IRS Provides Guidance for Employer Sponsored Leave Donation Programs for Hurricane Harvey Relief

The IRS in Notice 2017-48 provided guidance on the use of leave-based charitable donation programs that employers can use to provide Hurricane Harvey relief.  Under such programs, employees give up certain amounts of vacation, sick or personal leave in exchange for which the employer makes a cash donation to a qualified charitable organization for Hurricane Harvey relief.

Normally such an arrangement would arguably be taxable to the employee, followed by a charitable contribution deduction for the employee or, in the alternative, that the payments are charitable contributions of the employer which would be subject to the appropriate limits on charitable contribution deductions.  This notice provides that the IRS will not assert that position for programs that meet the requirements of this notice.

As the notice provides:

The Internal Revenue Service (the Service) will not assert that cash payments an employer makes to § 170(c) organizations in exchange for vacation, sick, or personal leave that its employees elect to forgo constitute gross income or wages of the employees if the payments are: (1) made to the § 170(c) organizations for the relief of victims of Hurricane Harvey and Tropical Storm Harvey; and (2) paid to the § 170(c) organizations before January 1, 2019.

Similarly, the Service will not assert that the opportunity to make such an election results in constructive receipt of gross income or wages for employees. Electing employees may not claim a charitable contribution deduction under § 170 with respect to the value of forgone leave excluded from compensation and wages.

The Service will not assert that an employer is permitted to deduct these cash payments exclusively under the rules of § 170 rather than the rules of § 162. Cash payments to which this guidance applies need not be included in Box 1, 3 (if applicable), or 5 of the Form W-2.