Agricultural Labor

Picture of a black howler monkey.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, February 18th, 2022

Did you know that the loudest land animal is the howler monkey?  The howler monkey can produce sounds that reach 140 decibels.  For reference, that is about as loud as a jet engine at take-off, which can rupture your eardrums.  

Like the howler monkey, we are here to make some noise about recent agricultural and resource law updates from across the country.  This edition of the Ag Law Harvest brings you court cases dealing with zoning ordinances, food labeling issues, and even the criminal prosecution of a dairy farm.  We then look at a couple states proposing, or disposing, of legislation related to agriculture.  

A zoning ordinance has Michigan landowners hogtied.  The Michigan Supreme Court recently ruled that Michigan’s 6-year statute of limitations does not prevent a township from suing a landowner for alleged ongoing zoning violations, even if the start of landowner’s alleged wrongdoing occurred outside the statute of limitations period.  

Harvey and Ruth Ann Haney (“Defendants”) own property in a Michigan township that is zoned for commercial use.  Defendants began raising hogs on their property in 2006.  Defendants started with one hog and allegedly grew their herd to about 20 hogs in 2016.  In 2016, Fraser Township (“Plaintiff”) filed suit against Defendants seeking a permanent injunction to enforce its zoning ordinance and to prevent Defendants from raising hogs and other animals that would violate the zoning ordinance on their commercially zoned property.  Defendants filed a motion to dismiss and argued that Plaintiff’s claims were barred because of Michigan’s 6-year statute of limitations.  A statute of limitations is a law that prevents certain lawsuits from being filed against individuals after a certain amount of time has passed.  In Ohio, for example, if someone were to be injured in a car accident, they would only have 2 years to bring a personal injury claim against the person who caused the accident.  That’s because Ohio has passed a law that mandates most personal injury claims to be brought within 2 years of the date of injury.  

In the Michigan case, Defendants argued that because their first alleged wrongdoing occurred in 2006, Plaintiff could not file their lawsuit against the Defendants in 2016.  A trial court disagreed with Defendants and denied their motion to dismiss.  Defendants took the motion up to the Michigan Court of Appeals, and the Court of Appeals found that Plaintiff’s claim was barred because of the 6-year statute of limitations.  Plaintiff appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, which overturned the Court of Appeals’ decision and held that Plaintiff’s claim was not barred.  The Michigan Supreme Court reasoned that the presence of the hogs constitutes the alleged unlawful conduct of the Defendants, and that unlawful conduct occurred in 2006 and has occurred almost every day thereafter.  The court concluded that because Defendants unlawful conduct was ongoing after 2006, Plaintiff’s claims were not barred by the statute of limitations.  The case now goes back to the trial court to be tried on the merits of Plaintiff’s claims against Defendants. 

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.  Family Dollar Stores, Inc. (“Family Dollar”) has found itself in a bit of nutty situation.  Plaintiff, Heather Rudy, has filed a class action lawsuit against Family Dollar, alleging that Family Dollar has misled her and other consumers by marketing its Eatz brand Smoked Almonds as “smoked.”  Plaintiff asserts that Family Dollar is being deceptive because its Smoked Almonds are not smoked over an open fire, but instead flavored with a natural smoke flavoring.  Plaintiff’s claims against Family Dollar include violating the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act (“ICFA”); breaches of express warranty and implied warranty of merchantability; violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act; negligent misrepresentation; fraud; and unjust enrichment.  

Family Dollar filed an early motion to dismiss, arguing that Plaintiff has not stated a claim for which relief can be granted.  A federal district court in Illinois dismissed some of Plaintiff’s claims but ruled that some claims against Family Dollar should be allowed to continue.  Plaintiff’s claims for breaches of warranty, violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, negligent misrepresentation, and fraud were all dismissed by the court.  The court did decide that Plaintiff’s claims under ICFA unjust enrichment should stay.  The court reasoned that Plaintiff’s interpretation that Family Dollar’s almonds would be smoked over an open fire are not unreasonable.  Moreover, the court recognized that nothing on the front label of Family Dollar’s Smoked Almonds would suggest, to consumers, that the term “smoked” refers to a flavoring rather than the process by which the almonds are produced.  The court even pointed out that competitors’ products contain the word “flavored” on the front of similar “smoked” products.  Therefore, the court concluded that Plaintiff’s interpretation of Family Dollar’s Smoked Almonds was not irrational and her claims for violating the ICFA should continue into the discovery phase of litigation, and possibly to trial.  

Undercover investigation leads to criminal prosecution of Pennsylvania dairy farm.  A Pennsylvania Court of Appeals (“Court of Appeals”) recently decided on Animal Outlook’s (“AO”) appeal from a Pennsylvania trial court’s order dismissing AO’s petition to review the decision of the Franklin County District Attorney’s Office (“DA”) to not prosecute a Pennsylvania dairy farm (the “Dairy Farm”) for animal cruelty and neglect.  An undercover agent for AO held employment at the Dairy Farm and captured video of the condition and treatment of animals on the farm, which AO claims constitutes criminal activity under Pennsylvania’s animal cruelty laws.  

AO compiled a report containing evidence and expert reports documenting the Dairy Farm’s alleged animal cruelty and neglect.  AO submitted its report to the Pennsylvania State Police (“PSP”) in 2019.  The PSP conducted its own investigation which lasted for over a year, and in March 2020, issued a press release indicating that the DA would not prosecute the Dairy Farm.  

In response, AO drafted private criminal complaints against the Dairy Farm and submitted those to the local Magisterial District Judge.  The local Magisterial Judge disapproved all of AO’s complaints and concluded that the complaints “lacked merit.”  AO then filed a petition in a Pennsylvania trial court to review the Magisterial Judge’s decision.  The trial court dismissed AO’s petition and concluded that the DA correctly determined “that there was not enough evidence, based upon the law, to initiate prosecution against any of the Defendants alleged in the private criminal complaints.”  AO appealed the trial court’s decision to the Court of Appeals which ended up reversing the trial court’s decision.    

The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court failed to view the presented evidence through a lens that is favorable to moving forward with prosecution and the trial court failed to consider all reasonable inferences that could be made on the evidence.  The Court of Appeals observed that the trial court made credibility determinations of the evidence by favoring the evidence gathered by PSP over the evidence presented by AO.  The Court of Appeals noted that a trial court’s duty is to determine “whether there was evidence proffered to satisfy each element of an offense, not to make credibility determinations and conduct fact-finding.” Additionally, the Court of Appeals found that the trial court did not do a complete review of all the evidence and favored the evidenced obtained by PSP over the evidence presented by AO.  The Court of Appeals determined that had the trial court reviewed all the evidence, it would have found that AO provided sufficient evidence to establish prima facie cases of neglect and animal cruelty, which would have provided the legal basis for the DA’s office to prosecute the claims.  

Lastly, the DA argued that no legal basis for prosecution exists because the Dairy Farm is protected by the normal agricultural operations exemption to Pennsylvania’s animal cruelty laws.  However, the Court of Appeals found that the conduct of the Dairy Farm, as alleged, would fall outside the normal agricultural operations exemption because AO’s report demonstrates that the Dairy Farm’s practices were not the dairy industry norm.    

Ultimately the Court of Appeals found that AO’s private criminal complaints did have merit and that the DA had enough evidence and a legal basis to prosecute AO's claims.  The Court of Appeals remanded the trial court’s decision and ordered that the DA to go ahead and prosecute the Dairy Farm on its alleged animal cruelty violations.  

Wyoming fails to pass legislation limiting what can be considered agricultural land.  The Wyoming House of Representatives struck down a recent piece of legislation looking to increase the threshold requirement to allow landowners the ability to classify their land as agricultural, have their land appraised at an agricultural value, and receive the lower tax rate for agricultural land.  Current Wyoming law classifies land as agricultural if: (1) the land is currently being used for an agricultural purpose; (2) the land is not part of a patted subdivision; and (3) the owner of the land derived annual gross revenue of $500 or more from the marketing of agricultural products, or if the land is leased, the lessee derived annual gross revenues of $1,000 or more from the marketing of agricultural products.  

Wyoming House Bill 23 sought to increase the threshold amount of gross revenues derived from the marketing of agricultural products to $5,000 for all producers.  The Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation and Wyoming Stock Growers associations supported the bill.  Proponents of the bill argued that the intent of agricultural land appraisals is to support commercial agriculture, not wealthy landowners taking advantage of Wyoming’s tax laws.  Opponents of the bill argued that House Bill 23 hurt small agricultural landowners and that the benefits of the bill did not outweigh the harms.  House Bill 23 died with a vote of 34-25, failing to reach the 2/3 approval for bills to advance.  

Oregon introduces legislation relating to overtime for agricultural workers.  Oregon House Bill 4002 proposes to require agricultural employers to pay all agricultural employees an overtime wage for time worked over 40-hours in a workweek.  House Bill 4002 does propose a gradual phase-in of the overtime pay requirements for agricultural employees.  For the years 2023 and 2024, agricultural employees would be entitled to overtime pay for any time worked over 55 hours in a workweek.  For 2025 and 2026, the overtime pay requirement kicks in after 48 hours.  Then in 2027, and beyond, agricultural employers would be required to pay an overtime pay rate to employees that work more than 40 hours in a workweek.   

Stack of W-2 forms.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, January 14th, 2022

As promised, here is the next and final installment of “An Agricultural Employer’s 2021 Tax Obligations: A Series” discussing an agricultural employer’s requirements and obligations under Ohio law.  This installment of the series provides an overview of Ohio employment taxes and additional employer obligations for Ohio’s agricultural employers.  This series covers an employer’s Ohio tax obligations and requirements that arise simply because a business has employees.  This series does not cover the business income or personal income tax reporting obligations of agricultural employers.  

We first discuss Ohio’s income and school district taxes and then we focus on Ohio’s unemployment insurance tax and Ohio’s workers’ compensation requirement for all employers.  The information contained within this series is not meant to be legal and/or tax advice, it is for educational purposes only.  Agricultural employers should seek out the counsel and guidance of an attorney or other tax professional to help ensure compliance with Ohio tax law.  

Ohio Employer Withholding Tax.   

Ohio Employer Withholding Tax.  Generally, employers are required to withhold Ohio income tax and school district tax from employees’ wages.  However, under Ohio law, Agricultural employers are not required to withhold Ohio taxes from wages paid to employees, so long as the employees fall under the definition of agricultural labor in 26 U.S.C. § 3121(g).  “Agricultural labor” includes all services performed:

  • on a farm, in the employ of any person, in connection with the cultivating, raising, and/or harvesting of any agricultural or horticultural commodity; or
  • in the employ of the owner or other operator of a farm, in connection with the operation, management, conservation, or maintenance of such farm and its tools and equipment. 

Can Ohio’s Agricultural Employers Agree to Willingly Withhold Ohio’s Taxes?  In short, the answer is yes.  An agricultural employee must still pay Ohio income tax and their local school district tax on all income earned throughout the year.  If an employee does not have their Ohio taxes withheld from their pay, they may be required to make quarterly estimated tax payments to the state.  Because of this, an employee may request their employer to withhold their Ohio taxes from each paycheck.  An agricultural employer is under no obligation to withhold Ohio taxes, but some do.    

Ohio Withholding Exemption Certificate.  It is important that each employer, even an agricultural employer, have its employees complete an Employee’s Withholding Exemption Certificate (Ohio IT 4).  For agricultural employers that are not going to withhold Ohio’s taxes, it must have each employee check the box next to “I am exempt from Ohio withholding under R.C. 5747.06(A)(1) through (6)” under Section III of Form IT 4.  If no Ohio IT 4 is completed, then an employer must withhold the Ohio’s taxes from an employee’s wages.  

Ohio requires an employer to keep Ohio IT 4 in its records for at least four years and must make it available to the Ohio Department of Taxation upon request

Registering as an Ohio Withholding Agent.  Employers that are required (or choose) to withhold Ohio’s taxes from employees’ wages must register with the Ohio Department of Taxation. This can be done one of three ways. 

  1. By internet.  Registration can be completed online through the Ohio Business Gateway
  2. By phone. Call 1-888-405-4089, listen for the message, and then press 2 to connect with an agent. 
  3. By mail or fax.  Complete Application for Registration as an Ohio Withholding Agent (Ohio IT 1) and mail it to the address provided on the form or fax it to the Ohio Department of Taxation at (614) 387-2165. 

How Much Ohio Income Tax Should an Employer Withhold?  To determine how much Ohio income tax to withhold, visit the Ohio Department of Taxation’s Employer Withholding Tables website

How Much School District Tax Should an Employer Withhold?  School districts impose a tax using one of two methods: traditional or earned income.  School district tax rates and a district’s method of taxation can be found on the Ohio Department of Taxation’s "Employer Withholding: Table of Contents" website.  

For traditional tax base school districts, an employer must use the same wage base and number of exemptions they use when calculating the employee’s Ohio income tax rate.  For earned income tax base school districts, an employer must withhold at a flat rate equal to the school district’s tax rate with no reduction or adjustment for personal exemptions. 

An employee’s school district is determined by the address of the employee’s residence.  School districts and the corresponding four-digit codes can be found at https://www.tax.ohio.gov/finder or by contacting the applicable county auditor. 

Electronic Filing Requirement.  Employers are required to file and pay Ohio income and school district withholding taxes electronically.  The easiest way to do this is through the Ohio Business Gateway.  

Filing Frequency and Payment of Ohio’s Employer Withholding Tax.  An employer’s filing frequency is determined by the combined amount of Ohio and school district income taxes that were withheld or required to be withheld during the look-back period.  Ohio’s look-back period is the 12-month period ending June 30th of the preceding calendar year.  An employer’s filing frequency is re-evaluated every year.  

Ohio’s Income Tax Filing Frequency

Quarterly.  Ohio employers that withheld $2,000 or less in Ohio taxes will be required to file and pay taxes every calendar quarter.  Ohio’s form IT 501 and payment are due by the last day of the month following each calendar quarter.  

Monthly.  Ohio employers that withheld more than $2,000 but less than $84,000 in Ohio taxes will be required to file and pay taxes every month.  Form IT 501 and payment are due within 15 days after the end of each month.  

Partial-weekly.  Ohio employers that withheld $84,000 or more in Ohio taxes are required to make payment of withheld taxes within three banking days from the end of each “partial-weekly period.”  There is no form that is required to be filed each time tax payments are filed.  There are two “partial-weekly periods” in which an employer can be categorized.  An employer’s partial weekly period depends on the day it issues payroll.   

Partial-weekly Period 1:  An employer is in period 1 if it issues payroll on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday. 

Partial-weekly Period 2:  An employer is in period 2 if it issues payroll on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday.

Remember, payment is due within three banking days from the end of each period.  So, if an employer issues payroll on Wednesday, it must submit payment of Ohio taxes within three banking days starting on Friday. 

School District Tax Filing Frequency.  School district tax filing frequency is the same as an employer’s Ohio income tax filing frequency except for employers that qualify as partial-weekly filers.  Partial-weekly employers are required to file school district tax on a monthly basis.  Every time an employer files and remits the school district tax they must complete “Payment of School District Income Tax Withheld” (Ohio SD 101), which can be found on the Ohio Business Gateway.  

Quarterly and Annual Forms.  An employer’s filing obligations do not end by filing the above forms each time it remits payment of Ohio’s taxes.  The following are additional forms that must be completed by an employer either on a quarterly or yearly basis.  Not every form listed below needs to be completed by every employer.  Certain forms correspond with an employer’s filing frequency classification.  These forms can be found on the Ohio Business Gateway.  

Quarterly/Monthly Filers.  Employers that qualify to file and pay Ohio income taxe on a quarterly or monthly basis must file an “Annual Reconciliation of Income Tax Withheld” (Ohio IT 941).  Ohio IT 941 is typically due no later than January 31 of the following year (the 2021 tax year deadline has been extended to March 2, 2022).  The total tax withheld on Ohio IT 941 must equal the amount reported on Ohio IT 3 (discussed below).  

Partial-weekly Filers.  Employers that must pay Ohio taxes on a partial-weekly basis must file a “Quarterly Reconciliation of Income Tax Withheld” (Ohio IT 942) by the last day of each month following a calendar quarter for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Quarters.  A different Ohio IT 942 form titled “4th Quarter/Annual Reconciliation of Income Tax Withheld” is to be filed by partial-weekly employers by January 31 of the following year (the 2021 tax year deadline has been extended to March 2, 2022).  Partial-weekly employers do not submit Ohio IT 941.  

“Transmittal of W-2 and 1099-R Statements” (Ohio IT 3).  All employers must submit Ohio IT 3, which can be done electronically on the Ohio Business Gateway.  Ohio IT 3 requires an employer to report and upload employee W-2s/1099-Rs.  The amount of Ohio taxes withheld and paid by an employer must match the information contained within the W-2s and 1099-Rs.  Ohio IT 3 is usually due by January 31 of the following year (the 2021 tax year deadline has been extended to March 2, 2022).

“Annual Reconciliation of School District Income Tax Withheld” (Ohio SD 141). Employers must also submit Ohio SD 141, which can be done electronically on the Ohio Business Gateway.  Ohio SD 141 compares the amount of school district tax withheld and paid by an employer and the information contained within the W-2s and 1099-Rs uploaded when an employer files Ohio IT 3 (see above).  The amount of school district tax withheld and paid should match the information contained within the W-2s and 1099-Rs submitted by an employer.  Ohio SD 141 is usually due by January 31 of the following year (the 2021 tax year deadline has been extended to March 2, 2022).

Ohio Unemployment Insurance Tax. 

When are Agricultural Employers required to pay Ohio’s Unemployment Insurance? Agricultural employers must pay the Ohio Unemployment insurance tax if it: 

  • Paid cash wages of $20,000 or more in a calendar to agricultural employees in the current calendar year or the preceding calendar year; or 
  • Had at least 10 agricultural employees for some portion of a day in 20 different weeks in the current year or the preceding year

Other Ways Employers can Become Liable for Ohio’s Unemployment Insurance Tax.  An employer can also be required to pay the Ohio Unemployment Insurance tax if it:

  1. Is subject to the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (“FUTA”) in either the current calendar year or preceding calendar year.  
  2. Acquires a business that was subject to Ohio’s unemployment insurance tax. 
  3. Elects to cover its employees voluntarily. 

Employer Must Report Its Own Liability.  Employers are required to report liability by filing “Report to Determine Liability” (JFS 20100) to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (the “ODJFS”), which can be done online at https://thesource.jfs.ohio.gov.   The ODJFS will determine an employer’s liability based on the information provided in JFS 20100.  If an employer is deemed to be liable for Ohio Unemployment Insurance, the ODJFS will issue a 10-digit employer account number.  

Employer Reporting.  Liable employers are required to file quarterly reports to the ODJFS.  Agricultural employers that must pay into the Ohio unemployment insurance fund must file the “Employer’s Wage Detail Report” and the “Quarterly Summary Report.” Employers who had no workers or paid no wages during a quarter are still required to file the above-mentioned reports.  Employers with fewer than 200 employees should file their quarterly reports by using the Ohio Business Gateway or ODJFS’s “The SOURCE Online”  The reports must be filed no later than the last day of the month following the end of a calendar quarter.  

Employer Contributions.  Like FUTA, only the employer is responsible for Ohio’s unemployment insurance tax. Payments made into the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund are called “contributions.”  Contribution rates are determined by an employer’s “experience rating” which is a measure of how much an employer has paid in unemployment taxes and has been charged in benefits.  For more information about contribution rates, visit https://jfs.ohio.gov/ouio/uctax/rates.stm.

Contributions are due no later than the last day of the month following the end of a calendar quarter.  To determine how much tax is due each quarter, an employer multiplies its unemployment tax rate by the amount of taxable wages paid during the quarter.  Contributions must be made each quarter until the “taxable wage base” for each employee has been met.  The taxable wage base for 2022 is $9,000.  This means that an employer is only required to pay its unemployment insurance tax rate on the first $9,000 dollars earned by each employee.  If an employer is unable to make a contribution, the unpaid balance will bear an annual interest rate of 14%, compounded monthly.  

Ohio Workers’ Compensation

While not technically a “tax,” every employer in the state of Ohio, with one or more employees, must have workers’ compensation coverage.  This includes agricultural employers.  There are, however, certain businesses that do not have to carry workers compensation coverage.  These businesses include: 

  • Sole proprietors with no employees
  • Partnerships with no employees
  • Family farm corporations with no employees
  • Limited liability company acting as a sole proprietorship with no employees
  • Limited liability company acting as a partnership with no employees

As you can see, the common attribute shared by the exempt businesses listed above is the fact that those businesses have no employees.  What this means is that if anyone, other than an owner, is performing services for a business and being paid for those services, then the business is required to carry workers’ compensation coverage.  So, for example, if a couple owns and operates a small family farm corporation and only the couple performs the work on the farm, then workers’ compensation coverage is not required.  

Elective Workers’ Compensation Coverage.  For those employers that are not required to carry workers’ compensation coverage, they may still elect to do so.  Oftentimes, businesses elect to carry workers’ compensation insurance to prevent the devastating side effects of a serious injury sustained by an owner.  Using the example of the family farm corporation from above, if the couple decides not to carry workers’ compensation coverage and one of them is injured while farming, their health insurance company may deny their claim because the injury was work-related.  Generally, on-the-job injuries must be covered through workers’ compensation, not an individual’s health insurance.  So, the couple could begin to amass a large sum in medical bills due to the lack of insurance coverage, possibly bankrupting the farm corporation.    

Applying for Workers’ Compensation Coverage.  Employers required to carry workers’ compensation coverage must apply for coverage by submitting the “Application for Coverage (U-3)” to Ohio’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (“BWC”) which can be found at https://www.bwc.ohio.gov/employercoverage.  Employers electing to obtain coverage can apply by submitting the “Application for or Request to Cancel Elective Coverage (U-3S)” which can be found by visiting https://info.bwc.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/bwc/for-employers/employer-forms/application-for-request-cancel-elective-coverage.

Workers’ Compensation Premiums.  The BWC calculates an employer’s premium based on several factors, including total payroll, type of work performed by employees, and an employer’s workplace injury record.  

Premium Payments.  Installment payments of an employer’s premium is based upon a schedule chosen by the employer.  The BWC will send an invoice to each employer for premium/installment payments.  Payments can be made through an e-account on the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation website

Alternative Premium Rate Plans.  It's no secret that workers' compensation insurance can be a costly expense for an employer.  However, the BWC does have alternative premium rate plans for employers looking to reduce the cost of workers' compensation insurance.  These alternative rate plans allow employers that operate similar businesses to join together to potentially achieve a lower premium rate than they could obtain as individual employers.  For more information on alternative premium rate plans visit https://www.bwc.ohio.gov/downloads/blankpdf/altrate.pdf 

Conclusion.  This series was split into two posts because of the massive amount of information presented.  However, the broad overview of this series was very surface level.  There are many exemptions, exceptions, alternate requirements, or additional requirements based on an employer’s unique circumstances that we did not cover for the sake of brevity.  That is why is it important to speak with an attorney or other tax professional so that they can help you navigate federal and state tax laws to make sure you are fulfilling your obligations as an employer and to address any questions or concerns that you may have.  

References and Resources: 

Ohio Administrative Code Chapter 4123, Bureau of Workers’ Compensationhttps://codes.ohio.gov/ohio-administrative-code/4123

Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, BWC Basics for Employershttps://www.bwc.ohio.gov/downloads/blankpdf/BWCBASICS.pdf

Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, Workers’ Compensation Overviewhttps://info.bwc.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/bwc/for-employers/workers-compensation-overview

Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, Employer’s Guide to Ohio Unemployment Insurance,http://www.odjfs.state.oh.us/forms/num/JFS08201/pdf/  

Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, Unemployment Insurance: Employer Resource Hubhttps://unemploymenthelp.ohio.gov/employer/

Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, UI Tax for New Employershttps://jfs.ohio.gov/ouio/uctax/UITaxForNewEmployers.stm

Ohio Department of Taxation, 2022 Ohio Employer and School District Withholding Tax Filing Guidelines,https://tax.ohio.gov/static/employer_withholding/2021%20filing%20guidelines%20updates_rev%2012-22-21.pdf

Ohio Department of Taxation, Estimated Paymentshttps://tax.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/tax/individual/resources/estimated-payments

Ohio Revised Code Chapter 4141, Unemployment Compensationhttps://codes.ohio.gov/ohio-revised-code/chapter-4141

Ohio Revised Code Chapter 4123, Workers’ Compensationhttps://codes.ohio.gov/ohio-revised-code/chapter-4123

Ohio Revised Code Chapter 5747, Income Taxhttps://codes.ohio.gov/ohio-revised-code/chapter-5747

Ohio Revised Code Chapter 5748, School District Income Taxhttps://codes.ohio.gov/ohio-revised-code/chapter-5748

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Multiple W-2 forms.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Tuesday, January 11th, 2022

As we settle into 2022 and regroup after a busy holiday season, one of things an agricultural employer should be thinking about is taxes, more specifically, have they met their obligations when it comes to federal and state employment taxes.  In this two-part series, we discuss the federal and state taxes that an employer is required to withhold from employees’ wages and the tax obligations that an agricultural employer is solely responsible for.  This series covers the taxes and obligations an employer has because of the wages paid to employees.  This series does not cover the business income or personal income tax reporting obligations of agricultural employers.  

The first part of this series focuses on federal taxes and an employer’s obligations when it comes to social security, Medicare, federal income, and federal unemployment taxes. We also discuss when to pay the taxes and how to pay them.  The information contained within this series is not meant to be legal and/or tax advice.  Agricultural employers should seek out the counsel and guidance of an attorney or other tax professional to help them ensure they are compliant with their obligations under federal tax law.

Social Security and Medicare Taxes.  Generally speaking, an employer must withhold social security and Medicare taxes from the wages it pays its employees.  However, there are special rules for agricultural employers.  The $150 Test or the $2,500 Test will help determine if an agricultural employees’ wages are subject to social security and Medicare taxes along with federal income tax withholding requirements.  

All cash wages that an employer pays to an employee during the year for farmwork is subject to social security, Medicare, and federal income tax withholding requirements if either of the following tests are met: 

  • The $150 Test.  An employer pays cash wages to an employee of $150 or more in a year for farmwork. 
    • This includes all cash wages paid on a time, piecework, or other basis. 
  • The $2,500 Test.  The total that an employer paid for farmwork (cash and non-cash wages) to all employees is $2,500 or more during the year. 

Annual cash wages of less than $150 paid to a seasonal farmworker are not subject to social security and Medicare taxes, or federal income tax withholding, even if an employer pays all farmworkers $2,500 or more.  However, these wages do count towards the $2,500 Test to determine whether other farmworkers’ wages are subject to social security and Medicare taxes. 

Social Security Tax Rate.  The social security tax is 6.2% for both the employee and the employer on the first $142,800 paid to each employee in 2021.  This means that an employer must withhold 6.2% of the employee’s wages for social security and the employer must match the 6.2%.  

Medicare Tax Rate.  The Medicare tax rate is 1.45% for each employee, on all wages earned.  An employer must withhold Medicare taxes from an employee’s wages and pay a matching amount.  

Federal Income Tax Withholding.  An agricultural employer must withhold federal income tax from the wages of farmworkers if the wages are subject to social security and Medicare taxes (i.e. is the $150 Test or $2,500 Test met?).  The amount of federal income tax withheld is determined by the gross wages paid to an employee (before any taxes are taken out). 

To know how much federal income tax to withhold from an employee’s wages, an employer should have a Form W-4  (“W-4) on file for each employee.  The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) redesigned Form W-4 for 2020 and beyond.  The new W-4 no longer asks employees to report the number of withholding allowances they are claiming.  The IRS encourages employees to file an updated W-4, but it is not a requirement to help determine the employee’s federal income tax withholding. 

How much does an employer withhold for federal income tax?  The best answer a lawyer can give to this question is, it depends.  Luckily, the IRS has provided a tool to help employers determine the amount of federal income tax to withhold from an employee’s wages.  The Income Tax Withholding Assistant for Employers allows employers to enter an employee’s W-4 information to calculate the amount of federal income tax to withhold.  Note: The Income Tax Withholding Assistant will not be available after 2022.  The IRS suggests using the Income Tax Withholding Assistant to become familiar with how to use the worksheets and tables in Publication 15-T to be able to calculate the amount of federal income tax to withhold after 2022.   

What if my employee claims he or she is exempt from federal income tax withholding?  An employee may claim an exemption from federal income tax withholding because they had no federal income tax liability last year and they expect to have no income tax liability this year.  However, the employee’s wages are still subject to social security and Medicare taxes. 

To claim the exemption, an employee must indicate the exemption on their W-4.  The exemption is not permanent and is only for that year.  To continue to be exempt, an employee must provide their employer a new W-4 by February 15.  If an employee does not provide a new W-4 by February 15, the employer is required to start withholding federal income tax as if the employee had checked the Single or Married filing separate box on their W-4.  If an employee provides a new W-4 after the February 15 deadline, an employer may apply the exemption to future wages but should not refund any taxes withheld while the exempt status was not in place.  

Notice to Employees About Earned Income Credit (“EIC”).  An employer must notify employees who have had no federal income tax withheld that they may be eligible for a tax refund because of the EIC.  One easy way an employer can meet this requirement is by having the EIC notice on the back of the Form W-2 issued to all employees.  

Depositing Social Security, Medicare, and Federal Income Taxes.  Employment taxes must be deposited by electronic fund transfer (“EFT”).  Normally, an EFT is made to the federal government using the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (“EFTPS”).  EFTPS is a free service provided by the Department of Treasury.  For more information on EFTPS visit EFTPS.gov or call 800-555-4477.  If an employer does not want to use EFTPS, it can arrange for its tax professional, financial institution, payroll service, or other trusted third party to make electronic payments on its behalf.  

When to Deposit Social Security, Medicare, and Federal Income Taxes.  An agricultural employer’s deposit schedule is determined from the total tax liability reported on Form 943, line 13, for the lookback period.  The lookback period is the second calendar year preceding the current calendar year.  Since we are in 2022, the lookback period will be 2020.  This means that an employer’s status as either a “monthly schedule depositor” or “semiweekly schedule depositor” will be determined by the amount on Form 943, line 13 from 2020.  

The terms “monthly schedule depositor” or “semiweekly schedule depositor” are not based on how often an employer pays its employees or how often it will be required to make tax deposits.  The terms simply identify which set of rules an employer must follow.  As discussed above the deposit schedule an employer must follow is determined by the total tax liability reported on Form 943, line 13.  For 2022, an employer is a: 

  • Monthly schedule depositor if it reported $50,000 or less in 2020. 
  • Semiweekly schedule depositor if it reported more than $50,000 in 2020. 

Monthly Deposit Schedule.  If an employer is a monthly schedule depositor, it must deposit employment taxes on wages paid during a calendar month by the 15th day of the following month.  If an employer does not pay any wages in a calendar month, it has no deposit requirement for the following month. 

Semiweekly Deposit Schedule.  If payday falls on a Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, then an employer must deposit taxes by the following Wednesday.  If payday falls on a Saturday, Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday, then an employer must deposit taxes by the following Friday.   This is a very simplified explanation and assumes an employer has one payday for all employees.  If an employer has multiple paydays for different employees, it should speak with an attorney or other tax professional to help determine when taxes should be deposited. 

Federal Unemployment Tax Act (“FUTA”).  FUTA, in conjunction with state unemployment systems, provides unemployment compensation to workers who have lost their jobs.  Most employers pay both federal and state unemployment taxes.  Additionally, only the employer is responsible for the FUTA tax, nothing is withheld from an employee’s wages for FUTA.    

Agricultural Employers and FUTA.  An agricultural employer is required to file Form 940 and pay FUTA tax if it: 

  • Paid cash wages of $20,000 or more to farmworkers in any calendar quarter in 2021 or 2022, or 
  • Employed 10 or more farmworkers during at least some part of the day (whether or not at the same time) during any 20 or more different weeks in 2021 or 20 or more different weeks in 2022.  

When determining whether an employer meets either test above, employers must count the wages paid to H-2A workers, even though the wages paid to H-2A workers are not subject to FUTA. 

Form 940 Due Date.  Form 940 is due by January 31.  If an employer made deposits on time and in full, they may file Form 940 by February 10. 

FUTA Tax Rate.  The FUTA tax rate is 6% for 2021.  The tax applies to the first $7,000 an employer pays to each employee.  There is a tax credit that may be applied against the FUTA tax rate for any amounts paid into state unemployment funds.  The maximum credit is 5.4%.  An employer is entitled to the maximum credit if it paid state unemployment taxes in full, on time, and on all the same wages that are subject to FUTA.  Visit the instructions for filing Form 940 for further FUTA tax credit guidance.  

Depositing FUTA Tax.  FUTA taxes are deposited by EFT and are generally deposited on a quarterly basis.  To calculate an employer’s FUTA tax, it should multiple the amount of wages paid to employees by .6% during the quarter.  This percentage may have to be adjusted depending on an employer’s entitlement to the FUTA tax credit for state unemployment contributions.  When an employee’s wages reach $7,000 for the calendar year, an employer does not have to figure any additional FUTA tax for that employee.  

Conclusion.  The above information is a very general overview of an employer’s tax obligations when it comes to its employees.  As you can see, federal tax law can be daunting.  We barely scratched the surface when it comes to specific exemptions or additional obligations for an agricultural employer.  For example, agricultural employers may not always employ farmworkers or employees “engaged in agriculture.”  The requirements and obligations of an employer that employs both farmworkers and non-farmworkers be may different than what is discussed above.  Therefore, we cannot stress enough, the importance of speaking with an attorney or other tax professional so they can help you navigate federal tax law and your obligations as an employer. 

Look out for our next and final installment of “An Agricultural Employer’s 2021 Tax Obligations: A Series” where we will be discussing an agricultural employer’s requirements and obligations under Ohio tax law.  

References and Resources

Internal Revenue Service, Publication 15 - (Circular E), Employer's Tax Guidehttps://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p15.pdf 

Internal Revenue Service, Publication 15-A - Employer's Supplemental Tax Guidehttps://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p15a.pdf

Internal Revenue Service, Draft Publication 51- (Circular A), Agricultural Employer's Tax Guidehttps://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-dft/p51--dft.pdf

Internal Revenue Service, Publication 225 - Farmer's Tax Guidehttps://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p225.pdf 

 

 

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