IRS Issues 2020 Guidance for Employee Retention Tax Credit

ERTC , Tax + Accounting , Federal Legislation ,

Sources: Aaron Frazier (Director of Healthcare and Tax Policy, National Restaurant Association); Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has officially released Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) guidance for small businesses who plan to reclaim for 2020 calendar quarters. Significant updates in the Notice 2021-20 guidance include:

  • Major changes for those restaurants who accessed PPP in 2020;
  • Permits many restaurants to access a credit is equal to 50 percent of qualified wages paid, including qualified health plan expenses, for up to $10,000 per employee in 2020; and 
  • The maximum credit available for each employee is $5,000 in 2020. 

IRS Notice 2021-20 also provides answers to questions such as: 

  • Who are eligible employers?

Section 2301(c)(2)(A) of the CARES Act defines the term “eligible employer” as any employer carrying on a trade or business during calendar year 2020,and, with respect to any calendar quarter, for which (1) the operation of the trade or business carried on during calendar year 2020 is fully or partially suspended due to orders from an appropriate governmental authority limiting commerce, travel, or group meetings (for commercial, social, religious, or other purposes) due to COVID-19, or (2) such calendar quarter is within the period in which the employer had a significant decline in gross receipts, as described in section 2301(c)(2)(B) of the CARES Act.

  • What constitutes full or partial suspension of trade or business operations?

Section 2301(c)(2)(B)(i) of the CARES Act provides that the period during which an employer experiences a significant decline in gross receipts begins with the first calendar quarter beginning after December 31, 2019, for which gross receipts (within the meaning of section 448(c) of the Code) for the calendar quarter are less than 50 percent of gross receipts for the same calendar quarter in the prior year. Section 2301(c)(2)(B)(ii) of the CARES Act provides that the period during which an employer experiences a significant decline in gross receipts ends with the calendar quarter that follows the first calendar quarter beginning after a calendar quarter described in section 2301(c)(2)(B)(i) of the CARES Act for which gross receipts of the employer are greater than 80 percent of gross receipts for the same calendar quarter in the prior year.

[Restaurant examples/scenarios provided:]

Question 17: If a governmental order requires an employer to close its workplace for certain purposes, but the workplace may remain operational for other limited purposes, is the employer considered to have a suspension of operations due to
the governmental order?

Answer 17: If an employer’s workplace is closed due to a governmental order for certain purposes, but the employer’s workplace may remain open for other limited purposes, the employer’s operations would be considered to be partially suspended if, under the facts and circumstances, the operations that are closed are more than a nominal portion of its business operations and cannot be performed remotely in a comparable manner. If all, or all but a nominal portion, of an employer’s business operations may continue, but the operations are subject to modification due to a governmental order (for example, to satisfy distancing requirements), such a modification of operations is considered to be a partial suspension of business operations due to a governmental order if the modification required by the governmental order has more than a nominal effect on the business operations under the facts and circumstances. See Q/A 18 for a description of factors that may be used for determining if a modification required by a governmental order has more than a nominal effect on business operations.

Example 1: Employer F, a restaurant business, must close its restaurant to onsite dining due to a governmental order closing all restaurants, bars, and similar establishments for sit-down service. Employer F is allowed to continue food or beverage sales to the public on a carry-out, drive-through, or delivery basis. On-site dining is more than a nominal portion of Employer F’s business operations. Employer F’s business operations are considered to be partially suspended because, under the facts and circumstances, more than a nominal portion of its business operations—its indoor and outdoor dining service—is suspended due to the governmental order.

Example 2: Same facts as Example 1, except that two months later, under a subsequent governmental order, Employer F is permitted to offer sit-down service in its outdoor space, but its indoor dining service continues to be closed. During this period, Employer F is allowed to operate only its outdoor sit-down and carry-out service in accordance with the order. Indoor dining is more than a nominal portion of Employer F’s business operations. Employer F’s business operations are considered to be partially suspended because, under the facts and circumstances, more than a nominal portion of its business operations – its indoor dining service – is suspended due to a governmental order. The following month, under a further governmental order, Employer F is permitted to offer indoor dining service, in addition to outdoor sit-down and carry-out service, provided that all tables in the indoor dining room must be spaced at least six feet apart. This spacing constraint has more than a nominal effect on Employer F’s business operations. During this period, even though Employer F resumed all categories of its business operations, Employer F’s business operations continue to be partially suspended because, under the facts and circumstances, the governmental order restricting its indoor dining service has more than a nominal effect on its operations.

  • What is a significant decline in gross receipts?

The period during which there is a significant decline in gross receipts is determined by identifying the first calendar quarter in 2020 (if any) in which an employer’s gross receipts are less than 50 percent of its gross receipts for the same calendar quarter in 2019. The period during which there is a significant decline in gross receipts ends with the earlier of January 1, 2021, or the calendar quarter that follows the first calendar quarter in which the employer’s 2020 quarterly gross receipts are greater than 80 percent of its gross receipts for the same calendar quarter in 2019.

  • How much is the maximum amount of an eligible employer’s employee retention credit?

The credit equals 50 percent of qualified wages (including allocable qualified health plan expenses) that an eligible employer pays in a calendar quarter. The maximum amount of qualified wages (including allocable qualified health plan expenses) taken into account with respect to each employee for all calendar quarters in 2020 is $10,000, which means that the maximum credit for qualified wages (including allocable qualified health plan expenses) paid to any employee in 2020 is $5,000.

If an employee is employed by two or more entities treated as a single employer under the aggregation rules, the maximum amount of qualified wages for all calendar quarters that may be taken into account with respect to that employee is $10,000 in the aggregate; thus, an aggregated group treated as a single employer may not claim more than the maximum credit of $5,000 with respect to any one individual employed by the members of the aggregated group. With respect to such an employee, the amount of the employee retention credit that may be claimed by any member of an aggregated group is based on the member’s proportionate share of qualified wages giving rise to the credit per the return period for which the credit is claimed.

  • What are qualified wages?

Qualified wages are generally limited to wages (as defined in section 3121(a) of the Code) and compensation (as defined in section 3231(e) of the Code), both determined without regard to the social security wage base, paid by an eligible employer to some or all of its employees after March 12, 2020, and before January 1, 2021. Section 2301(c)(5)(B) of the CARES Act provides that “wages” include amounts paid by an eligible employer to provide and maintain a group health plan (as defined in section 5000(b)(1) of the Code), but only to the extent that the amounts are excluded from the gross income of employees by reason of section 106(a) of the Code. Amounts treated as wages under section 2301(c)(5)(B) of the CARES Act are treated as paid with respect to any employee (and with respect to any period) to the extent the amounts are properly allocable to the employee (and to the period), and, except as otherwise provided by the Secretary, the allocation will be treated as proper if made on the basis of being pro rata among periods of coverage. See Q/As 41 and 42. Qualified wages do not include qualified sick leave wages and qualified family leave wages taken into account under sections 7001 and 7003 of the FFCRA.

The specific circumstances in which wage payments by an eligible employer will be considered qualified wages depend, in part, on the average number of full-time employees the eligible employer employed during 2019. For a large eligible employer (more than 100 employees), qualified wages are the wages paid to an employee for time that the employee is not providing services due to either (1) a full or partial suspension of the employer's business operations due to a governmental order, or (2) the business experiencing a significant decline in gross receipts. For a small eligible employer (100 or fewer employees), qualified wages are the wages paid with respect to an employee during any period in the calendar quarter in which the business operations are fully or partially suspended due to a governmental order or during any calendar quarter in which the business is experiencing a significant decline in gross receipts.

  • How does an eligible employer claim the employee retention credit?

An eligible employer claims the employee retention credit for qualified wages by reporting its qualified wages and the amount of the credit to which it is entitled on the designated lines of its federal employment tax return(s). Employers also report any qualified sick leave wages and qualified family leave wages and claim the credit under sections 7001 or 7003 of the FFCRA on the designated lines on their federal employment tax returns. For most employers, Form 941 is used to report income and social security and Medicare taxes withheld by the employer from employee wages, as well as the employer's share of social security and Medicare tax.

  • How does an eligible employer substantiate the claim for the credit?

In anticipation of receiving the employee retention credit, eligible employers can (1) reduce their deposits of federal employment taxes, including withheld taxes, that would otherwise be required up to the amount of the anticipated credit, and (2) request an advance of the amount of the anticipated credit that exceeds the reduced federal employment tax deposits by filing Form 7200.