Qualified Disaster Relief Payments

Is an individual service provider an employee or an independent contractor?  As our employee benefits colleagues have noted previously in Covington’s Inside Compensation blog, the IRS test is complicated and just one of many for determining worker status under federal and state laws.  The American Workers, Families, and Employers Assistance Act (the “Bill”), one of a series of COVID-19 relief bills released by Senate Republicans, would address one aspect of worker classification during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Specifically, Section 214 of the Bill would provide that certain COVID-19 related benefits provided to an individual would not be taken into account in determining worker classification under the Code.  Section 214 further provides that such benefits (other than cash payments) would generally be considered qualified disaster relief payments under Code Section 139.
Continue Reading Senate Bill Would Ignore COVID-19 Assistance in Determining Worker Classification; Treat Certain Benefits as Qualified Disaster Relief Payments

In an earlier alert, we expressed concern about the applicability of Section 139.  Our concern was based on the fact that the President’s declaration of an emergency on March 13, 2020, with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic was under Section 501(b) of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the “Stafford Act”) pertaining to national emergencies, rather than Section 401 pertaining to disasters.  Our alert called on the IRS to issue guidance immediately confirming the application of Section 139, which would permit employers to offer “qualified disaster relief payments” to employees as a means of mitigating the expenses associated with the pandemic’s effects.  Based on communications with the IRS, we understand the IRS is considering that request.  We now believe, based on recent IRS guidance, that it would be reasonable for employers to take the position that Section 139 is available to employers, but  IRS guidance is still needed to make this clear and to provide further clarity on the types of expenses for which it may be used given the unique circumstances of the present emergency.

Continue Reading COVID-19 Emergency Declaration: Notice 2020-17 Suggests Code Section 139 is Available to Provide Tax-Free Payments for Certain Expenses