Employee Retention Credit California: A Comprehensive Guide for Businesses

The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a significant financial provision aimed at supporting businesses struggling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially introduced as a temporary measure, the ERC has provided valuable tax credits to help employers keep their workforce on the payroll. In California, numerous businesses have benefited from these tax credits, with some receiving tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in relief sources.

Since its inception, the ERC has evolved to accommodate the changing needs of businesses affected by the ongoing pandemic. In California specifically, companies have been able to retain their workforce and maintain operations amidst economic challenges, thanks to the Employee Retention Credit source. This financial assistance is crucial for the stability and resilience of the California economy and has helped businesses weather the pandemic.

What is Employee Retention Credit (ERC) in California

The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) in California is a fully refundable tax credit designed to provide financial relief to eligible employers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This program incentivizes businesses to keep their employees on payroll during 2020 and 2021 by offering a refundable tax credit based on the wages paid to retained employees.

Under the CARES Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), the ERC was expanded to provide more significant financial support to struggling businesses. This tax credit aims to protect employment and reduce the adverse economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on companies.

To be eligible for the ERC, employers must have experienced a substantial reduction in their gross receipts or have been fully or partially shut down due to the pandemic. The amount of tax credit varies, with employers potentially claiming up to $26,000 per employee depending on specific conditions in 2020 and 2021 source.

It is essential to note that the ERC is a federal program that applies to all states, including California source. However, it is essential for employers to consider any state-specific regulations or nuances that may apply when claiming the Employee Retention Credit in California.

In summary, the Employee Retention Credit is a valuable financial relief measure for businesses in California that have been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. By offering a refundable tax credit based on wages paid to retained employees, the ERC serves as an incentive for employers to maintain their workforce during these challenging times.

Eligibility Criteria

Essential Business Requirements

To be eligible for the Employee Retention Credit (ERC) in California, businesses must have experienced either a full or partial suspension of operations due to COVID-19, limiting commerce, travel, or group meetings, as ordered by a relevant governmental authority, or a significant decline in gross receipts during specific periods (source). The credit aims to support businesses in retaining employees during these challenging times.

Qualified Wages

The ERC’s definition of qualified wages depends on the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) employees a business has. For businesses with 100 or fewer FTE employees, all wages, including health plan expenses, paid during the eligible period qualify for the credit. For businesses with more than 100 FTE employees, only wages paid to employees not providing services during the suspension of operations or decline in gross receipts are considered qualified wages (source).

Gross Receipts Test

To meet the gross receipts test for ERC eligibility, a business must have experienced a decline in gross receipts of at least 50% in 2020 when compared to the same calendar quarter in 2019, or a decline of at least 20% when comparing the first three quarters of 2021 to the same quarters in 2019 (source). This threshold helps ensure that the credit supports businesses that have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) Employees

The number of FTE employees a business has can impact the calculation of the ERC and determine which wages qualify for the credit. Full-time equivalent employees are defined as employees who work at least 30 hours per week or 130 hours per month. Businesses with 100 or fewer FTEs can claim a credit for all wages paid to employees during the relevant period, whereas businesses with more than 100 FTEs can only claim a credit for wages paid to employees not providing services during that period (source).

The Employee Retention Credit is available to a wide range of entities, including businesses and individuals, as long as they meet the relevant eligibility requirements. By working with the Employment Development Department and adhering to the guidelines set forth by the American Rescue Plan, eligible businesses can receive support as they navigate the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions on their operations.

Claiming the Tax Credit

Calculation and Amount

To claim the Employee Retention Credit (ERC) in California, businesses need to understand the calculation and amounts involved. The tax credit is based on a percentage of qualified wages paid to employees during specific quarters. The ERC is a refundable credit, meaning that if it exceeds the business’s tax liability, it can receive a refund for the excess amount. For qualified wages, the tax credit can be claimed up to certain limits set by the government.

Documentation Requirements

To claim the ERC, businesses need to maintain proper documentation that supports their eligibility. This includes detailed records of wages paid to employees, tax credits claimed, and any impacts on the business due to government orders. Adequate documentation is crucial to prevent any issues during the review process by tax authorities. Ensuring accurate records are maintained will also help businesses to prove their qualification for the credit if they need to justify their claim.


When it comes to filing for the ERC, businesses must complete and submit the required adjusted employment tax return forms within the specified deadlines [(source)]. In most cases, the appropriate form for claiming the credit is the federal quarterly tax report, Form 941. However, in California, the process is different, and businesses should be aware of the specific requirements for claiming the ERC in the state [(source)]. Failure to correctly file the necessary forms may result in delays or denial of the tax credit.

Effect on Other Benefits

Interaction with PPP Loans and Forgiveness

The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) was introduced as a measure of relief provision during the COVID-19 pandemic to help businesses in California keep employees on their payroll source. Employers who received loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) should be aware of how ERC interacts with PPP loans and forgiveness.

Under the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, businesses were allowed to apply for PPP loans, which were meant to help small businesses cover payroll costs during the pandemic. However, it is essential to understand that employers cannot double-dip by claiming ERC for the same payroll costs that were used to qualify for the PPP loan forgiveness source.

To maximize the benefits from both PPP loans and ERC, employers may choose to allocate specific payroll costs toward their PPP loan forgiveness and other payroll expenses toward the Employee Retention Credit. This strategy allows them to optimize their relief provisions while adhering to the program guidelines.

Impact on Restaurant Revitalization Grants

The Restaurant Revitalization Grants (RRG) were designed to offer financial support to restaurants, bars, and other similar businesses impacted by the pandemic. Under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, eligible businesses can receive grants that can be used to cover several expenses, such as payroll costs, rent, utilities, and more source.

Although businesses that have received Restaurant Revitalization Grants may also claim the Employee Retention Credit, they must be careful not to use the same expenses to calculate both benefits. As with the interaction with PPP loan forgiveness, businesses are expected to avoid double-dipping by claiming ERC for expenses that were also covered by the RRG source.

It is crucial for small businesses in California to be aware of the impacts of various COVID-19 relief provisions, such as ERC, PPP loans, and RRG, and ensure compliance with each program’s guidelines to maximize the benefits and avoid any potential issues.

Recovery Startup Businesses


Recovery Startup Businesses (RSBs) are a specific category of businesses that may be eligible for the Employee Retention Credit (ERC) in California. These businesses are defined as those that started after February 15, 2020, and have annual gross receipts of $1 million or less. RSBs have unique eligibility criteria and benefits under the ERC provisions designed to support businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.


The benefits for Recovery Startup Businesses under the ERC scheme are noteworthy. They can qualify for up to $100,000 in total ERC funds. The credit applies to the third and fourth quarters of 2021, with a cap of $50,000 for each quarter. By claiming the ERC, RSBs can significantly reduce their payroll tax liability and better manage cash flow during challenging economic times.

Additionally, since the ERC is a refundable tax credit if the amount of the credit exceeds the business’s payroll tax liability, the excess amount can be refunded to the business. This aspect further enhances the benefits of the ERC for RSBs, providing them with much-needed financial assistance.

Moreover, RSBs are shielded from potential interest and penalties related to the ERC claim. The IRS has adopted a taxpayer-friendly approach, helping businesses recover from the pandemic without incurring additional financial burdens.

In conclusion, Recovery Startup Businesses stand to benefit significantly from the Employee Retention Credit scheme in California. By utilizing the provisions tailored for RSBs, these businesses can sustain operations and remain resilient in the face of unprecedented challenges.

State Employment Initiatives

California offers a variety of state-backed employment initiatives aimed at promoting job growth and providing support for businesses. These programs often include tax incentives and credits, such as the California Hiring Credit and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC).

California Hiring Credit and Reservations

The California Hiring Credit is a financial incentive provided by the state to encourage businesses to create new jobs and hire employees from specific targeted groups. This credit is designed to help companies grow and contribute to the economic development of California.

To benefit from this credit, companies must first obtain a reservation from the Employment Development Department (EDD). Reservations are generally granted on a first-come, first-served basis, and are subject to availability. Businesses can search for eligible designated geographic areas and targeted groups using the EDD’s searchable database.

Eligible employers can claim the credit on their California tax returns. The amount of credit depends on the number of new jobs created and the specific targeted group from which employees are hired. It’s important to note that tax-exempt organizations are not eligible for the California Hiring Credit.

Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC)

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a federal tax credit administered by the California Employment Development Department. This credit is offered to businesses that hire employees from specific targeted groups, such as veterans and individuals from designated geographic areas.

The WOTC encourages employers to hire individuals who may face employment barriers, and it aims to promote self-sufficiency and economic development. The credit amount varies, depending on the employee’s targeted group and the number of hours worked during the first year of employment.

Employers wishing to claim the WOTC must obtain a certification from the EDD for each eligible employee. This certification verifies that the employee belongs to a specific targeted group.

Through these state employment initiatives, California aims to support businesses in their growth, create new job opportunities, and promote economic development across the state.

Additional Programs and Tax Benefits

Small Business Debt Relief

There are various programs and tax benefits designed to help California small businesses through the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. One of these programs is the Small Business Debt Relief Initiative. This program aims to provide financial support to businesses struggling with debt due to closures or decreased revenue because of quarantine measures. The California State Controller’s Office has compiled resources to help small businesses learn about these federal, state, and local debt relief programs.

Earned Income Credit

In addition to the Small Business Debt Relief program, the Earned Income Credit (EIC) serves as another means of financial assistance for businesses and individuals. This refundable tax credit focuses on providing aid to low-to-moderate-income working individuals and families, including self-employed persons. According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), eligible recipients must meet specific requirements, such as having a valid Social Security number and earning income below the established thresholds.

The EIC is particularly beneficial to people living in low-income census tracts and those facing challenges such as unemployment or illness. The credit can assist in covering essential expenses and financial support for paid sick leave and paid family leave. Moreover, it can help businesses maintain their payroll and reduce their payroll taxes. When properly utilized, the Earned Income Credit can lead to significant tax refunds for eligible recipients.

As part of the effort to combat the negative effects of the pandemic, specific tax benefits have been introduced, such as the Employee Retention Credit (ERC). This federal incentive aims to encourage businesses to keep their employees on the payroll, even during times of reduced operations or temporary closures. To be eligible for the program, businesses must demonstrate a decline in revenue or disruption of their trade or business operations due to COVID-19. As stated by the California FTB, the ERC has been a valuable tool for many struggling businesses to survive and maintain their workforce during these difficult times.

Overall, these programs and tax benefits, such as Small Business Debt Relief and Earned Income Credit, have been vital in supporting businesses and individuals in California during the COVID-19 pandemic. By utilizing these resources, businesses can navigate the challenges they face and work towards a stable recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is eligible for the employee retention tax credit in California?

Businesses that have experienced a significant decline in gross receipts or have been subject to a full or partial suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic are eligible for the Employee Retention Credit (ERC) in California. The eligibility criteria may vary depending on the tax year, such as the full-time employee threshold being greater than 100 employees in 2020 and greater than 500 employees in 2021 source.

What is the deadline for claiming the employee retention credit in 2023?

The ERC program covers the period from March 13, 2020, to December 31, 2021 source. The deadline for claiming the credit may depend on when you file your tax return. It is recommended to consult with a tax professional for specific deadlines related to your situation.

How can a business apply for employee retention credit in California?

A business can apply for the ERC by reporting their total qualified wages on the appropriate federal tax return forms. Ensure the credit is calculated correctly and follows the guidelines for wages, employee requirements, and other criteria. To learn more about the application process, the IRS Employee Retention Credit page is a valuable resource.

How does the employee retention credit affect my tax return?

The ERC is a refundable tax credit. If the credit exceeds the amount of tax owed, the difference will be refunded to the business. This means that the credit can potentially lower your tax liability or generate a refund if the credit amount is more substantial than the tax-due source.

What are the updates on the employee retention tax credit in California?

Updates on the employee retention tax credit in California can be found on official tax websites and resources, such as the California Franchise Tax Board or the IRS. Stay informed and periodically check for updates and changes in legislation that may affect eligibility, credit amounts, or other essential details.

What types of wages qualify for the California employee retention credit?

Qualified wages depend on the employer’s size and the circumstances under which the wages were paid. For example, if the average number of full-time employees in 2019 was above the small employer threshold, qualified wages are based on wages paid to employees for time they didn’t provide services due to a full or partial suspension or significant decline in gross receipts source. It is crucial to understand the rules related to wage calculations, as they may differ based on the tax year and business size.


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