Are COVID Assignments Exempt from Social Security Tax?

We have received a number of messages asking if those working temporarily in COVID disaster areas are exempt from Social Security taxes and Medicare taxes (please see image below).

It’s also found here: Tax Withholding for Government Workers

This does not apply to COVID related assignments for two reasons. 1) The page on the IRS website applies to GOVERNMENT workers – working with a staffing agency is not a government employer and 2) these exemption applies to NATURAL disasters, not biomedical disasters.

Congress would have to pass a bill allowing this and right now, they cannot agree which is why you see more executive orders from the President.

I’m Taking a Crisis Contract – How Does That Affect my Taxes?

travel crisis coronavirus

Several travelers are accepting short term assignments in areas affected by the COVID pandemic. These assignments pay significantly more than regular traveler contracts and are often for a shorter duration than 13 weeks.

What about the taxes?

This is covered in other posts on our blog, but there are three things to note:

1) What is withheld from your paycheck for taxes is not the actual tax – it is an estimate of the taxes owed on the income you earned during the pay cycle.

2) The tax withholding will be higher in percentage terms since the calculation of the withholding ASSUMES you will earn the same amount each paycheck for the remainder of the year

3) The reality is that you will not earn this much with each check all year.

This leaves you two choices: You can either change your withholding short term or just let the withholding run the normal rate. If the later, any tax payments that are more than needed will be refunded when you file your return the following year.

Here is an illustration:

Jane normally earns 50K a year but has an opportunity to earn 7500 a week for 4 weeks on a crisis contract. She will earn 30K during the 4-week assignment, but 80K for the entire year (50+30). The tax withholding on the crisis contract will ASSUME she makes 7500 a week or 390K a year. 390K vs 80K is a big difference but it shows you why the withholding is so high.

What should your withholding be if you want to adjust it? Everyone’s situation is different so this will not work for everyone. Whatever you decide, DO NOT FILE EXEMPT. The one approach you can use is as follows using Jane as an example:

  • Calculate the amount you would earn if you worked the crisis shift all year (390K)
  • Subtract the amount you expect to earn during the crisis contract (30K)
  • Subtract from #2 the amount you expect to make at your REGULAR jobs (50K)
  • Subtract 20K
  • 390-30-50-20= 290K
  • Put this amount on Line 4B on the W4 Withholding Form

The 20K is a buffer should your expectations change and if you linger longer, you will want to adjust your W4 again.

This takes care of the Federal withholding. Every state is different, but if they use the old formulas that ask for EXEMPTIONS, claim Single and 5 or Married and 5.

And finally, after you are done with the crisis contract, CHANGE the withholding back to where it was before you started. AND, be safe!