Tax Credits for Employers Under FFCRA

March 25, 2020

The U.S. Treasury Department, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the U.S. Department of Labor (Labor), announced that covered employers required to provide paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or the Act) can soon begin taking advantage of two new refundable payroll tax credits.  The credits are designed to immediately and fully reimburse covered employers, dollar-for-dollar, for the cost of providing coronavirus-related paid leave to their employees. This tax relief is provided under the FFCRA, which also provides employees with paid sick leave and expanded FMLA leave connected with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recall that employers with fewer than 500 employees are covered under the Emergency Sick Leave Pay Act, as well as the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act.  Recall also, that the FFCRA provides a possible exemption, under authority provided to the Secretary of Labor to provide for such an exemption, for employers with fewer than 50 employees in cases where the viability of the business is threatened.  According to pronouncements by the IRS, it is anticipated that the Secretary of Labor will provide emergency guidance clearly articulating criteria for making the necessary determination of whether circumstances involving jeopardy exist.

Paid Leave under the FFCRA

The Act provides that eligible employees of covered employers can receive two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at 100% of the employee’s pay where the employee is unable to work because the employee is quarantined, and/or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, and seeking a medical diagnosis. An employee who is unable to work because of a need to care for an individual subject to quarantine, to care for a child whose school is closed or child care provider is unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19, and/or the employee is experiencing substantially similar conditions as specified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services can receive two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at 2/3 the employee’s pay. An employee who is unable to work due to a need to care for a child whose school is closed, or child care provider is unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19, may in some instances receive up to an additional ten weeks of expanded paid family and medical leave at 2/3 the employee’s pay.

Paid Sick Leave Credit

For an employee who is unable to work because of coronavirus quarantine or self-quarantine or has coronavirus symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis, eligible employers may receive a refundable sick leave credit for sick leave at the employee’s regular rate of pay, up to $511 per day and $5,110 in the aggregate, for a total of 10 days.

For an employee who is caring for someone with coronavirus, or is caring for a child because the child’s school or child care facility is closed, or the child care provider is unavailable due to the coronavirus, eligible employers may claim a credit for two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay, up to $200 per day and $2,000 in the aggregate, for up to 10 days. Eligible employers are entitled to an additional tax credit determined based on costs to maintain health insurance coverage for the eligible employee during the leave period.

Child Care Leave Credit

In addition to the sick leave credit, for an employee who is unable to work because of a need to care for a child whose school or child care facility is closed or whose child care provider is unavailable due to the coronavirus, eligible employers may receive a refundable child care leave credit. This credit is equal to two-thirds of the employee’s regular pay, capped at $200 per day or $10,000 in the aggregate. Up to 10 weeks of qualifying leave can be counted towards the child care leave credit. Eligible employers are entitled to an additional tax credit determined based on costs to maintain health insurance coverage for the eligible employee during the leave period.

Prompt Payment for the Cost of Providing Leave

When employers pay their employees, they are required to withhold from their employees’ paychecks federal income taxes and the employees’ share of Social Security and Medicare taxes. The employers then are required to deposit these federal taxes, along with their share of Social Security and Medicare taxes, with the IRS and file quarterly payroll tax returns (Form 941 series) with the IRS.

Under guidance scheduled to be released this week, eligible employers who pay qualifying sick or child care leave will be able to retain an amount of the payroll taxes equal to the amount of qualifying sick and child care leave that they paid, rather than deposit them with the IRS.  The payroll taxes that are available for retention include withheld federal income taxes, the employee share of Social Security and Medicare taxes, and the employer share of Social Security and Medicare taxes with respect to all employees.

If there are insufficient payroll taxes to cover the cost of qualified sick and child care leave paid, employers will be able file a request for an accelerated payment from the IRS. The IRS expects to process these requests in two weeks or less. The details of this new, expedited procedure are also expected to be announced this week.

Examples

For example, if an eligible employer paid $5,000 in sick leave and is otherwise required to deposit $8,000 in payroll taxes, including taxes withheld from all its employees, the employer could use up to $5,000 of the $8,000 of taxes it was going to deposit for making qualified leave payments. The employer would only be required under the law to deposit the remaining $3,000 on its next regular deposit date.

If an eligible employer paid $10,000 in sick leave and was required to deposit $8,000 in taxes, the employer could use the entire $8,000 of taxes in order to make qualified leave payments and file a request for an accelerated credit for the remaining $2,000.

Non-Enforcement Period

Labor has indicated it will be issuing a temporary non-enforcement policy that provides a period of time for employers to come into compliance with the Act. Under the policy, Labor will not bring an enforcement action against any employer for violations of the Act so long as the employer has acted reasonably and in good faith to comply with the Act. Labor will instead focus on compliance assistance during the 30-day period.

For more information about "Tax Credits for Employers Under FFCRA," contact Leslie A. Sammon at lsammon@axley.com or 608.283.6798.