To encourage businesses that have experienced an economic hardship due to COVID-19 to keep employees on their payroll, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act ( P.L. 116-136) has provided several new credits for employers, including a new employee retention credit. The IRS has issued a fact sheet summarizing a few key points about the new credit.
Certain employers can claim the credit for wages paid after March 12, 2020, and before January 1, 2021. This includes tax-exempt organizations, employers with suspended operations due to a government order related to COVID-19, and those that have experienced a significant decline in gross receipts. The credit amount is 50 percent of up to $10,000 in qualified wages paid to an employee. This means that an employer’s maximum credit for qualified wages paid to any employee is $5,000.
Qualified wages include the cost of employer-provided health care, but not the amount of qualified sick leave wages or family leave wages for which the employer received tax credits under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) ( P.L. 116-127). Qualified wages vary based on the average number of the employer’s full-time employees in 2019:
- 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 employer had more than 100 employees on average in 2019, the credit is allowed only for wages paid to employees for time they did not work.
In each case, the wages that qualify are those paid for a calendar quarter in which the employer experiences an economic hardship.
To claim the credit, employers must report their total qualified wages and the related health insurance costs for each quarter on their quarterly employment tax returns, usually Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, beginning with the second quarter of 2020. If an employer does not have enough federal employment taxes to cover the amount of the credit (after they have deferred deposits of employer Social Security taxes), it may request an advance payment of the credit by submitting Form 7200, Advance Payment of Employer Credits Due to COVID-19, to the IRS.
The IRS has more information on the credit at https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/faqs-employee-retention-credit-under-the-cares-act and https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus-tax-relief-and-economic-impact-payments.