On March 18, 2010, President Obama signed the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act. The $18 billion HIRE Act is expected to be the first of several “jobs” bills out of Congress in 2010.

The new law encourages companies to hire unemployed workers and also retain existing workers by providing two key tax incentives: payroll tax relief and a worker retention tax credit. Employers can take a tax credit of up to $1,000 for the year if they hire an unemployed worker and retain the new worker for at least one year.

Payroll tax forgiveness
The Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) is made up of two taxes: Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI) (Social Security) and hospital insurance (HI)(Medicare). Employers pay OASDI tax equal to 6.2 percent of an employee’s taxable wages up to $106,800. The HIRE Act temporarily lifts the employer’s 6.2 percent OASDI tax.

The covered employee must be on the employer’s payroll after February 3, 2010 and before January 1, 2011. However, payroll tax forgiveness applies only to wages paid to covered employees after March 18, 2010 and before January 1, 2011.

Example #1. Ann is hired as a full-time employee working 40 hours each week by ABC Co. Ann’s hire date is January 31, 2010. On March 19, ABC Co. hires Nate as a full-time employee working 40 hours each week. On April 30, ABC Co. hires Cai as a full-time employee working 40 hours each week. Ann is not a covered employee for purposes of the HIRE Act because she began employment with ABC Co. before February 3, 2010. Cai and Nate are covered employees under the HIRE Act because their start dates are after February 3, 2010 and they are on the company’s payroll after March 18, 2010.

The HIRE Act requires that employees certify they had not been employed for more than 40 hours during the 60-day period ending on the date their employment with the qualified employer began. The IRS is developing a form that employers can use to obtain the certification from covered employees.

Example #2. In example #1, Cai and Nate were covered employees under the HIRE Act because their start dates with ABC Co. were after February 3, 2010 and they were on the payroll after March 18, 2010. Before coming to work for ABC Co., Cai was employed full-time (40 hours per week) by XYZ Co. between November 1, 2002 and April 29, 2010 (one day before her date of hire by ABC Co.). Consequently, Cai cannot certify that she had not been employed for more than 40 hours during the 60-day period ending on the date of her employment with ABC Co.

A covered employee must not replace another employee of the employer, with some exceptions. The exceptions cover employees who voluntarily quit and employees who are fired for cause. Additionally, the covered employee must not be related to the employer or own a certain share of the employer’s business. Some employees, for example household employees, are expressly excluded from the HIRE Act.

Retained worker tax credit
As part of the general business credit, the HIRE Act allows employers to claim a worker retention credit. For each qualified employee, the employer’s general business credit is increased by the lesser of $1,000 or 6.2 percent of the retained worker’s wages paid during a 52-week consecutive period.

The covered employee must be on the employer’s payroll after March 18 and continue in employment for at least 52 consecutive weeks. Additionally, the covered employee’s wages during the last 26 weeks of the 52 consecutive week period must equal at least 80 percent of the wages paid during the first 26 weeks of that period.

Example #3. In example #1, Nate was a covered employee under the HIRE Act because his start date with ABC Co. was after February 3, 2010. Additionally, Nate qualified his employer for payroll tax forgiveness because he was on the company’s payroll after March 18, 2010. At the close of business on September 24, 2010, Nate resigns from ABC Co. Consequently, ABC Co. may claim payroll tax forgiveness for Nate for the period between March 19, 2010 and September 24, 2010 but ABC Co. cannot claim the retained worker tax credit because Nate did not remain employed with the company for at least 52 consecutive weeks.

Employers will need to maintain careful records with respect to each new employee hired in order to show that the new worker qualifies the employer for the credit. It is presumed that the IRS will begin crafting a form to be used by employers in order to claim the credit.

These incentives are temporary so don’t delay. Please call us with any questions.