Weekly Digest – 18 November 2020
A common criticism of the various safety precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 is that none of them is 100% perfect. But, as this article in the Wall Street Journal explains, maybe a “Swiss cheese model” made up of various imperfect layers will be enough to keep us safe. Even the best vaccines aren’t perfect, and it may be as long as a year before one is widely available to all who want it. In the meantime, we are taking a multipronged approach combining the individual actions of frequent handwashing, wearing masks and staying home with public actions of thorough cleaning, banning large gatherings, closing borders, and mandatory closures. With enough layers in place, that may just be enough to keep us safe and prevent drastic shutdowns.
The silver lining to holding our annual symposium as a virtual conference this year is that the awards ceremony was recorded. I am honored to be the recipient of the Leon Alpern award for leadership in NCCPAP and the accounting community and I am thrilled to share this video with all of you.
I am certainly looking forward to thanksgiving as my daughter is arriving on Saturday for the week. We will be be cooking up a small feast and then connect with other family and friends via a group video chat. I hope all of you have some wonderful plans as well.
CARES ACT UPDATES
Another stimulus bill?
With the pandemic surging across most of the country and hospitals at or near capacity, all sides acknowledge the need for an additional round of support. However, neither side is willing to budge on their priorities. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled support for a smaller package while Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi continues to push for a larger package.
Economic Impact Payments (aka Stimulus Checks)
The IRS has extended the deadline to November 21 for non-filers to enter information using the IRS non-filers tool so that they may receive a stimulus payment by year’s end. Millions of people are eligible for stimulus checks but have not yet received them because their income was too low to require filing a 2018 or 2019 tax return. Using the secure non-filers tool will allow the IRS to send payments to eligible recipients this year. Otherwise, they will have to wait until 2021 when they file a 2020 tax return.
The IRS is also reminding college students that some may be eligible to receive a stimulus check this year, but they may need to enter their information using the IRS non-filers tool. To be eligible, college students must:
- Be self-supporting
- Not be eligible to be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return
- Not be required to file a tax return or not planning to file a tax return for 2019
The IRS also reminds some recent college graduates that they may be eligible to receive a stimulus check before the end of 2020. This includes those who graduated in 2019 or 2020 but did not file a tax return for 2018 or 2019 because they were claimed on their parents’ tax return. I advise caution prior to applying for this stimulus check as the student may not be entitled to this check and could put their parents at risk for a rejected efiled tax return. If in doubt, please contact your tax advisor before applying. Again a stimulus funds reconciliation will be part of your 2020 tax return.
Each state in the U.S. has its own income tax laws, which means that remote workers who live and work in a different state than their employer may owe tax in a new state. However, according to a recent poll by the American Institute of CPAs, more than 71% of respondents were unaware of that impact. Nearly half (47%) were unaware that each state has different laws related to remote workers, and 54% were unaware that the number of days spent in a state could impact how much tax they owe to a state. Employees working remotely in a different state than their employer should notify their employer as soon as possible when they change location, and should also track the number of days they spend in each state.
Researchers at Deutsche Bank have proposed a novel tax to be imposed on those who choose to work from home outside of periods of pandemic lockdowns. The proceeds of this tax would support those who are unable to work from home, such as restaurant and retail workers. This tax, to be levied at 5% per day, would be paid by employers who do not provide a permanent desk for workers, or by employees who have the option to return to the office but who choose not to. For an average U.S. salary of $55,000, this would be about $10 per day, which is approximately equivalent to the amount saved when employees do not pay for commuting, lunch and dry cleaning or when employers do not pay for additional cleaning.
WORKING FROM HOME
Running a business from home during the pandemic may mean juggling childcare, schooling and work, as these eight entrepreneur moms profiled in Forbes describe. Among their coping strategies are detailed weekly planning meetings for the family, bringing in outside babysitters, removing all TVs from the home, moving to a new home closer to other family, and simply accepting that less work will get done.
While productivity has been up since the pandemic sent many employees home, innovation has been down, according to research from the Wharton School of Business. Companies tend to be more cautious during uncertain times, but the lack of face-to-face contact is having a bigger impact on innovation. However, some simple steps can help companies improve collaboration:
- Provide access to a wide variety of collaboration tools such as video chat (Zoom, Teams), group texts, email and slack so that employees can find what works best for them.
- Train employees how to work remotely as this is not an inherent skill.
- Establish a consistent routine of connecting with all team members, perhaps with a weekly meeting or regular one-on-one reviews.
- Provide your staff with the office equipment and furniture they need to work comfortably (good quality office chair, computer with 2 screens, scanner/copier, etc.)
- Provide your staff with secure log in so that the data they are working with is protected. We had our IT firm review our safeguards at the beginning of tax season and again in March when we started working remotely.
- If possible upgrade your telephone system or set up a system for forwarding office calls. We converted to a voice over IP system and are able to forward calls, intercom each other and conference with each other.
Groupthink, where everyone falls into a complacent routine of allowing one or two individuals to control the discussion, can be more prevalent in an all-digital workplace, according to an article in Fast Company. Zoom meetings can be exhausting, and without the usual body language cues to alert each other that we’re not all on the same page, it’s easy to assume that all are in agreement. A few tips to minimize groupthink include rotating hosts on Zoom meetings, having separate conversations with quieter team members, and coming to meetings prepared with questions and details of deliverables.
LIVING WITH AND AFTER THE PANDEMIC
Work in the post-pandemic world
Before the pandemic, white-collar companies didn’t have to worry much about workplace safety. That’s now changed, as office-based employers have a new array of safety regulations from OSHA, the CDC, and local health authorities to comply with. These regulations range from the simple, such as wearing masks and enforcing social distancing, to details about drinking fountains and how to track employees’ health records. Complying with these safety regulations not only keeps employees safe, but can also help to ward off workman’s compensation claims when employees fall ill to the virus.
For highly collaborative companies, working from home can be too great an obstacle to continue. That’s why the owner of toy company Basic Fun eventually required all employees to return to work in the office. Jay Foreman carefully evaluated and implemented the CDC’s guidance to create the safest workplace possible. Everyone entering the building wears a mask, workstations are separated, and small group gatherings require masks. Eventually, all but one employee returned to work.
- Our Covid-19 Resource Center with relevant blog posts, videos and prior weekly newsletters
- Payroll, HR and benefits company Gusto has put together An Employer’s Guide to Navigating the Coronavirus
- Accounting Today has a special page for articles on COVID-19
- The best source for up-to-date and accurate health information is the Center for Disease Control (CDC)
- The CDC also has recommendations for businesses and employers
- Intuit QuickBooks has a dedicated page to help small businesses
- The Red Cross has pointers to help young adults stay safe
- Entrepreneur put together a listing of free tech resources for remote work
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has warnings about COVID-related scams
- Fast Company has a listing of the best productivity apps for 2020
- The New York Times has an online newsletter on K-12 and higher education
- The Wall Street Journal has a collection of articles on education
We sincerely hope that you and your family are well and remain well. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We are all in this together!