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Businesses That Paid Wages for Emergency Paid Leave Might Be Eligible for Tax Credits

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  • Last Updated: 06/05/2023

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Employers who paid wages for emergency paid leave under a series of laws that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic might be eligible for tax credits.

Table of Contents

A series of co-mingled laws dating back to the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 provided billions of dollars in aid that included funding to help finance the requirement for certain employers to offer emergency paid sick and emergency family and medical leave — and later credit for qualified employers who voluntarily offered this coverage.

The end of the National Public Health Emergency resulted in the end of these requirements for certain employers to offer the emergency leaves. What remains now for businesses still trying to recover from the negative financial impact of the pandemic is the potential to claim payroll tax credits if they were eligible but did not claim these credits previously or if they need to adjust the amounts they claimed.

Note: These tax credits need to be reconciled with other tax credits and government funding to ensure that no double-dipping takes place, which includes any tax credits/amounts already claimed and received for Paycheck Protection promise (PPP) loan forgiveness and the employee retention tax credit.

It’s important to understand the framework of leave and associated credit for any employer who needs to amend any prior quarter’s Form 941 in 2020 and 2021 to claim or adjust the credit, so it is done accurately. This requires the use of Form 941-x.

Tax Credits Under Family First Coronavirus Response Act

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) originally offered payroll tax credits to American private employers with fewer than 500 employees to offset the costs of the requirement to provide employees with qualifying paid leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. When that mandate sunset at the end of 2020, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) extended and expanded the payroll tax credits, allowing covered employers to take the credits until Sept. 30, 2021, if they voluntarily provided employee paid leave under the FFCRA framework.

However, the credit could be impacted by state and local COVID-19 leave requirements and the interaction with the requirements under FFCRA. Plus, an employer could only qualify for the federal tax credit if the leave met the requirement of the original FFCRA mandate.

It should be noted that the credit cannot be claimed by private employers with 500-plus employers even if they offered comparable leave.

The following highlights the changes under ARPA and delineates by date because if you plan to claim the credit on payroll taxes paid through March 31, 2021, or after April 1, 2021, there are different requirements.

What is the Purpose of the Tax Credits?

Employers who provided employees with qualified paid leave related to COVID-19 that fell under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) and/or the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA) can receive tax credits to reimburse 100 percent of leave wages paid.

April 1, 2020 through March 31, 2021

Generally, American private employers with fewer than 500 employees were eligible to claim the credits. Self-employed individuals could have claimed the family leave credit for up to 50 days.

April 1, 2021 through Sept. 30, 2021

In addition to private employers, healthcare providers and certain governmental and state/local employers became eligible to claim the credit under the same requirements. The limit on the family leave credit for self-employed individuals increased to 60 days.

Under ARPA, new non-discrimination rules also were established that apply to the credit for either leave, disallowing a credit for any employer who discriminates in favor of highly compensated employees, full-time employees or employees based on employment tenure.

Calculation of Maximum Hours

April 1, 2020 through March 31, 2021

  • Full-time employees were entitled to 80 hours of leave under the EPSLA if they were normally scheduled to work at least 40 hours each workweek.
  • Part-time employees who worked less than 40 hours per week were entitled to EPSL in the amount up to the number of hours that an employee works, on average, over a two-week period.

The U.S. DOL included additional guidance in its Temporary Final Rule for the calculation of maximum EPSL if a traditional weekly schedule does not exist or if a schedule varies.

Under the EFMLEA, calculate hours of leave based on the number of hours the employee is normally scheduled to work. If the normal hours scheduled are unknown, or if the part-time employee’s schedule varies, you may use a six-month average to calculate the average daily hours.

April 1, 2021 through Sept. 30, 2021

The maximum number of days for which qualified sick leave wages could be paid and the number allowed for an employer to get a credit would be reset to 10 days. Hours were calculated as noted above. However, employees couldn’t carry over unused hours. If an employer chose to provide leave under the EPSLA or EFMLEA, they would be eligible to claim the credit again.

What Are the Qualifying Reasons for Taking Leave?

April 1, 2020 through March 31, 2021

An employee qualified for EPSL if they were unable to work (including unable to telework) related to COVID-19 because the employee:

  1. Was subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order
  2. Had been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine
  3. Was experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis
  4. Was caring for an individual subject to an order (described in 1) or self-quarantine (described in 2)
  5. Was caring for his or her child whose school or place of care is closed (or childcare provider is unavailable)
  6. Was experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Part-time employees would generally have been eligible for Emergency Paid Sick Leave in an amount equivalent to their regularly schedule hours for a two-week period.

Under the EFMLEA, an employee would have only qualified for leave under No. 5 above.

April 1, 2021 through Sept. 30, 2021

The American Rescue Plan Act changed leave under the EFMLEA. Employees qualified for all six reasons to take leave that was available under the EPSLA, plus both leaves gained additional reasons under No. 3 (above), as follows:

  • Employers could have claimed the credit for sick leave wages paid for employees taking leave while they awaited the results of a diagnostic test for COVID-19 after being exposed to the virus or because their employer requested the test.
  • Leave taken for the employee to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine or to recover from any health issues resulting from the vaccine.

What Are the Wage Calculations for Paid Sick Leave?

Employees were to be paid based on:

  • For reasons Nos. 1 to 3 above, the higher of the employee's regular rate of pay, or the applicable state or federal minimum wage, up to $511 per day
  • For reasons Nos. 4 to 6 above, the higher of 2/3rds of the employee's regular rate of pay, or the applicable state or federal minimum wage, up to $200 per day

What Should Businesses Know About the EPSLA?

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 changed some of the provisions of the FFCRA, including the reallocation of which portion of the credit is non-refundable. The amount of the credit stayed the same.

April 1, 2020 through March 31, 2021

  • If the credit exceeded the employer’s total liability of the portion of Social Security in any calendar quarter, the excess was refundable to the employer.

April 1, 2021 through Sept. 30, 2021

  • If the credit exceeded the employer’s total liability of the portion of Medicare in any calendar quarter, the excess is refundable to the employer.

Additional changes included:

  • The credit increased by the cost of the employer’s qualified health plan expenses and by the certain employer’s collectively bargained contributions to a defined benefit pension plan and certain amounts of collectively bargained apprenticeship program contributions.

Paid sick time provided under this Act was not preempted by other federal, state, or local laws. The IRS created FAQs that provide an overview of the tax credits.

What Should Businesses Know About the EFMLEA?

Under the EFMLEA:

Through March 31, 2021

An eligible employee qualifies for leave for caring for his or her child whose school or place of care is closed (or childcare provider is unavailable) would be paid by their employer after the first 10 days of leave at a rate of not less than two-thirds of their current rate of pay for the number of hours the employee would otherwise be scheduled to work, up to a maximum of $200 per day or an aggregate of $10,000, for up to 12 weeks in a 12-month period.

April 1, 2021 through Sept. 30, 2021

Other changes under ARPA are an increase in the maximum aggregate amount to $12,000 for up to 12 weeks in a 12-month period and the expansion of eligibility to include employers of healthcare workers and emergency responders


Employers must retain documents and information regarding leave for a period of four years, regardless of whether the decision was made to grant or deny the request for leave.

For tax credit purposes, the U.S. DOL requires employers to maintain the following for four years:

  • Documentation to show how the employer determined how much paid leave the employee was eligible for (e.g., records of work performed, telework, and paid leave credits)
  • Documentation to show how the employer determined the amount of qualified health plan expenses that were allocated to wages.
  • Copies of any completed IRS Forms 7200 and 941 that the employer submitted to the IRS (or provided to a third-party payer to meet an employer’s employment tax obligations).

How Paychex Can Help

The passage of multiple laws created complexities for businesses owners who want to take advantage of the paid leave tax credits. However, employers must review their obligations under existing state and local COVID-19 leave laws, as well as any other federal, state or local laws related to an employee’s right to leave.

This is a good time to re-evaluate your HR needs. Consider how our HR Servicestax services and payroll solutions could save you time by helping alleviate extra work and the potential risk of non-compliance.

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Laurie Savage is Senior Compliance professional, leading robust legislative research efforts analyzing intricate policy, including the Affordable Care Act (ACA), paid leave, tax reform and recently, legislation responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.


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* Este contenido es solo para fines educativos, no tiene por objeto proporcionar asesoría jurídica específica y no debe utilizarse en sustitución de la asesoría jurídica de un abogado u otro profesional calificado. Es posible que la información no refleje los cambios más recientes en la legislación, la cual podrá modificarse sin previo aviso y no se garantiza que esté completa, correcta o actualizada.

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