amount of paid leave that the employer is required to provide to employees related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  (See earlier coverage.)   Yesterday, in Notice 2020-54, the IRS announced that employers will have to report wages paid for leave mandated under the FFCRA either on Forms W-2 or on a separate statement.  The rules are intended to enable employees who also have self-employment income to properly determine the amount of any Self-Employment Contributions Act (“SECA”) tax credits to which they are entitled under the FFCRA.

Continue Reading Notice 2020-54 Requires Reporting of Qualified Sick Leave Wages and Qualified Family Leave Wages Under FFCRA

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

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

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.


Continue Reading IRS Reiterates Scope of Section 139 Disaster Relief Payments in FAQ