What You Need to Know About The Families First Coronavirus Response Act

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act includes a wide range of provisions, including some addressing insurance coverage and reimbursement of diagnostic testing costs and others expanding safeguards for economically disadvantaged individuals. It also includes two significant groups of measures that will affect certain employers and workers through December 31, 2020.

In very simple terms the Families First Coronavirus Response Act addresses the following leave and pay requirements:

  • Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) entitles employee (full and part-time) to up to eighty (80) hours of sick leave over a two-week period for the following reasons related to COVID-19
    • The employee is subject to quarantine or isolation order.
    • The employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine.
    • The employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis.
    • The employee is caring for an individual who is subject to an order as described in the first and second bullet point.
    • The employee is caring for their son or daughter if the school or place of care for the son or daughter has been closed, or the childcare provider is unavailable.
    • The employee is experiencing other substantially similar condition.
  • Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLA) applies to employers with 500 or fewer employees and applies to employees who have been employed for at least 30 days.
    • The employee is entitled to up to 12 weeks of job protection, but is only applicable if the employee is unable to work (including telework) because they need to care for their minor child if the child’s school or place of care is closed or the child care provider is unavailable due to COVID-19.
    • The first 2 weeks are unpaid – refer back to EPSLA for potential pay opportunities.
    • The following 10 weeks must be paid in an amount of at least two-thirds of an employee’s regular rate.

If you want more details:

Expanded family and medical leave

Note, though, that the bill gives the U.S. Secretary of Labor the power to issue regulations that exempt small businesses with fewer than 50 employees from this expansion if it would jeopardize the viability of the business. Because of this potential exemption and the fact that these provisions don’t apply to employers with 500 or more employees, many American workers won’t be protected by them.

Tax Credit for Employers

The act will help employers subject to the provisions by allowing them to take a tax credit against their share of Social Security taxes for 100% of the qualified family leave wages they pay each quarter. The amount of wages taken into account for each employee is capped at $200 per day and $10,000 for all calendar quarters. Any excess credit over its Social Security tax liability is refundable to the employer.

No deduction is allowed for the amount of the credit, and no credit is allowed for wages that are subject to the existing Section 45S business tax credit for paid family and medical leave. Employers can elect to not have the credit apply.

The 100% refundable family leave credit also is available for certain self-employed individuals, applicable against income taxes. Self-employed people who would be entitled to paid leave under the expanded FMLA if they were employees of a business are eligible. The qualified leave amount is capped at the lesser of $200 per day or the average daily self-employment income for the taxable year per day. These individuals can count only those days they’re unable to work for reasons covered by the expanded FMLA. The Treasury Department will establish documentation requirements.

Paid sick leave

The act requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide two weeks of paid sick leave, at the employee’s regular rate, to quarantine or seek a diagnosis or preventive care for COVID-19. If the employee must take leave to care for a family member for such purposes, or to care for a child whose school has closed or childcare provider isn’t available, these employees must provide leave paid at two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate. Full-time employees are entitled to 80 hours of paid sick leave, and part-time employees are entitled to the typical number of hours that they work in a typical two-week period.

As with expanded family leave, covered employers can claim an elective refundable 100% tax credit for qualified paid sick leave wages, also against Social Security taxes. But the bill makes a distinction between those wages paid for employee who must self-isolate or obtain a diagnosis and those paid for to employees caring for a family member or child. For the former, the amount of wages taken into account per employee is capped at $511 per day; for the latter, it’s capped at $200 per day. The total number of days taken into account per employee can’t exceed the excess of 10 over the total number of days taken into account for all preceding calendar quarters.

Again, any excess credit over their Social Security tax liability is refundable, no deduction is allowed for the amount of the credit and no credit is allowed for wages that are subject to the Section 45S business tax credit.

The self-employed are similarly eligible for the refundable credit at differing amounts — 100% for their personal needs and 67% to care for a family member or child. The amount of wages is capped at $511 per day or the average daily self-employment income for the taxable year per day.

HDHP coverage

The IRS has published new guidance making clear that high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) can pay for COVID-19-related testing and treatment without putting their status at risk. That means individuals with HDHPs that provide such coverage can continue to contribute to their health savings accounts (HSAs) and deduct the contributions on their 2020 tax returns (or make pre-tax contributions their employer-sponsored HSAs).

Health insurance plans generally must satisfy several requirements to qualify as an HDHP. For example, providing non-preventive health care coverage without a deductible, or with a deductible below the requisite minimum, would forfeit HDHP status. (Vaccinations are considered preventive care.) The IRS is temporarily suspending this rule to avoid administrative delays or other financial disincentives that could impede testing and treating for COVID-19.

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