In response to last year’s devastating hurricane season and other natural disasters, the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act, which is a part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (the Act), included various relief provisions (similar to those under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2021 (CARES Act)), designed to assist individuals who suffered an economic loss as a result of these disasters. The Act, signed by former President Trump on December 27, 2020, provides individuals with increased access to their retirement plan accounts as well as plan loan and hardship distribution-related relief as described in more detail below. The relief under the Act generally expires on June 25, 2021.
The CARES Act passed in March 2020 created an “employee retention tax credit,” which entitled eligible employers to a refundable tax credit for wages paid to employees during periods that the employer’s business was subject to a suspension, a shutdown, or a significant decline in revenues. The tax credit was not widely used by employers with fewer than 500 employees, primarily due to the fact that employers with Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans could not take advantage of the credit. On December 27, 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act (the CAA) was signed into law. The CAA significantly expanded the usability of the employee retention tax credit by allowing employers with PPP loans to take advantage of the credit. Further, the CAA increased the amount of the tax credit available. In tandem, these changes make the credit an attractive opportunity for employers during 2021 as well as easier to obtain for qualifying wages paid during 2020.
Continue Reading “Stimulus Bill Provides Expanded Opportunity for Employers to Take Tax Credit for Retaining Employees”
As part of an ongoing effort by the IRS to provide employers and employees with flexibility during the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRS recently issued notices 2020-29 and 2020-33, providing relief with respect to “cafeteria plans,” health flexible spending accounts (Health FSAs), dependent care assistance programs (DCAPs), and high deductible health plans (HDHPs). The relief applies to all employees who are eligible to participate in such plans, regardless of whether they are actually affected by COVID-19. Below is a summary of key aspects of the guidance and practical issues to consider.
Continue Reading IRS Temporarily Relaxes Cafeteria Plan Midyear Election Change and FSA Rules and Provides Other Employee Benefit Relief
In accordance with emergency powers granted in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and US Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued guidance temporarily extending a number of benefit plan-related deadlines and providing other relief for participants and plan sponsors having difficulty complying with these requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic. Below is a summary of the guidance, which is posted in the Employee Benefits Resources Section.
DOL and IRS Final Rule
The May 4, 2020, Final Rule generally suspends certain benefit plan deadlines for the duration of the “Outbreak Period,” which is an open-ended period beginning March 1, 2020, and ending 60 days after the end of the COVID-19 national emergency. The relief under the Final Rule is generally aimed at participants and beneficiaries, and mostly affects group health plans.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides for, among other things, an “employee retention tax credit” for employers that are forced to suspend operations or experience a financial downturn. The CARES Act disqualified employers that received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans from taking the employee retention tax credit. Some employers that received PPP loans are now contemplating repaying the loans based on recently released guidance clarifying the scope of employers that are eligible for the PPP. The guidance allows employers that received PPP funds to repay the funds by May 14 without penalty.
In a September 2005 release soon after Hurricane Katrina, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reported that for the first time ever, the IRS and the departments of Treasury and Labor would provide broad-based relief to retirement plan participants affected by a major disaster. Broad-based relief has been provided since to residents of specific disaster areas, but the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, known as COVID-19, is a disaster that has affected all communities in the United States. On March 27, 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was quickly signed by President Trump.
Some employers and plan recordkeepers have been overwhelmed with calls from participants requesting plan loans or hardship distributions. Some plans do not allow loans or hardship distributions. Other plans allow hardship distributions, but existing rules may pose a problem for many participants.
The Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (the Act) was passed on March 18, 2020 and imposes paid leave obligations on most employers throughout the country. The bill contains special and often overlooked provisions affecting public agencies. Those provisions could provide a “trap” for public agencies that do not carefully review the bill.
Definition of “public agency.” A “public agency” is defined broadly to include the government of the United States; the government of a state or political subdivision of a state; or an agency of the United States, a state, or a political subdivision of a state, or any interstate governmental agency.
Application of employee threshold. For purposes of the law’s paid leave obligations, a covered employer in the private sector includes any employer with fewer than 500 employees. This threshold does not apply to public agency employers. Public employers with only one employee are covered by the bill’s paid leave provisions, meaning large public employers with more than 500 employees are covered by the paid leave provisions.
On March 18, 2020, President Donald Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus and the illness it causes, COVID-19. The Act goes into effect on April 1, 2020 and remains in effect through December 31, 2020.
As discussed in our prior client alerts “Recent Clarifications to Families First Coronavirus Relief Act” and “Senate Passes Coronavirus Bill Requiring Paid Leave,” the Act provides for up to 80 hours (two weeks) of Emergency Paid Sick Leave if an employee is unable to work or telework for one of six specified reasons. Additionally, the Act provides up to 12 weeks of Emergency Paid FMLA Leave for one qualifying reason — that the employee is unable to work or telework due to the need to care for the employee’s minor child because the child’s school or place of care has been closed due to this public health emergency. The first two weeks of Emergency Paid FMLA Leave is unpaid, though the Emergency Paid Sick Leave will be applied to cover the first two weeks.
There are a myriad of questions and issues for employers to work through in applying these new provisions. Our team has been working non-stop to interpret these provisions, review new guidance, and provide answers. In addition, the Department of Labor (DOL) has established the COVID-19 and the American Workplace webpage, which includes a variety of fact sheets, Question-and-Answer pages, and workplace posters available to employers detailing these provisions.
By now, you’re likely aware of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). This law, which will take effect on April 1, 2020, requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSL) or expanded paid family and medical leave under the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (expanded FMLA) for several reasons related to COVID-19. As a refresher, the FFCRA generally provides that employees of covered employers are eligible for one of the following:
- Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular rate of pay where the employee is (1) unable to work or telework because the employee is quarantined (due to a federal, state, or local government order or the advice of a health care provider) and/or (2) experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis; or
- Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay where the employee is (1) unable to work or telework while caring for an individual subject to quarantine (due to a federal, state, or local government order or the advice of a health care provider), (2) unable to work or telework because of a need to care for a child (either a minor child under 18 years of age or an adult child who has a mental or physical disability and is incapable of self-care because of that disability) whose school or child care provider is closed for reasons related to COVID-19, and/or (3) experiencing a substantially similar condition as specified by the secretary of health and human services, in consultation with the secretaries of the treasury and labor; and
- Up to an additional 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay where an employee who has been employed for at least 30 calendar days is unable to work or telework due to a need to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed for reasons related to COVID-19.
Private employers with fewer than 500 employees and certain public employers are covered. Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may qualify for exemption, which is discussed below.
On March 19, 2020, Senate Republicans rolled out a $1 trillion economic stimulus plan commonly referred to as “Phase III” of the legislative response to the coronavirus pandemic. The bill — the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) — provides additional detail on the paid leave provisions in the “Phase II” bill and contains some additional provisions that affect employees.
Continue Reading Senate Unveils Stimulus Bill That Affects Employers