IRS Approves First Group of Certified PEOs under Voluntary Certification Program

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June 5, 2017

Last week, the IRS announced that it issued notices of certification to 84 organizations that applied for voluntary certification as a certified professional employer organization (CPEO), nearly a year after the IRS finished implementing this program (see prior coverage).  The IRS will publish the CPEO’s name, address, and effective date of certification, once it has received the surety bond.  Applicants that have yet to receive a notice of certification will receive a decision from the IRS in the coming weeks and months.

Congress enacted Code sections 3511 and 7705 in late 2014 to establish a voluntary certification program for professional employer organizations (PEOs), which generally provide employers (customers) with payroll and employment services.  Unlike a PEO, a CPEO is treated as the employer of any individual performing services for a customer with respect to wages and other compensation paid to the individual by the CPEO.  Thus, a CPEO is solely responsible for its customers’ payroll tax—i.e., FICA, FUTA, and RRTA taxes, and Federal income tax withholding—liabilities, and is a “successor employer” who may tack onto the wages it pays to the employees to those already paid by the customers earlier in the year.  The customers remain eligible for certain wage-related credits as if they were still the common law employers of the employees.  To become and remain certified, CPEOs must meet certain tax compliance, background, experience, business location, financial reporting, bonding, and other requirements.

The impact of the CPEO program outside the payroll-tax world has been limited thus far.  For instance, certification does not provide greater flexibility for PEO sponsorship of qualified employee benefit plans.  In the employer-provided health insurance context, the certification program leaves unresolved issues for how PEOs and their customers comply with the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate (see prior coverage).  While the ACA’s employer mandate may become effectively repealed should the Senate pass the new American Health Care Act (AHCA) after the House of Representatives did so last month (see prior coverage here and here), the AHCA would impose its own information reporting requirements on employers with respect to offers of healthcare coverage or lack of eligible healthcare coverage for their employees.  It remains to be seen if the AHCA becomes law, what information reporting requirements will remain, and how PEOs and CPEOs can alleviate these obligations for their customers.