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To help protect people from identity theft, the Internal Revenue Service has issued a final rule that will allow employers to shorten Social Security numbers (SSNs) or alternative taxpayer identification numbers (TINs) on Form W-2 wage and tax statements that are distributed to employees, beginning in 2021.
The IRS published the new rule in the Federal Register on July 3. It finalizes a proposed rule issued in September 2017 with no substantive changes.
Under the regulation, SSNs or other TINs can be masked with the first five digits of the nine-digit number replaced with asterisks or XXXs in the following formats:
To ensure that accurate wage information is reported to the IRS and the Social Security Administration (SSA), the rule does not permit truncated TINs on W-2 forms sent to those agencies. The IRS said that instructions to W-2 forms will be updated to reflect these regulations and explained that masking the numbers on employees’ forms is not mandatory.
The IRS already allows employers to use truncated TINs on employees’ Form 1095-C for Affordable Care Act reporting and on certain other tax-related statements distributed to employees.
The IRS delayed the applicability date of the final rule to apply to W-2 forms that are required to be furnished to employees after Dec. 31, 2020, “so employers still have time to decide whether to implement the change,” according to attorneys at Washington, D.C., law firm Covington & Burling. “The delayed effective date is intended to allow states and local governments time to update their rules to permit the use of truncated TINs, if they do not already do so,” the attorneys wrote.
Permitting employers to truncate Social Security numbers on Forms W-2 provided to employees will better protect individuals’ sensitive personal information.
But some fear that the change could hamper accurate reporting to government agencies. Concerns have been raised that employees who already receive masked pay statements will have no means of ensuring that their SSN is entered (and subsequently reported to the SSA and IRS) correctly. According to the SSA website, a SSN correction is a common error and even if an SSN is ‘verified,’ it could still be entered into payroll software incorrectly. The W2 provides a means for the employee to catch that mistake.
The IRS responded that the benefits of allowing employers to protect their employees from identity theft by truncating employees’ SSNs outweighed the risks of unintended consequences, and that many of the potential consequences noted by the commenters could be mitigated by using other methods to verify a taxpayer’s identity and the accuracy of the taxpayers’ information.
Some believe the new rule does not go far enough by making truncated Social Security numbers or other TINs an option rather than a requirement. W-2 forms have been the target of several high-profile breaches, and therefore the IRS should only permit truncated SSNs to protect employees from future breaches according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C.
The EEOC’s website now provides information employers may need for filing Component 2 data, such as a sample form, an instruction booklet and FAQs for covered employers. The agency confirmed that the Component 2 online filing system will be available July 15, and additional instructions will come soon. The agency also will send login information to covered employers through the U.S. Postal Service and by e‑mail.
The EEOC uses information about the number of women and minorities companies employ to support civil rights enforcement and analyze employment patterns, according to the agency.
Under Component 2, employers must report wage information from Box 1 of the W‑2 forms and total hours worked for all employees, categorized by race, ethnicity and sex, within 12 proposed pay ranges.
“Employers may not use gross annual earnings instead of W-2 Box 1 earnings,” noted Kiosha Dickey, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Columbia, S.C., and Jay Patton, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Birmingham, Ala.
The report should show actual hours worked by nonexempt employees, an estimated 20 hours worked per week for part-time exempt employees, and 40 hours worked per week for full-time exempt employees.
As with Component 1 data, employers should select a pay period between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 of the reporting year as the “workforce snapshot period” for Component 2 data, the agency guidance said.
“The only employees whose compensation and hours-worked data must be reported are those full- and part-time employees who were on the employer’s payroll during the workforce snapshot period,” Dickey and Patton explained.
The federal government initially halted plans to collect pay data so it could review the appropriateness of the revised EEO-1 form under the Paperwork Reduction Act.
The worker advocacy groups that filed the lawsuit said the information would help them evaluate pay disparities and better serve their clients. Furthermore, requiring equal-pay data collection would “encourage companies to identify and correct pay disparities and allow the EEOC to more effectively and efficiently root out and address pay discrimination,” they argued.
Business groups, however, have opposed the requirement. “The EEOC’s pay-data collection rule creates another administrative burden for companies while raising questions about how the data will be used and analyzed,” said Brett Coburn, an attorney with Alston & Bird in Atlanta.
“Employers in today’s environment are acutely aware of the gender wage gap and recognize the importance of ensuring compliance with applicable federal and state requirements,” he said. “Without formal guidance on how the EEOC will assess and publish the data, the only certainty is that this new rule will create opportunities for litigation.”
Many feel that HR professionals can and should start preparing for expanded EEO-1 reporting now.
HR professionals should identify where employee pay and hour data are stored and begin gathering that information or figuring out how to extract it, he said.
Once all data is collected, employers should then tackle the task of filling out the actual form and may even want to check with vendors (i.e. HRIS or payroll vendors) to see if they can assist with the process.
Employers will report data through the Component 2 EEO-1 online filing system or by creating a data file and inputting their data in the appropriate fields in accordance with the data file specifications, but the data file specifications have not yet been released.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) recently resurrected its practice of issuing Employer Correction Request notices – also known as “no-match letters” – when it receives employee information from an employer that does not match its records. If you find yourself in receipt of such a letter, it is recommended that you take the following seven steps as well as considering consulting your legal counsel.
Step 1: Understand The Letter
The first and perhaps most obvious step is to read the letter carefully and understand what it says. Too often employers rush into action before taking the time to read and understand the no-match letter.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) imposes significant information reporting responsibilities on employers starting with the 2015 calendar year. One reporting requirement applies to all employer-sponsored health plans, regardless of the size of the employer. A second reporting requirement applies only to large employers, even if the employer does not provide health coverage. The IRS is currently developing new systems for reporting the required information and recently released draft forms, however instructions have yet to be released.
The new information reporting systems will be similar to the current Form W-2 reporting systems in that an information return (Form 1095-B or 1095-C) will be prepared for each applicable employee, and these returns will be filed with the IRS using a single transmittal form (Form 1094-B or 1094-C). Electronic filing is required if the employer files at least 250 returns. Employers must file these returns annually by Feb. 28 (March 31 if filed electronically). Therefore, employers will be filing these forms for the 2015 calendar year by Feb. 28 or March 31, 2016 respectively. A copy of the Form 1095, or a substitute statement, must be given to the employee by Jan. 31 and can be provided electronically with the employee’s consent. Employers will be subject to penalties of up to $200 per return for failing to timely file the returns or furnish statements to employees.
The IRS released drafts of the Form 1095-B and Form 1095-C information returns, as well as the Form 1094-B and Form 1094-C transmittal returns, in July 2014 and is expected to provide instructions for the forms in August 2014. According to the IRS, both the forms and the instructions will be finalized later this year.
Health coverage reporting requirement
The health coverage reporting requirement is designed to identify employees and their family members who are enrolled in minimum essential health coverage. Employees who are offered coverage, but decline the coverage, are not reported. The IRS will use this information to determine whether the employees are exempt from the individual mandate penalty due to having health coverage for themselves and their family members.
Insurance companies will prepare Form 1095-B (Health Coverage) and Form 1094-B (Transmittal of Health Coverage Information Returns) for individuals covered by fully-insured employer-sponsored group health plans. Small employers with self-insured health plans will use Form 1095-B and Form 1094-B to report the name, address, and Social Security number (or date of birth) of employees and their family members who have coverage under the self-insured health plan. However, large employers (as defined below) with self-insured health plans will file Forms 1095-C and 1094-C in lieu of Forms 1095-B and 1094-B.
Large employer reporting requirement
“Applicable large employer members (ALE)” are subject to the reporting requirement if they offer an insured or self-insured health plan, or do not offer any group health plan. ALE members are those employers that are either an applicable large employer on their own or are members of a controlled or affiliated service group with an ALE (regardless of the number of employees of the group member). ALEs are those that had, on average, at least 50 full-time employees (including full-time equivalent “FTE” employees) during the preceding calendar year. Full-time employees are those who work, on average, at least 30 hours per week. Employers with fewer than 50 full-time employees and equivalents are not applicable large employers and, thus, are exempt from this health coverage reporting requirement.
As referenced above, an employer’s status as an ALE is determined on a controlled or affiliated service group basis. For example, if Company A and Company B are members of the same controlled group and Company A has 100 employees and Company B has 20 employees, then A and B are both members of an ALE. Consequently, Company A and Company B must each file the information returns.
Each ALE member must file Form 1095-C (Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage) and Form 1094-C (Transmittal of Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage Information Returns) with the IRS for each calendar year. The IRS will use this information to determine whether (1) the employer is subject to the employer mandate penalty, and (2) an employee is eligible for a premium tax credit on insurance purchased through the new health insurance exchange. ALEs with fewer than 100 full-time employees are generally eligible for transition relief from the employer mandate penalty for their 2015 plan year. Nonetheless, these employers are still required to file Forms 1095-C and 1094-C for the 2015 calendar year.
The employer mandate penalty can be imposed on any ALE member that does not offer affordable, minimum value health coverage to all of its full-time employees starting in 2015. Health coverage is affordable if the amount that the employer charges an employee for self-only coverage does not exceed 9.5 percent of the employee’s Form W-2 wages, rate of pay, or the federal poverty level for the year. A health plan provides minimum value if the plan is designed to pay at least 60 percent of the total cost of medical services for a standard population. In the case of a controlled or affiliated service group, the employer mandate penalties apply to each member of the group individually.
ALE members must prepare a Form 1095-C for each employee. The return will report the following information:
An ALE member will file with the IRS one Form 1094-C transmitting all of its Forms 1095-C. The Form 1094-C will report the following information:
As noted above, each ALE member is required to file Forms 1095-C and 1094-C for its own employees, even if it participates in a health plan with other employers (e.g., when the parent company sponsors a plan in which all subsidies participate). Special rules apply to multiemployer plans for collectively-bargained employees.
In light of the complexity of the new information reporting requirements, it is recommended that employers should begin taking steps now to prepare for the new reporting requirements:
All 2013 W2’s that will be distributed in January 2014 are required to report the aggregate cost of insurance coverage. Currently, if you filed lessthan 250 W2’s in 2012 you are exempt from this W2 reporting requirement this year.
The value of health care coverage will be reported in Box 12 of the W2 with code “DD” to identify the amount. You are required to report the total cost of both employer and employee contributions for major medical and any other nontaxable “group health plan” coverage for which COBRA is offered, except if dental or vision coverage is offered on a stand alone basis.
Please contact our office for a copy of the full chart from the IRS outlining the types of coverage that employers must report on the W2.