While the Coronavirus Aid Bill signed on Wednesday addresses and funds many items, including Healthcare, Nutrition, and Testing, the focus on this summary is the tax related matters that may impact you and your employees. If you are experiencing any of the items below we will assist you with claiming the payroll tax credits and other available programs to assist with cash flow needs at this time.
- Emergency Family Leave – Family Medical Leave Act
- Emergency Sick Leave
- Unemployment Benefits
- Employer Tax Credits
Emergency Family Leave – Family Medical Leave Act
The Act adds provisions to the FMLA to provide employees (including union employees), who have been employed for at least 30 days by employers with fewer than 500 employees or government employers, with the right to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave through December 31, 2020, if the employee is unable to work or telework due to having to care for a child under age 18 whose school or place of child care has been closed (or the child care provider is unavailable), due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The first 10 days of leave can be unpaid; however, an employee can use vacation days, personal leave, or other paid time off days to offset this period. Employers cannot require employees to use their accrued paid time off before using these 12 weeks of extended FMLA leave. Following this, the employee will receive a benefit of two-thirds of their regular rate of pay for this emergency FMLA leave, capped at $200 per day ($10,000 in the aggregate per employee).
The Department of Labor also has the authority to issue regulations to exempt small businesses with fewer than 50 employees from the emergency family and medical leave requirements if the imposition of such requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.
Private Sector employers with fewer than 500 employees are to provide all employees (including union employees and regardless of how long the individual worked for the employer, but excluding health care workers and first responders) with 80 hours (e.g, 10 business days) of emergency paid sick leave for full-time workers (pro-rated for part-time employees or employees with varying work schedules) for employees who are unable to work or telework because the employee:
- Is subject to a federal, state, or local COVID-19 quarantine or isolation order;
- Has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine because of COVID-19;
- Is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis;
- Is caring for an individual subject to or advised to quarantine or isolation;
- Is caring for a son or daughter whose school or place of care is closed, or child care provider Is unavailable, due to COVID-19 precautions; or
- Is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Labor.
Generally, employers would pay employees at their regular rate of pay for 80 hours for emergency sick leave, capped at $511 per day ($5,110 in the aggregate) if the leave is taken for an employee’s own illness or quarantine (i.e., for the first three bullets above). Employers would pay employees two-thirds of their regular rate of pay for 80 hours for emergency sick leave, capped at $200 per day ($2,000 in the aggregate) if the leave is taken to care for others or due to school closures (i.e., for the last three bullets above).
An employer cannot require an employee to use other paid leave before using this Emergency Sick Leave pay. Employers would not be able to require employees to find replacement workers to cover their shifts if employees use emergency paid sick leave.
The federal government is supposed to provide a model notice within seven days after enactment, which employers would be required to post at their workplace, informing employees of their right to emergency paid sick leave. The U.S. Department of Labor is directed, within 15 days after enactment, to issue guidelines on how to calculate the amount of emergency paid sick leave.
The Department of Labor also has the authority to issue regulations to exempt small businesses with fewer than 50 employees from having to provide emergency paid sick leave to employees who need to care for a son or daughter whose school or place of care is closed, or child care provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19 precautions if the imposition of such requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.
Employers would face penalties for failing to comply with the new emergency paid sick leave rules and are prohibited from discriminating against employees who take emergency paid sick leave. Eligible employees could use emergency paid sick leave before using new, emergency paid family and medical leave created by the Act.
Funding is provided to states as an emergency transfer to assist with additional unemployment claims. To the extent and how these claims would impact an employer’s specific unemployment tax rate is not determined at this time.
To assist employers who are required to provide emergency paid sick leave or FMLA leave under the programs described above, the Act provides for a refundable tax credit applicable against the employer’s portion of Social Security or Railroad Retirement Tax Act (RRTA) tax for amounts paid under those programs. The credit is equal to 100% of the compensation paid in each calendar quarter to employees who are not working for the reasons enumerated above, subject to the following limitations:
For payments to an employee who needs time off for self-isolation, diagnosis, care of a COVID-19 diagnosis, or compliance with a health care provider’s recommendation or order, the credit is capped at $511 of eligible wages per employee per day. For payments to an employee who needs time off to care for a family member who has been exposed to or diagnosed with the COVID-19 or a child under age 18 whose school or place of care has been closed, the credit is capped at $200 of eligible wages per employee per day. The credit for emergency paid sick leave wages is only available for a maximum of 10 days per employee over the duration of the program. For expanded FMLA, the credit is capped at $200 of eligible wages per employee per day and $10,000 for all calendar quarters.
Both of the credits are increased by any amounts paid or incurred by the employer to maintain a group health plan, to the extent those expenses are (1) excluded from the employee’s gross income under the tax code and (2) “properly allocable” to the respective qualified sick or FMLA wages required to be paid under the Act. The exact method of allocation will be provided by regulation at a later date, but the Act provides that the allocation will be treated as properly made if done “on the basis of being pro rata among covered employees and pro rata on the basis of periods of coverage.”
If the credit exceeds the employer’s total liability for Social Security or RRTA tax for all employees for any calendar quarter, the excess is refundable to the employer.
Similar rules apply to a self-employed individual that allow a refundable tax credit against the individual’s self-employment tax. The credit is capped at the lesser of the amounts that apply to eligible wages per employee or the individual’s lost self-employment income. The House-passed version of the Act provides guidance on how to determine the individual’s lost income due to the corona virus.
Notably, required payments for emergency paid sick leave or FMLA under the Act will not be considered wages for purposes of calculating the employer’s portion of the Social Security or RRTA tax. In addition, the tax credits available to an employer are increased by the amount of the employer’s liability for Medicare tax on wages paid under the Act, effectively exempting the emergency sick leave and FMLA payments from that tax as well. In this way, the Act provides employers with two tax benefits: (1) refundable credits against the employer’s portion of Social Security or RRTA tax and (2) an exemption from, or credit against, the employer’s portion of Social Security or RRTA and Medicare taxes on the wages required to be paid under the Act.
However, the law does not exempt these payments from the definition of wages for the purpose of other taxes (including the employee’s portion of Social Security, RRTA and Medicare taxes).