FAQ: Employer leave-based donation programs for COVID-19 relief, and their tax implications

Earlier this year, the IRS released Notice 2020-46, providing guidance for employees and employers establishing and participating in leave-based donation programs that provide assistance to victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. Read on for answers to frequently asked questions about this type of program, as well as federal income and employment tax implications for participants. 

What are leave-based donation programs?

Leave-based donation programs originated in 1997, when Congress authorized federal agencies to create plans allowing federal employees to donate unused leave to fellow employees who had been impacted by a specified major disaster. The IRS later ruled that non-governmental organizations were also eligible to create such plans. In 2017, after Hurricane Harvey, the IRS expanded the plans by allowing employers to use the donated leave to make cash payments to qualified charitable organizations assisting disaster victims.

Leave-based donation programs are optional and at the discretion of the employer.

What are the requirements for leave-based donation programs related to COVID-19?

According to the new IRS notice, employees can choose to forego vacation, sick, or personal leave in exchange for cash payments that the employer makes to charitable organizations providing relief for victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers’ payments must be made before Jan. 1, 2021, to qualify.

What is the tax treatment of the employee-donated leave?

Cash payments for the employee’s donated leave will not be treated as wages or compensation to the employee or otherwise included in their gross income. It follows that the employee is thus not permitted to claim a charitable contribution deduction on their personal income tax return for the value of the donated leave.

Employers should not include the value of the donated leave on the employee’s W-2.

What is the tax treatment of the employer contributions made to charitable organizations?

An employer may choose to deduct these cash payments under the rules of Internal Revenue Code (IRC) sections 170 (charitable contributions) or 162 (trade and business expenses/wages) provided the employer “otherwise meets the respective requirements of either section,” the notice states. Consider, for example, the limitations on charitable contributions to a percentage of the employer’s taxable income. 

What does CohnReznick think?

In the current economic environment, employees as well as employers are looking for innovative ways to help their co-workers. Before starting a leave-based donation program, it is important to understand the tax implications that such programs could generate.

For more information, view the full IRS Notice 2020-46


Lori Rothe Yokobosky, CPA, Partner, Exempt Organizations Tax Services Practice Leader


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    Contact Lori Lori+Yokobosky lorirothe.yokobosky@cohnreznick.com
    Lori Yokobosky

    CPA, MST, Partner & Exempt Organizations Tax Services Leader

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Any advice contained in this communication, including attachments and enclosures, is not intended as a thorough, in-depth analysis of specific issues. Nor is it sufficient to avoid tax-related penalties. This has been prepared for information purposes and general guidance only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. You should not act upon the information contained in this publication without obtaining specific professional advice specific to, among other things, your individual facts, circumstances and jurisdiction. No representation or warranty (express or implied) is made as to the accuracy or completeness of the information contained in this publication, and CohnReznick LLP, its partners, employees and agents accept no liability, and disclaim all responsibility, for the consequences of you or anyone else acting, or refraining to act, in reliance on the information contained in this publication or for any decision based on it.