Financial Lifelines During Crisis: Leveraging 2020 & 2021 Leave Tax Credits

Tax Credits

In response to the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. government implemented a series of financial measures aimed at supporting businesses and their employees. Among these, the provision of tax credits for qualified sick and family leave wages stands out as a critical support mechanism for employers. This in-depth analysis aims to dissect the nuances of these tax credits for the years 2020 and 2021, offering a comprehensive understanding of their implications, benefits, and strategic utilization for businesses navigating through these turbulent times.

2020: The Initial Response to COVID-19

Overview of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)

In March 2020, as the pandemic began its global spread, the FFCRA was enacted to mitigate the economic impact on businesses and employees. This legislation introduced two pivotal tax credits:

Qualified Sick Leave Credit

  • Purpose: To compensate employers for providing paid sick leave to employees directly affected by COVID-19, whether due to quarantine, symptoms, or seeking a diagnosis.
  • Coverage: Up to 80 hours (two weeks) of sick leave at the employee’s regular pay, with a daily cap of $511 and an aggregate cap of $5,110 per employee.

Qualified Family Leave Credit

  • Purpose: To support employers offering paid family leave to employees caring for quarantined family members or children due to school closures.
  • Coverage: Up to 10 weeks at two-thirds of the employee’s regular pay, with a daily cap of $200 and an aggregate cap of $10,000 per employee.

Strategic Considerations for 2020

The introduction of these credits required swift adaptation by businesses. Strategic considerations included:

  • Operational Adjustments: Implementing remote work policies or flexible scheduling to accommodate employee absences while maintaining productivity.
  • Financial Planning: Leveraging the tax credits to maintain cash flow, ensuring that the costs of paid leave did not unduly burden the business.
  • Compliance and Documentation: Keeping meticulous records of employee absences and payments for sick and family leave to substantiate claims for the tax credits.

2021: Extending and Expanding Support

Recognizing the ongoing impact of the pandemic, the government extended and modified the tax credits into 2021 through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Enhancements Under ARPA

  • Extension: The tax credits were extended through September 30, 2021, offering continued support as businesses and employees faced ongoing challenges.
  • Expansion: The reasons for eligible leave were broadened to include obtaining immunizations and recovering from immunization-related complications, reflecting the evolving landscape of the pandemic.
  • Increased Limits: The aggregate cap for the family leave credit was raised, allowing employers to claim up to $12,000 in credits per employee, accommodating the extension of benefits.

Strategic Implications for 2021

With the extensions and expansions in place, businesses were encouraged to:

  • Reevaluate Leave Policies: Update policies to align with the expanded reasons for eligible leave, ensuring employees could take advantage of vaccination opportunities.
  • Revise Financial Forecasts: Incorporate the extended and expanded credits into financial planning, adjusting budgets and forecasts to account for the extended period of support.
  • Enhance Employee Communications: Clearly communicate the availability of extended sick and family leave benefits to employees, fostering a supportive workplace environment.


As we reflect on the tumultuous years of 2020 and 2021, it’s clear that the strategic deployment of sick and family leave tax credits, alongside enhanced dependent care benefits, represented a critical lifeline for businesses and families navigating the uncertainties of the pandemic. These measures not only offered financial relief but also underscored the importance of agility, empathy, and strategic foresight in business and tax planning. As we move forward, the insights gained from this period will undoubtedly continue to influence best practices for supporting employees and managing fiscal responsibilities in times of crisis.

Call to Action

Is your business looking to navigate the complexities of tax credits and benefits with confidence and strategic insight? Reach out to us at for expert guidance and support. Let’s work together to maximize your financial health and operational resilience, leveraging the lessons learned from the pandemic to prepare for a brighter future.


This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, tax, or financial advice. The information contained herein is based on laws and regulations that are subject to change. Readers are encouraged to consult with a professional advisor for advice on their specific situation.

Frequently Asked Questions about Sick and Family Leave Tax Credits for 2020 & 2021

What were the sick and family leave tax credits introduced in 2020? 

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) introduced tax credits for employers providing qualified sick leave and family leave wages to employees affected by COVID-19, including care for quarantined individuals or children due to school closures.

How did the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 change these tax credits? 

ARPA extended the availability of these credits through September 30, 2021, expanded eligibility to include leave for COVID-19 vaccinations and recovery, and increased the limit for the family leave credit.

Were the sick and family leave tax credits refundable? 

Yes, both credits were designed to be fully refundable to ensure that employers could recoup the full amount of qualified wages paid, even if it exceeded their total payroll tax liabilities.

Could self-employed individuals claim these tax credits? 

Yes, self-employed individuals could claim equivalent credits on their income tax returns for qualified sick leave and family leave equivalent amounts, subject to similar conditions applied to employers.

What constituted qualified wages for the purpose of these credits?

Qualified wages were those paid to an employee who was unable to work (or telework) due to COVID-19-related reasons, including government quarantine orders, symptoms and seeking diagnosis, and caring for affected family members or children due to school and care facility closures.

Was there a cap on the amount of wages that qualified for these credits?

Yes, there were daily and aggregate caps on the number of qualified wages that could be claimed for each employee, which varied based on the reason for leave and whether it was sick leave or family leave.

Did employers need to provide any documentation to claim these credits? 

Employers were required to maintain documentation supporting each employee’s eligibility for qualified leave, including the reason for leave and duration, but this documentation was not submitted to the IRS with the credit claim.

How did employers claim the sick and family leave tax credits? 

Employers claimed these credits on their quarterly federal employment tax returns (Form 941) by reporting total qualified leave wages paid to employees for each calendar quarter.

Could employers still pay their employees more than the capped amounts for sick and family leave? 

Employers could choose to pay more than the capped amounts; however, the tax credits would only cover wages up to the specified limits for each type of leave.

What happened to unused sick and family leave tax credits after 2021?

While the specific credits under FFCRA and ARPA were designed for relief during the pandemic and had expiration dates, any unused credits could be carried forward on future payroll tax returns. Employers were encouraged to keep abreast of any legislative updates for potential extensions or new relief measures.

These FAQs provide a broad overview of the sick and family leave tax credits available during 2020 and 2021, offering critical insights for businesses and self-employed individuals navigating the complexities of pandemic-related tax relief measures.

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