Supporting clients through COVID-19 challenges

Accounting

Business leaders, accounting professionals and HR professionals have been in the thick of new and expanding COVID-19 laws and regulations from the beginning, leaning on each other through never-ending changes to guide businesses through the pandemic financially and operationally. More than a year later, businesses’ challenges have evolved, but there are still obstacles remaining requiring guidance from trusted advisors, as they forge a path forward and establish plans for a post-COVID-19 environment.

New market research from Paychex, Inc. found that three of the biggest obstacles businesses face are financial instability, bringing employees back to the office, and developing a COVID-19 vaccine policy. Accountants can help clients through each of these areas:

1. Financial instability

In the same survey, 61 percent of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan recipients characterize PPP loans as important to their business’s survival. Many business owners expressed a strong need for additional funds to keep their doors open and keep employees on their payroll. However, many businesses (four out of five) were also unaware of the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC).

With the PPP extension to May 31, 2021, the new ability to apply for ERTC even if you received a PPP loan, the creation of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant program, additional funds added to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program through the American Rescue Plan Act, and much more, your clients probably need all the guidance they can get to understand how to maximize the COVID-19 relief funding for which they are eligible.

2. Bringing employees back to the office

More than half (55%) of businesses surveyed remain at least partially remote, leaving many employers with questions about if and how to bring their employees back to the office safely. Clients’ concerns may include communicating and implementing return to work policies, effective hiring and retention strategies when remote work has expanded both the candidate pool and competitor opportunities, and the health and safety risks or liabilities of gathering employees back in the office.

There are many financial, accounting and tax implications for all of these questions, especially as it relates to having a dispersed (potentially multistate) workforce. For those aspects that aren’t within accountants’ wheelhouses, firms can benefit from referring clients to a network of trusted and vetted partner companies — law firms, payroll providers, human resource services, etc. — that provide other business services. As part of this mutually beneficial relationship, partners can refer their clients to the accounting firm as well, creating a stream of warm leads and building stronger relationships with clients who know they can count on the firm for all of their business needs.

3. Developing a COVID-19 vaccine policy

As of April 19, all adults in the U.S. are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, which means the vast majority of employees now have the opportunity to get vaccinated. This leaves employers wondering how to structure their vaccine policy while remaining compliant with all applicable laws and regulations.

According to the survey, 65% of respondents plan to motivate their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, in some cases offering incentives like paid leave, bonuses or gift cards, positive recognition, and more. However, 25% of businesses expressed concerns around potential legal liabilities if they were to incentivize employee vaccination. Of those employers who will not provide an incentive to get the vaccine, 51% say their top reason for not doing so is, “It’s not my place.”

Many of these businesses will require the guidance of their accounting partners when it comes to assessing financial risks associated with their vaccine policies, including the tax implications of monetary rewards. Though we all wish differently, the pandemic is not over yet, and the business landscape changes every day with new information about the virus, vaccines and relief programs.

While this is a challenging time, it’s also an ideal time for accountants to continue to solidify their advisory role; but after a year on the hamster wheel of crises and resulting regulations with no time to take a step back, many accountants may be asking: How can I be more efficient and effective in my consultations and help clients smoothly transition beyond the pandemic? It doesn’t have to be done alone. Partner with experts, including HR advisors, who can provide complementary services to clients. The combined knowledge, expertise, tools and resources can go a long way toward helping clients survive the impacts of COVID-19 and may help earn their trust and respect long after the pandemic is behind us.

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