FAQ: Does sick pay get any special tax treatment?

FAQ: Does sick pay get any special tax treatment?

The term “sick pay” can refer to a variety of payments. Some of these payments are nontaxable, while others are treated as taxable income. Some of the taxable payments are treated as compensation, subject to income tax withholding and employment taxes; others are exempt from some employment taxes.

Amounts received for personal injury or sickness through an accident or health plan are taxable income if the employer paid for the plan. If the coverage is provided through a cafeteria plan, the employer, not the employee, is considered to have paid the premiums; thus, the benefits are included in income. If, on the other hand, the employee paid the entire cost of the premiums (or included the premiums in income), then any amounts paid under the plan for personal injury or sickness are not included in income.

An employee who is injured on the job may receive workers’ compensation under a workers’ compensation act. These amounts are fully exempt from income and employment taxes. However, the exemption does not apply to retirement plan benefits that are based on age, length of service, or prior contributions, even if retirement was triggered by occupational sickness or injury. The exemption also does not apply to amounts that exceed the amount provided in the worker’s compensation act. There is no exemption under these plans for amounts received as compensation for a nonoccupational injury or sickness.

Compensatory damages paid for physical injury or physical sickness are not taxable, whether paid in a lump sum or as periodic payments. This applies to amounts received through prosecution of a legal suit or action or through a settlement agreement in lieu of prosecution.  Other nontaxable benefits include disability benefits paid for loss of income or earning capacity as a result of injuries under a no-fault automobile insurance policy.

Payments for permanent injury or loss of a bodily function under an employer-financed accident or health plan are excludible. The payments must be based on the nature of the injury rather than on the length of time the employee is absent from work.

Disability income plans are employer plans that provide full or partial income replacement for employees who become disabled. Employer-provided disability income benefits generally are taxable to employees. Similarly, sick pay that is a continuation of some or all of an employee’s compensation is subject to income tax withholding if paid by the employer. The first six months of payments for sickness or disability, when the employee is off work, are subject to employment taxes, but payments made after the expiration of six months are not subject to FICA (Social Security) and FUTA (unemployment) taxes.

Reimbursements from an employer’s plan for medical expenses are not includible in income and are not subject to income tax withholding. If the employer has no plan or system and pays medical expenses for sickness or disability, the payments are subject to FICA and FUTA for the first six months. Of course, reimbursements of amounts deducted in a prior year must be included in income. Medical reimbursements provided under a self-insured employer plan are not subject to income tax withholding, even if the amounts are included in income.

Payments for sick leave or accumulated sick leave are taxable compensation.

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