Author Archives: Christina Strasser

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About Christina Strasser

Christy is a corporate and tax attorney with Williams Parker. She can be reached at cstrasser@williamsparker.com.

Treasury Releases Guidance Implementing Executive Action on Employment Tax Deferral


On Friday, August 28, the Treasury Department (“Treasury”) released guidance implementing President Trump’s executive directive to defer the employee portion of social security tax. As part of the continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Notice 2020-65 allows employers to make this deferral during the period of September 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020 for employees earning below a threshold amount of $4,000 during a bi-weekly pay period. This threshold is to be determined on a per-pay period basis rather than as an annualized amount. While not clearly stated in the Notice, both Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) have framed the deferral as optional for employers.

For those employers who do choose to defer the employee share of social security tax, these amounts will be postponed until the period beginning on January 1, 2021 and ending on April 30, 2021. This could mean that absent further legislation affording permanent forgiveness of these amounts, employees would be obligated to make increased payroll payments for that four-month period. If employers fail to withhold and deposit any deferred amounts by May 1, 2021, the Notice states that they will be on the hook for penalties and interest—again, assuming Congress fails to enact legislation that says otherwise.

What remains unclear is whether employees may choose to opt out of an employer’s choice to defer and how employers should treat the deferred taxes of employees who are terminated before these amounts are fully repaid in 2021. The Notice does, however, state that “[i]f necessary, the [employer] may make arrangements to otherwise collect the total Applicable Taxes from the employee,” suggesting that an employer could, for example, deduct any deferred tax owing from an employee’s final paycheck to the extent permitted by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The IRS has released a draft update of Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, on which employers may take into account employee social security withholding that is deferred. The key change appears to be on page 3, line 24, which asks for the “Deferred amount of the employee share of social security tax included in line 13b.”

We hope to see more concrete guidance from Treasury in the coming weeks.

For the Self-Employed the CARES Act Could Provide Too Much Liquidity: Simultaneous PPP and Unemployment Payments

Self-employed individuals may find themselves in a difficult situation because they have simultaneously received Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) loan and Unemployment benefits under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act. The CARES Act was enacted this past March with a primary goal of combating COVID-19-related shutdowns and layoffs. It made state unemployment insurance (plus an additional $600 per week through July 31, 2020) (“Unemployment”) available to self-employed individuals, among others, and offers that same group a forgivable PPP loan for their suffering businesses. Faced with the menu of liquidity and uncertainty within the CARES Act, many self-employed individuals immediately applied for both Unemployment and a PPP loan. The question they now face is whether receiving both benefits at the same time is permissible.

The Tension Between The PPP and Unemployment Benefits

While there is no explicit authority in the CARES Act prohibiting the simultaneous receipt of both PPP loan and Unemployment monies, keeping both is risky at best and could potentially be viewed as fraudulent at worst. This is because the receipt of one goes against the purpose and spirit of the other. Looking first at the PPP, its very goal is to allow businesses to keep their employee or employees on the payroll. In other words, the applicant needs the money to keep its business going and pay salaries and wages. It logically follows that a self-employed individual who receives a PPP loan is therefore considered fully employed, at least until the funds run dry.

On the other hand, an individual is only eligible for Unemployment benefits with respect to the CARES Act, where they become totally or partially unemployed (or furloughed) due to COVID-related reasons. These monies serve only as a bridge across gaps in employment. A recipient is therefore very arguably ineligible for Unemployment benefits where compensated work is made possible by PPP funds. This is to be distinguished from a situation where a self-employed individual received necessary Unemployment while waiting for PPP loan approval and disbursement or following the depletion of the PPP loan if it came first.  

Potential Consequences

Continuing to take Unemployment while benefiting from a PPP loan could potentially be, or appear to be, a fraudulent situation. The Department of Labor (“DOL”) has made clear that all states, including Florida, are to exercise due diligence to detect fraud and assess the accuracy of payments to eligible claimants. The Small Business Administration (“SBA”) is also prosecuting PPP loan fraud under federal civil and criminal statutes and has been vocal about the consequences of failing to return unnecessary PPP funds. Most individuals who have simultaneously received or are currently receiving monies from both programs are well-intentioned and unknowing recipients, but this may not save them from an accusation of wrongdoing and/or having to go through state or federal administrative proceedings.

Finally, even assuming one could carefully segregate their PPP funds for their business from their Unemployment, using only the Unemployment monies to pay themselves a salary and the PPP to pay all other eligible business expenses, the risk of losing eligibility for full or substantial loan forgiveness remains. At least 60 percent (previously 75 percent) of the PPP loan must be spent on payroll expenses (i.e., wages) to qualify for full loan forgiveness. When comparing the size of most PPP loans to Unemployment payment amounts, the importance of avoiding this risk becomes obvious. It also remains unclear whether such segregation of simultaneous benefits is possible.

Based on the foregoing, self-employed individuals who have received both PPP and Unemployment benefits to review their payouts for any overlap of funds and check with their legal/financial advisors on the best course of action in the event of any overlap.

Amounts Paid to Employees for Sick and Family Leave Wages Are to be Reported on W-2s

Yesterday, July 8, 2020, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) issued Notice 2020-54, which provides guidance to employers on reporting qualified sick and family leave wages paid to employees under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Enacted this past March 2020, the FFCRA generally requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide paid leave due to certain circumstances related to COVID-19.  Notice 2020-54 directs employers to “separately state” each of the paid sick and family leave wage amounts either in Box 14 of Form W-2 or in a statement that accompanies the Form W-2.

The guidance provides employers with adaptable model language for use in the Form W-2 instructions for employees. An excerpt of that language is as follows:

“Included in Box 14, if applicable, are amounts paid to you as qualified sick leave wages or qualified family leave wages under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Specifically, up to three types of paid qualified sick leave wages or qualified family leave wages are reported in Box 14:

  • Sick leave wages subject to the $511 per day limit because of care you required;
  • Sick leave wages subject to the $200 per day limit because of care you provided to another; and
  • Emergency family leave wages.”

The Notice goes on to state that the wage amount required to be reported by employers on Form W-2 will provide self-employed individuals who are also employees with the information necessary to determine the amount of any sick and family leave equivalent credits they may claim in their self-employed capacities. We recommend that employers review the Notice’s model language for their Form W-2 instructions.