Treasury and the IRS issued proposed regulations on the employer shared responsibility provisions (Section 4980H of the Tax Code) in December 2012 and invited public comments. Numerous comments were received from individuals and local fire and Emergency Medical Service departments that rely on volunteers. The comments generally suggested that the employer responsibility rules should not count volunteer hours of nominally compensated volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel in determining full-time employees (or full-time equivalents). In addition, Treasury heard from numerous members of Congress who expressed these same concerns on behalf of the volunteer emergency responders in their states and districts.
Treasury and the IRS carefully reviewed these comments and spoke with representatives of volunteer firefighters and volunteer emergency personnel to gain a better understanding of their specific situations. Treasury and the IRS also reviewed various rules that apply to such volunteer personnel under other laws. These include the statutory provisions that apply to bona fide volunteers under Section 457(e)(11) of the Tax Code (relating to deferred compensation plans of state and local governments and tax-exempt organizations) and rules governing the treatment of volunteers for purposes of the Federal wage and hour laws. As a result of that review and analysis, the forthcoming final regulations relating to employer shared responsibility generally will not require volunteer hours of bona fide volunteer firefighters and volunteer emergency medical personnel at governmental or tax-exempt organizations to be counted when determining full-time employees (or full-time equivalents).
These final regulations, which we expect to issue shortly, are intended to provide timely guidance for the volunteer emergency responder community. We think this guidance strikes the appropriate balance in the treatment provided to traditional full-time emergency responder employees, bona fide volunteers, and to our Nation's first responder units, many of which heavily rely on volunteers.
Mark J. Mazur is the Assitant Secretary for Tax Policy at the United States Department of the Treasury.