Calculating FTE Employees For The Employee Retention Credit

Understanding the Employee Retention Credit (ERC) involves diving deep into several key aspects, one of which is the Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) calculation. As businesses look to leverage the ERC to navigate economic downturns and retain their workforce, understanding how to calculate FTE employees becomes paramount. This article provides a comprehensive guide on this vital aspect of the ERC.

Introduction to the Employee Retention Credit (ERC)

The Employee Retention Credit, introduced under the CARES Act during the COVID-19 pandemic, is a refundable tax credit aimed at assisting employers in retaining their employees during economic hardships. The credit is available to eligible employers who maintain their workforce even amidst reduced revenues or business disruptions.

Why the FTE Calculation Matters

In the context of the ERC, determining the number of FTE employees is crucial for several reasons:

  • Determining Eligibility: The ERC has different criteria based on the size of the business, which hinges on the number of FTEs.
  • Calculating the Credit Amount: The credit amount can vary based on the number of employees, making the accurate calculation of FTEs imperative.

Understanding Full-Time Equivalent (FTE)

At its core, an FTE aggregates part-time employees into “full-time equivalent” terms to give businesses a clearer understanding of their total labor force in full-time terms.

For example, if two employees each work 20 hours a week, they can be considered as one FTE, representing a standard 40-hour work week.

The Step-by-Step Calculation

a. Individual Employee Calculation

Begin by calculating the hours worked by each employee in a week:

  • For full-time employees (typically working 40 hours a week or more), count them as one FTE.
  • For part-time employees, divide their average weekly hours by 30 (or 40, based on the applicable standard).

For example, an employee working 15 hours a week would be counted as 0.5 FTE if using a 30-hour benchmark.

b. Aggregate Calculation

After calculating the FTE for each employee, sum up the FTE values to get the total FTE employees for your business.

c. Seasonal Adjustments

For businesses with seasonal workers, consider the peak and off-peak periods. If, for instance, you have more employees during the summer due to increased demand, you’d calculate FTEs separately for this period and then average it out over the year.

The Impact of FTE Count on ERC Eligibility

The number of FTEs can affect eligibility and the amount of credit in the following ways:

  • Small Employers vs. Large Employers: Typically, the ERC differentiates between small and large employers, with different benefits and criteria. For instance, the CARES Act initially set the threshold at 100 FTEs, meaning businesses with 100 FTEs or fewer qualified as “small employers.”
  • Credit Calculation: For small employers, all wages (including those paid to employees still working) can qualify for the ERC. For larger employers, only the wages paid to employees not providing services would qualify.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid

When calculating FTEs for the ERC:

  • Don’t Mix Different Benchmarks: Always use a consistent benchmark (either 30 or 40 hours) across all employees.
  • Consider Overtime: While an individual employee can’t be counted as more than one FTE, remember to include overtime hours in total wage calculations.
  • Documentation is Key: Keep meticulous records of employee hours, especially for part-timers, to ensure accuracy and to provide necessary documentation if requested by authorities.

Leveraging Professional Assistance

Given the intricacies of FTE calculations and their implications for the ERC, many businesses opt to consult with tax professionals or accountants. This ensures accuracy and maximizes the benefits derived from the ERC.

Advanced Considerations for FTE Calculations

While the basic principles of FTE calculations remain constant, specific scenarios and considerations can affect the outcome. Let’s delve into some advanced considerations:

a. Fluctuating Work Hours

For employees with variable hours, businesses must look at a representative period to determine the average hours worked. This could be the previous month, quarter, or even a year, depending on the regularity of the work schedule.

b. Leaves of Absence

How should you account for employee leaves, whether for medical reasons, vacations, or sabbaticals? Generally, if an employee is on paid leave, those hours can be considered in the FTE calculation, but specific guidelines from the IRS or other governing bodies should be reviewed for exact methodologies.

c. Temporary Increases in Workforce

If you hired additional temporary staff for a specific project or peak demand period, it’s crucial to factor these employees into your FTE calculation for the time they were employed.

The Changing Landscape of ERC and FTE Calculations

As with many tax laws and credits, guidelines can evolve based on legislative changes or interpretations by tax authorities:

a. Legislative Updates

The CARES Act introduced the ERC, but subsequent acts and amendments may change the criteria. Businesses must stay updated with the latest regulations.

b. IRS Guidance

The IRS periodically releases guidance on various tax matters, including clarifications on FTE calculations and ERC criteria. Keeping an eye on IRS publications ensures you’re always in line with the latest guidance.

Beyond the ERC: The Broader Implications of FTE

Understanding and accurately calculating FTE is not only vital for the ERC but has broader implications:

  • Financial Planning: FTE data plays a crucial role in budgeting and forecasting, especially concerning payroll costs.
  • Operational Strategy: Knowing your FTE can help in resource allocation, especially in industries where personnel costs are a significant operational expense.
  • External Reporting: For businesses that have external investors or stakeholders, accurate FTE data might be a required reporting metric to gauge business health and operational efficiency.

Final Thoughts: The Interplay of FTE and ERC


The Employee Retention Credit offers a much-needed respite for businesses during economic downturns. However, to make the most of it, understanding the nuances, like the FTE calculation, is crucial. By meticulously calculating FTEs, businesses can determine their eligibility, understand the potential credit they can receive, and navigate the challenges of economic hardships more effectively.

The Employee Retention Credit, in essence, was designed to bolster businesses during tough economic times, with FTE calculations serving as a pivotal component in determining eligibility and credit amounts.

By understanding the intricacies of FTE and staying updated with the latest guidelines, businesses can confidently navigate the ERC landscape. This not only ensures they benefit from the available credits but also reinforces sound business practices that stand them in good stead, irrespective of economic conditions.


1. What does FTE stand for?
FTE stands for Full-Time Equivalent. It’s a standard that helps businesses consolidate part-time employees into full-time terms.

2. Why is FTE important for the Employee Retention Credit?
Calculating FTE is crucial for determining eligibility for the ERC and the potential amount of the credit a business might receive.

3. How do I calculate the FTE for a part-time employee?
Divide the average weekly hours of a part-time employee by a benchmark (typically 30 or 40 hours) to get their FTE count. For example, an employee working 15 hours a week would be 0.5 FTE using a 30-hour benchmark.

4. Does an employee working more than 40 hours a week count as more than one FTE?
No. An individual employee cannot be counted as more than one FTE, even if they work overtime.

5. How do temporary or seasonal workers factor into the FTE calculation?
For businesses with seasonal fluctuations, FTEs should be calculated separately for peak periods and then averaged over the year or the period they were employed.

6. Are there any changes to how FTE is calculated for the ERC in recent times?
It’s essential to monitor the latest guidelines and legislative changes, as specifics might evolve based on new interpretations or amendments.


  • IRS’s Official ERC and FTE Guide: A comprehensive source detailing the ins and outs of the Employee Retention Credit and FTE calculations.
    Link to IRS ERC Page
  • U.S. Department of Labor: Provides insights into labor laws and standards which can be relevant when considering working hours for FTE calculations.
    Link to U.S. Department of Labor
  • Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM): A resource for HR professionals that often includes guidance on complex topics like FTE calculations.
    Link to SHRM
  • Local CPA Firms and Financial Advisors: Personalized advice tailored to your business’s specifics can be invaluable. Reach out to professionals well-versed in ERC and FTE intricacies.
  • Accounting and Payroll Software Guides: If you’re using software like QuickBooks, ADP, or Xero, they often have resources or tools to help with FTE calculations tailored to the ERC.
  • National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA): Provides resources and updates related to accounting standards, which may include updates on ERC and FTE matters.
    Link to NASBA

By leveraging these resources and staying informed, businesses can ensure they’re accurately calculating FTEs and maximizing the benefits from the Employee Retention Credit.


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