Employee Retention Credit NOW Available for Many Businesses Financially Impacted by COVID-19

Contributed by Meredith Murphy and Robert Jackson, April 1, 2020

dollar bills in hand

On March 31, 2020, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service launched the Employee Retention Credit, designed to encourage businesses to keep employees on their payroll. The refundable tax credit is 50 percent of up to $10,000 in wages paid by an eligible employer whose business has been financially impacted by COVID-19.

How to determine if your business qualifies for the Employee Retention Credit:

The credit is available to all employers regardless of size, including tax-exempt organizations. There are only two exceptions: state and local governments and their instrumentalities and small businesses which take Small Business Loans. If an employer takes an SBA loan under the CARES Act (for example, the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loans, and other SBA loans) the employer is not eligible for the retention credit.

Qualifying employers must fall into one of two categories:

  1. The employer’s business is fully or partially suspended by government order due to COVID-19 during the calendar quarter.
  2. The employer’s gross receipts are below 50 percent of the comparable quarter in 2019. Once the employer’s gross receipts go above 80 percent of a comparable quarter in 2019 they no longer qualify after the end of that quarter.

These measures are calculated each calendar quarter.

Calculating your credit:

The amount of the credit is 50 percent of qualifying wages paid up to $10,000 in total. Wages paid after March 12, 2020, and before January 1, 2021 are eligible for the credit. Wages taken into account are not limited to cash payments, but also include a portion of the cost of employer provided health care.

Determining which wages qualify:

Qualifying wages are based on the average number of a business’s employees in 2019.

  • For employers with less than 100 employees: If the employer had 100 or fewer employees on average in 2019, the credit is based on wages paid to all employees, regardless if they worked or not. If the employees worked full time and were paid for full time work, the employer still receives the credit.
  • Employers with more than 100 employees:  If the employer had more than 100 employees on average in 2019, then the credit is allowed only for wages paid to employees who did not work during the calendar quarter.

Receiving your credit (perhaps the most important step):

Employers can be immediately reimbursed for the credit by reducing their required deposits of payroll taxes that have been withheld from employees’ wages by the amount of the credit.

Eligible employers will report their total qualified wages and the related health insurance costs for each quarter on their quarterly employment tax returns or Form 941 beginning with the second quarter.

If the employer’s employment tax deposits are not sufficient to cover the credit, the employer may receive an advance payment from the IRS by submitting Form 7200, Advance Payment of Employer Credits Due to COVID-19. Eligible employers can also request an advance of the Employee Retention Credit by submitting Form 7200.

Form 7200 can be found on the IRS website.  

Instructions for Form 7200 can also be found on the IRS website.   

It will be critically important that you determine if you will receive more aid using the Employee Retention Credit or using the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loans and Loan Advance, SBA Debt Relief, and SBA Express Bridge Loans. You can learn more about those programs on the U.S. Small Business Administration website.

The Duty to Bargain During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Contributed by Beverly Alfon, March 31, 2020

Scales of Justice, Weight Scale, Balance.

Businesses with a unionized workforce need to consider whether their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic constitute unilateral changes under existing work terms and conditions. An employer’s duty to bargain in good faith with its employees’ union encompasses many obligations, including the duty to not make certain changes to work terms and conditions without bargaining with the union. While a union is not likely to bring an unfair labor practice charge against an employer for “benevolent” unilateral changes, a union generally has a solid basis to bring an unfair labor practice charge against an employer that initiates adverse actions such as furloughs and layoffs, without notice and an opportunity to bargain. 

Recognizing the “unprecedented situation” created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) General Counsel (GC) issued a memorandum on March 27 to address its impact on the duty to bargain. The memorandum does not direct the NLRB’s regional offices to take any specific action, but it does summarize cases in which the Board previously considered the duty to bargain during emergencies. The cased cited in the memorandum involve unilateral changes ranging from implementation of a flu prevention policy to layoff/facility closure prompted by an abrupt reduction in an employer’s business volume. 

Bottom line

  • You need to evaluate the language of your CBA with the union in order to determine what is already covered by the agreement (including your Management Rights clause) to support the actions that you take in response to the pandemic.
  • If you make unilateral changes such as furloughs/layoffs – that are not already supported by the CBA – you must be ready to demonstrate that “economic exigencies compel[led] prompt action.” Currently, any exception to the duty to bargain before implementing unilateral change is limited to “extraordinary events which are an unforeseen occurrence, having a major economic effect requiring the company to take immediate action.”     
  • Keep in mind that failure to bargain with the union over the effects of the company’s decision to take the unilateral action, can also lead to another violation of the NLRA.

Does a “Shelter in Place” or “Stay at Home Order” Trigger Paid Leave under the FFCRA?

Contributed by John Hayes, March 31, 2020

Clock and cash

***Please see updated information on FFCRA regulations in our April 3, 2020 post.

A component of the recently passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires covered employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19 starting April 1. Additionally, many states and local governments have now mandated that non-essential businesses close and that its citizens stay at home, subject to certain exceptions, often referred to as Shelter in Place (SIP) or Stay at Home orders.

The question facing many employers now is whether these SIP orders trigger the paid leave requirements of the FFCRA.

The short answer is no.

On March 28, 2020 the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued guidance to address, among other things, the FFCRA provisions related to paid sick leave or expanded medical leave, and whether employers are required to provide paid leave under its provisions if it is forced to close pursuant to SIP orders.  The specific questions that address the provisions for the closure of a worksite can be found on the DOL website and the relevant portions of the answers read as follows:

If my employer closes my worksite on or after April 1, 2020 (the effective date of the FFCRA), but before I go out on leave, can I still get paid sick leave and/or expanded family and medical leave?

No. If your employer closes after the FFCRA’s effective date (even if you requested leave prior to the closure), you will not get paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave but you may be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. This is true whether your employer closes your worksite for lack of business or because it was required to close pursuant to a Federal, State or local directive.

If my employer closes my worksite while I am on paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave, what happens?

If your employer closes while you are on paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave, your employer must pay for any paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave you used before the employer closed. As of the date your employer closes your worksite, you are no longer entitled to paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave, but you may be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. This is true whether your employer closes your worksite for lack of business or because the employer was required to close pursuant to a Federal, State or local directive.

If my employer closes my worksite on or after April 1, 2020 (the effective date of the FFCRA), but tells me that it will reopen at some time in the future, can I receive paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave?

No, not while your worksite is closed. If your employer closes your worksite, even for a short period of time, you are not entitled to take paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave. However, you may be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. This is true whether your employer closes your worksite for lack of business or because it was required to close pursuant to a Federal, State, or local directive. If your employer reopens and you resume work, you would then be eligible for paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave as warranted.

Bottom line: an employee is not eligible for the paid leave requirements of the FFCRA if their worksite closes down pursuant to an SIP order, or if it closes for any other reason, such as lack of business. However, employers should note that when they reopen and recall the affected employees to work, the recalled employees will be eligible for paid sick or family leave, if they meet the requirements under FFCRA. 

U.S. DOL Issues Guidance on the FFCRA “Small Employer” Exemption and “Viability” Definition

Contributed by Carlos Arévalo, March 30, 2020  

At the time of passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), the Department of Labor (DOL) was tasked with issuing guidance on how a “small employer” might be exempt from providing paid sick leave and expanded FMLA benefits if doing so affected the business’s viability. The DOL has now issued guidance that addresses how this viability exemption can be met. Specifically, the DOL states that an employer, which includes religious or nonprofit organizations, with fewer than 50 employees (small business), is exempt from providing paid emergency sick leave and expanded FMLA paid leave pursuant to the FFCRA if doing so “would jeopardize the viability of the small business as a going concern” as determined by an authorized officer of the business. This determination is based on said officer finding that one of the three following conditions exists:

  • The provision of paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave would result in the small business’s expenses and financial obligations exceeding available business revenues and causing the small business to cease operating at a minimal capacity;  
  • The absence of employees requesting paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave would entail a substantial risk to the financial health or operational capabilities of the small business because of their specialized skills, knowledge of the business, or responsibilities; or
  • There are not sufficient workers who are able, willing, and qualified, and who will be available at the time and place needed, to perform the labor or services provided by the employee or employees requesting paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave, and these labor or services are needed for the small business to operate at a minimal capacity.

In sum, a small business may be exempted from FFCRA requirements if it can show that there is not enough revenue coming in to afford the expanded benefits, not enough skilled workers to do the specialized work critical to the business, or not enough available workers to do the work to keep the business going. 

It should be noted, however, that the DOL’s guidance on the small employer exemption also “encourages” employers and employees to collaborate to reach the best solution for maintaining the business and ensuring employee safety.   Also, the DOL’s guidance may give the small business protection today, but time may change the analysis. 

While the initial say on the business’s viability is the employer’s call, employers will likely be scrutinized down the road. 

BOTTOM LINE:  Any business contemplating the “small employer” exemption to the FFCRA should seek advice and counsel from competent labor law counsel. 

U.S. DOL Issues Guidance on “Health Care Provider” and “Emergency Responder” Definitions for FFCRA Exclusions

Contributed by Steven Jados, March 30, 2020

Studio macro of a stethoscope and digital tablet with shallow DOF evenly matched abstract on wood table background copy space

On March 28, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued an update to its “Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Questions and Answers” to address, among other things, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provisions that allow employers of “health care providers” and “emergency responders” to exclude such employees from the FFCRA’s emergency sick leave and expanded FMLA provisions. The specific questions that address the provisions for health care providers and emergency responders shown in this article can be found on the DOL website and read as follows:

Who is a “health care provider” who may be excluded by their employer from paid sick leave and/or expanded family and medical leave?

For the purposes of employees who may be exempted from paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave by their employer under the FFCRA, a health care provider is anyone employed at any doctor’s office, hospital, health care center, clinic, post-secondary educational institution offering health care instruction, medical school, local health department or agency, nursing facility, retirement facility, nursing home, home health care provider, any facility that performs laboratory or medical testing, pharmacy, or any similar institution, employer, or entity. This includes any permanent or temporary institution, facility, location, or site where medical services are provided that are similar to such institutions. 

This definition includes any individual employed by an entity that contracts with any of the above institutions, employers, or entities institutions to provide services or to maintain the operation of the facility. This also includes anyone employed by any entity that provides medical services, produces medical products, or is otherwise involved in the making of COVID-19 related medical equipment, tests, drugs, vaccines, diagnostic vehicles, or treatments. This also includes any individual that the highest official of a state or territory, including the District of Columbia, determines is a health care provider necessary for that state’s or territory’s or the District of Columbia’s response to COVID-19.

To minimize the spread of the virus associated with COVID-19, the Department encourages employers to be judicious when using this definition to exempt health care providers from the provisions of the FFCRA.

The DOL also defined “emergency responder” for purposes of the FFCRA exclusions:

Who is an emergency responder?

For the purposes of employees who may be excluded from paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave by their employer under the FFCRA, an emergency responder is an employee who is necessary for the provision of transport, care, health care, comfort, and nutrition of such patients, or whose services are otherwise needed to limit the spread of COVID-19. This includes but is not limited to military or national guard, law enforcement officers, correctional institution personnel, fire fighters, emergency medical services personnel, physicians, nurses, public health personnel, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, emergency management personnel, 911 operators, public works personnel, and persons with skills or training in operating specialized equipment or other skills needed to provide aid in a declared emergency as well as individuals who work for such facilities employing these individuals and whose work is necessary to maintain the operation of the facility. This also includes any individual that the highest official of a state or territory, including the District of Columbia, determines is an emergency responder necessary for that state’s or territory’s or the District of Columbia’s response to COVID-19.

To minimize the spread of the virus associated with COVID-19, the Department encourages employers to be judicious when using this definition to exempt emergency responders from the provisions of the FFCRA.

Employers having employees fitting the definitions above need to remember that the health care provider and emergency responder exclusions are discretionary, not automatic. As such, and in order to avoid confusion (and litigation down the road), we recommend that employers that intend to use either exclusion provide a short, simple notice to their employees to inform them of the fact that because they are included within the DOL’s definition of “health care provider” and/or “emergency responder,” and are essential to the fight against COVID-19, they are not eligible for emergency sick leave or expanded FMLA leave under the FFCRA. Such a notice should also advise employees that these exclusions do not affect their eligibility for FMLA leave under the terms of the FMLA in place prior to FFCRA enactment.    

And all employers should bear in mind that the fairly expansive definition of health care provider discussed above does not apply to the definition of a health care provider who can certify an employee’s need for FMLA leave. That definition remains limited to, essentially, licensed doctors of medicine, nurse practitioners, and certain others as discussed in FMLA regulations in place prior to FFCRA enactment.

While there is some “chatter” from Washington concerning potential “hazard pay” for these workers, employers who use these exclusions are permitted to implement their own policies and benefit programs unique to their workers. Employers should also remember to keep in mind any local or state paid leave mandates currently in place or that may develop in the coming weeks.