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In much-anticipated guidance, the Internal Revenue Service has offered its insight on the implementation of the COBRA temporary premium subsidy provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) in Notice 2021-31.
Spanning more than 40 pages, the IRS-answered frequently asked questions (FAQs) finally resolve many issues relating to temporary premium assistance for COBRA continuation coverage left unanswered in the Department of Labor’s publication of model notices, election forms, and FAQs.
The practical implications of the guidance for employers are many. Significantly, employers must take action prior to May 31, 2021, to ensure compliance with some of the requirements under ARPA and related agency guidance.
Notice 2021-31 provides comprehensive guidance on the ARPA subsidy and tax credit implementation issues (although it acknowledges there are many issues that still need to be addressed). Some of the key topics addressed include:
For employers, there are some immediate takeaways:
As expected, the IRS expansively defines an “involuntary termination.” For purposes of the ARPA COBRA subsidy, involuntary terminations include employee-initiated terminations due to good reason as a result of employer action (or inaction) resulting in a material adverse change in the employment relationship.
The guidance provides helpful COVID-19-specific examples. Employees participating in severance window programs meeting specified regulatory requirements could qualify. Voluntary employee terminations due to an involuntary material reduction in hours also could qualify. Further, voluntary terminations due to daycare challenges or concerns over workplace safety may constitute an involuntary termination, but only in the narrow circumstances in which the employer’s actions or inactions materially affected the employment relationship in an adverse way, analogous to a constructive discharge.
Employer action to terminate the employment relationship due to a disability also will constitute an involuntary termination, but only if there is a reasonable expectation before the termination the employee will return to work after the end of the illness or disability. This requires a specific analysis of the surrounding facts and circumstances. The guidance notes that a disabled employee alternatively may be eligible for the subsidy based on a reduction in hours if the reduction in hours causes a loss of coverage.
A number of the circumstances that meet the involuntary termination definition in the guidance may not be coded in payroll or HRIS systems as involuntary terminations. As employers have an affirmative obligation to reach out to employees who could be AEIs, employers will need to look behind the codes to understand the circumstances of the terminations.
Further, to identify all potential AEIs, employers may need to sweep involuntary terminations or reductions in hours occurring prior to the October 1, 2019, date referenced in the Department of Labor’s FAQs. The IRS makes clear that COBRA-qualified beneficiaries who qualified for extensions of COBRA coverage due to disability (up to 29 months), a second qualifying event (up to 36 months), or an extension under state mini-COBRA potentially can qualify for the subsidy if their coverage could have covered some part of the ARPA COBRA subsidy period (April 1, 2021–September 30, 2021).
An involuntary termination is not the only event that can make an employee potentially eligible for the subsidy. Employees who lose coverage due to a reduction in hours (regardless of the reason for the reduction) can be eligible for premium assistance as well. This can include employees who have been furloughed, experienced a voluntary or involuntary reduction of hours, or took a temporary leave of absence to facilitate home schooling during the pandemic or care for a child.
The IRS explains that, if an employer subsidizes COBRA premiums for similarly situated covered employees and qualified beneficiaries who are not AEIs, the employer may not be able to claim the full ARPA tax credit. In this case, the amount of the credit the employer can receive is the premium that would have been charged to the AEI in the absence of the premium assistance and does not include any amount of subsidy the employer would otherwise have provided. For example, if a severance plan covering all regular full-time employees provides that the employer will pay 100 percent of the COBRA premium for three months following separation, this employer could not take a tax credit for the subsidy provided during this three-month period.
Notice 2021-31 does not elaborate on this issue beyond providing specific examples involving a company severance plan. Thus, ambiguity remains as to whether this guidance would prohibit an employer from claiming a tax credit where an employer has agreed to provide a COBRA subsidy in a negotiated separation or settlement agreement and not pursuant to an existing severance plan or policy. Further IRS guidance on this point may be forthcoming. In light of this guidance, employers should re-evaluate their COBRA premium subsidy strategies.
Last week, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued FAQ guidance regarding the employer tax credit for paid family and medical leave. As a reminder, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (the Act) provides a tax credit to employers that voluntarily offer paid family and/or medical leave to employees. The FAQs clarify some of the requirements in Section 45S of the Act that an employer’s paid family and/or medical leave policy must include. The FAQs also clarify other details, such as the basis for the credit and the tax credit’s impact on an employer’s deduction for wages paid to an employee who is on a qualifying leave.
For information on how to determine if your company can take advantage of the paid family and medical leave tax credit, read this earlier article from Jackson Lewis on this topic. You can also estimate your company’s potential annual tax savings using the Jackson Lewis Paid Family Leave Tax Credit Calculator.
The new federal tax law, signed by President Trump in December, contains a number of provisions that will impact the workplace and employers. One specific change has to do with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). As many are aware, FMLA requires employers to provide certain employees with up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave annually for specified family and medical reasons. The leave may be paid or unpaid.
To encourage employers to provide eligible employees with paid leave under FMLA, the new tax law provides eligible employers with a new business credit equal to 12.5% of the amount of wages paid to “qualifying employees” during any period in which such employees are on family and medical leave as long as the rate of payment under the program is at least 50% of the employee’s normal wages. The credit increases from 12.5% by 0.25 percentage points (but not above 25% of wages) for each percentage point by which the rate of payment exceeds 50%. The credit can be used to lower an employer’s taxable income, subject to limitations, and applicable alternative minimum tax. The amount of paid family and medical leave used to determine the tax credit for an employee may not exceed 12 weeks.
To be eligible for the credit, an employer must have a written policy that provides all qualifying full-time employees with at least two weeks of annual paid family and medical leave. Part-time employees are also to be allowed a commensurate amount of leave on a pro rata basis. Qualifying employees are those who have worked for the company for at least one year and were paid no more than 60% of the compensation threshold for highly compensated employees in the previous year. (For 2018, 60% of the compensation threshold is equal to 60% x $120,000 = $72,000.)
For purposes of the credit, any leave paid for by a State or local government or required by State or local law shall not be taken into account in determining the amount of paid family and medical leave provided by the employer. For example, if a jurisdiction, such as Chicago has an ordinance that provides paid sick leave for FMLA-permitted purposes, an employer will not qualify for the business tax credit if the paid leave is provided to be in compliance with the ordinance. As a result, it is important that the employer have a clear policy in place.
The Secretary of Treasury will determine whether an employer or an employee satisfies applicable requirements for the employer to be eligible for the tax credit based on information provided by the employer as the Secretary determines to be necessary or appropriate.
If the employee takes a paid leave for other reasons, such as vacation leave, personal leave, or other medical or sick leave, this paid leave will not be considered to be family and medical leave for purposes of the credit.
The credit is effective for wages paid in taxable years starting on January 1, 2018. It is set to expire for wages paid in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2019.
The IRS has released the 2013 version of Form 8941, which eligible small employers will need to use to calculate their small business health care tax credit.
Employers may qualify for a tax credit of up to 35% (or up to 25% for eligible tax exempt organizations) of nonelective employer contributions under a qualifying health insurance arrangement, if they have fewer than 25 employees AND pay average annual wages of less than $50,000 per employee. A qualifying health insurance plan generally requires the employer to pay a uniform percentage of the premium (not less than 50%) for each enrolled employee’s health coverage. Once calculated, the tax credit is claimed as a general business credit on Form 3800 (or for tax exempt small employers as a refundable credit on Form 990-T).
There are important changes to the tax credit that become effective beginning with 2014 taxable years that are important to note:
1. the maximum credit amount increases from 35% to 50% of employer paid premiums
2. coverage under a qualifying arrangement must be offered through a SHOP Exchange
3. the credit can be claimed for only 2 consecutive years beginning in or after 2014, and
4. due to the cost-of-living adjustment, the tax credit will be reduced if an employer’s average annual wages exceed $25,400 and will be eliminated if average annual wages exceed $50,800
Employers who plan on claiming the small business tax credit for 2014 will need to make sure they are familiar with these new requirements.