What Are Charitable Leave Donations?

What are charitable leave donations?

Like many employers, you may allow employees to carry over unused vacation pay from one year to the next. With the year winding down, and gift giving on the minds of many, some staff members might inquire about donating their unused vacation pay to charity (charitable leave donations); and you may wonder (while wholeheartedly supporting their altruism): Is doing so allowed under IRS rules? Fiducial has the answer.

“Assignment of income” and charitable leave donations

Indeed, it is. For federal tax purposes, charitable leave donations are typically treated as if the employee had received the vacation pay and made the charitable contribution on his or her own. The donated leave is treated as an “assignment of income” that’s taxable to the donor employee and subject to federal income tax withholding and other applicable employment taxes (such as FICA and FUTA).

The IRS has occasionally recognized exceptions to this rule following extraordinary events, such as the September 11th terrorist attacks and certain natural disasters. Although these exceptions are historically rare, they’ve become more frequent and their terms and conditions more uniform.

Generally, cash payments made by employers to “qualified tax-exempt organizations” in exchange for vacation, sick or personal leave that employees elect to forgo aren’t treated as income to the employees if the payments are:

  • Made for the relief of victims of a designated disaster, and
  • Paid by the employer to the organizations before the designated deadline.

Qualified tax-exempt organizations include religious, charitable, and educational organizations. Contribution periods usually extend for more than a year. For example, charitable contributions for Hurricane Michael, which struck in October 2018, must be paid before January 1, 2020.

IRS affirmations

The IRS has affirmed that the mere opportunity to make a leave donation won’t result in constructive receipt of income for employees who choose not to donate. The agency has also noted that employees who make donations cannot deduct the value of the donated leave on their income tax returns as a charitable contribution — that would be “double-dipping.”

Finally, the IRS has assured employers making the contributions that they would be permitted to deduct the payments as trade or business expenses without regard to the restrictions under Internal Revenue Code Section 170. Among its various stipulations, Sec. 170 generally limits a corporation’s aggregate charitable contribution deductions for any taxable year to 10% of its taxable income.

child handing wrapped package to another child; charitable leave donations; Photo by willian_2000Beginning a formal program for charitable leave donations

If your organization decides to implement a formal charitable leave donation program, there are a few ways to go about it. You can choose to limit contributions to only a few designated charities, which might simplify administration; or you could allow employees to select from many organizations. In either case, consider distributing written guidelines that clarify how the program works and where employees can send their donations. Fiducial can help you decide how you would like to structure this for your business, draft guidelines for employees, and we can guide you through any other issues related to taxes and implementation of such a program.

Also, check state law requirements — especially if you’re considering extending your program to other types of leave, such as sick days. Treating leave as sufficiently earned to include in a leave donation program might alter how that leave is treated for other purposes. Fiducial can help you navigate this process and find the best solution for you and your business. Call Fiducial at 1-866-FIDUCIAL or make an appointment at one of our office locations for help establishing a program or answering any questions about charitable leave donations.