Tax Credits for Paid Leave under FFCRA

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) generally requires employers to provide up to two weeks of paid leave at regular pay rates for employees who can't work due to being sick with coronavirus, up to two weeks of paid leave at two-thirds of regular pay rates for employees who can't work due to a family member being sick with coronavirus, and up to ten weeks of paid leave at two-thirds of regular pay rates for employees who can't work because a child's school or child care provider is unavailable. Fortunately, all of an employer's costs for this qualified sick leave is designed to be offset by payroll tax credits.

By way of background, employers are required to withhold estimated employees' income taxes and payroll taxes (Social Security and Medicaid) from employees' paychecks and then match the payroll tax withholding and remit all of such funds to the IRS on (usually) a quarterly basis. The credit for paid leave under the FFCRA offsets the employer's portion of payroll taxes. However, the credits are refundable, meaning that if the qualified sick leave paid in respect of employees impacted by coronavirus exceeds the employer's portion of payroll tax for all employees, the employer will receive a refund from the IRS.

Regulations and forms for these new tax credits will be forthcoming. The most interesting aspect of these tax credits is that employers will apparently be able to retain income taxes withheld and both the employer's and the employees' share of payroll taxes up to the amount of qualified sick leave, rather than deposit such withholdings with the IRS and seek a refund. As I discussed in a prior post, these withholdings are considered to be held in trust for the IRS, and individuals who do not remit such taxes to the IRS will be personally liable for the entirety of such taxes. As such, employers should not utilize this method of reimbursement for qualified sick leave they pay without maintaining very careful records and waiting until final guidance is issued by the IRS. Trust fund taxes must never be used to cover any other expense.

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