Brotman Law June 27, 2024 20 min read

Navigating ERTC Audit Defense in Hawaii: Essential Strategies for Success

Navigating ERTC Audit Defense in Hawaii: Essential Strategies for Success

In Hawaii, where industries such as tourism, agriculture, and technology play pivotal roles in the economy, the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) stands as a lifeline for businesses amid the COVID-19 crisis. This federal initiative offers substantial financial relief by furnishing a refundable tax credit to businesses that persevered in retaining their workforce despite economic adversities. However, availing oneself of the ERTC's benefits also exposes businesses to the prospect of IRS audits. For Hawaiian enterprises, comprehending the nuances of ERTC compliance is paramount to shield against potential audits and ensure uninterrupted access to the program's advantages.

This article will delve into effective strategies for defending against ERTC audits tailored to Hawaii's distinctive economic landscape. It will underscore the significance of proactive measures and highlight the indispensable role of tax attorneys in navigating these intricate processes.

ERTC Essentials for Hawaii Businesses

The Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) enables Hawaii businesses that have either undergone a notable decline in gross receipts or experienced full or partial suspension of operations due to government directives to claim a refundable tax credit. Understanding the exact stipulations and ensuring compliance is imperative for eligibility and safeguarding against potential audits.

10 Statewide Orders That May Have Impacted Businesses in Hawaii


Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Hawaii implemented a series of statewide orders and initiatives to address the challenges faced by businesses. From stay-at-home directives to financial relief programs, these measures aimed to support struggling industries and ensure public health safety. Understanding the impact of these orders on businesses is crucial for navigating the evolving economic landscape and safeguarding against potential disruptions.


  • Stay-at-Home Order: Hawaii implemented a statewide stay-at-home order, directing non-essential businesses to cease or modify operations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
  • Small Business Relief Grants: The state introduced relief grants to support small businesses adversely affected by the pandemic, offering financial assistance to help them withstand economic disruptions.
  • Temporary Ban on Commercial Evictions: Hawaii imposed a temporary ban on commercial evictions for businesses struggling to pay rent due to COVID-19-related financial hardships, providing relief to affected tenants.
  • Expanded Unemployment Benefits: Hawaii expanded unemployment benefits to provide additional support to individuals who lost their jobs or experienced reduced hours due to the pandemic, indirectly impacting businesses' payroll management.
  • Industry-Specific Guidelines: The state issued industry-specific guidelines to ensure safe operations as businesses resumed activities, outlining protocols for social distancing, sanitation, and health measures tailored to various sectors.
  • Regional Restrictions: Hawaii implemented regional restrictions based on COVID-19 transmission rates, affecting businesses in areas with higher infection rates differently and potentially limiting operations to curb the spread of the virus.
  • Financial Assistance Programs: Various financial assistance programs were established to aid businesses in Hawaii, offering loans, grants, and other forms of support to help them navigate the economic challenges posed by the pandemic.
  • Paid Sick Leave Expansion: Legislation was enacted to expand paid sick leave benefits for employees affected by COVID-19, influencing businesses' HR policies and practices regarding sick leave management.
  • Workplace Safety Measures: Hawaii mandated workplace safety measures to protect employees and customers, including requirements for face coverings, social distancing, and sanitation protocols in businesses across different sectors.
  • Business Operation Guidelines: The state provided guidelines for business operations, outlining requirements and recommendations for safe and compliant business practices during the pandemic, such as capacity limits and enhanced cleaning protocols.


In conclusion, Hawaii's implementation of statewide orders and initiatives during the COVID-19 pandemic was crucial in addressing the multifaceted challenges faced by businesses. These measures, ranging from stay-at-home orders and financial relief grants to expanded unemployment benefits and workplace safety protocols, were designed to support struggling industries while prioritizing public health. Understanding the impact of these directives on businesses is essential for navigating the ever-evolving economic landscape and mitigating potential disruptions. By adhering to these guidelines and leveraging available resources, Hawaii's businesses can better prepare for future challenges and ensure resilience in the face of ongoing uncertainties.

Impact of COVID-19 on Hawaii's Top Cities

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on Hawaii's top cities, each experiencing unique challenges and disruptions. In Honolulu, the capital and largest city, the tourism-dependent economy faced severe downturns due to travel restrictions and health safety measures. Hilo, with its strong focus on agriculture and education, saw significant disruptions in the education sector and agricultural activities. Kahului, a major transportation and commercial hub on Maui, experienced a sharp decline in tourism and restrictions on gatherings, deeply affecting the hospitality industry. These city-specific impacts underscore the diverse challenges that businesses across Hawaii's urban centers have faced. Understanding these dynamics is crucial for navigating ERTC eligibility criteria and mitigating potential audit triggers effectively.

  • Honolulu: As the capital and largest city of Hawaii, Honolulu experienced diverse impacts from COVID-19. The tourism industry, which is central to the city's economy, faced substantial downturns due to travel restrictions and health safety measures. Additionally, the closure of public offices and service providers disrupted local businesses' operations, particularly those dependent on government contracts and services.
  • Hilo: With its focus on agriculture and education, Hilo encountered unique challenges during the pandemic. The closure of schools and universities disrupted the education sector, impacting related businesses such as bookstores, tutoring services, and student accommodation. Additionally, restrictions on agricultural activities and supply chain disruptions affected local farmers and food-related industries.
  • Kahului: As a major transportation and commercial hub on Maui, Kahului felt the effects of COVID-19 deeply. The decline in visitor arrivals led to a significant downturn in the tourism sector, affecting hotels, restaurants, and retail establishments. Furthermore, restrictions on gatherings and events impacted the hospitality industry, which relies heavily on conferences, weddings, and other large gatherings for revenue.

These city-specific impacts highlight the diverse challenges faced by businesses across Hawaii's urban centers. Understanding these dynamics is essential for businesses to navigate ERTC eligibility criteria and potential audit triggers effectively.

Common Triggers for IRS ERTC Audits in Hawaii:

Navigating the landscape of the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) can be complex, particularly when considering the factors that might trigger an IRS audit. Businesses must be aware of various audit triggers to safeguard their claims and ensure compliance. Below are some of the common triggers we've seen: 

  • Inconsistent Tax Filings: Discrepancies or inconsistencies in tax filings, particularly related to ERTC claims, may raise red flags for IRS auditors.
  • Large ERTC Claims: Businesses making unusually large ERTC claims relative to their size or industry may attract closer IRS scrutiny.
  • Random Selection: Some audits occur randomly, without any specific trigger, as part of the IRS's routine monitoring and enforcement activities.
  • Lack of Documentation: Insufficient or incomplete documentation to support ERTC claims, such as payroll records, financial statements, or proof of operations suspension, can lead to audit risks.
  • Misinterpretation of Eligibility Criteria: Businesses misunderstanding or misapplying the eligibility criteria for the ERTC, such as the requirements related to gross receipts decline or government-ordered suspensions, may inadvertently trigger audits.
  • Mathematical Errors: Errors in calculating the ERTC amount, whether due to misunderstanding the calculation method or making mathematical mistakes, can invite IRS scrutiny.
  • Inadequate Record-Keeping: Poor record-keeping practices, including failure to maintain detailed records of qualified wages, health plan expenses, or operational changes, may increase audit vulnerability.
  • Suspicious Patterns: Unusual patterns or trends in ERTC claims, such as sudden spikes or inconsistencies over time, could raise suspicions and trigger audits.
  • Previous Audit History: Businesses with a history of compliance issues or past audits, whether related to ERTC or other tax matters, may face increased audit risks.
  • Industry Trends: IRS may target industries or sectors experiencing significant economic challenges or regulatory scrutiny, making businesses in these sectors more susceptible to audits.

Understanding these common triggers for IRS ERTC audits in Hawaii is essential for businesses seeking to protect themselves from potential audit risks. By addressing compliance issues, maintaining accurate documentation, and seeking professional guidance when needed, businesses can navigate the ERTC landscape with confidence and minimize the likelihood of audit disruptions.

Common ERTC Claim Mistakes to Avoid in Hawaii

Businesses in Hawaii should be wary of potential pitfalls when filing for the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC), including:

  • Eligibility Misinterpretation: Misunderstanding the requirements for demonstrating economic hardship or operational suspension under the ERTC criteria.
  • Insufficient Documentation: Failure to maintain comprehensive records to substantiate the ERTC claim, particularly regarding payroll details and operational status during the relevant periods.
  • Calculation Errors: Mistakes in calculating the appropriate credit amount owed, often stemming from misconceptions about the intricacies of tax regulations.

Essential Documentation for ERTC Audit Defense in Hawaii

In preparation for defending against an ERTC audit in Hawaii, businesses must prioritize the availability of critical documentation, including:

  • Comprehensive Employment Records: Providing detailed evidence of employee retention and consistent payroll practices throughout the relevant periods.
  • Precise Financial Statements: Offering transparent insights into the financial impact experienced by the business, specifically attributing losses to COVID-19-related challenges.
  • Government and Operational Records: Furnishing documented proof of compliance with both state and federal COVID-19 regulations, showcasing adherence to operational restrictions and safety protocols.

The Importance of Tax Attorneys in ERTC Audit Defense in Hawaii

Tax attorneys play a crucial role in guiding businesses through the ERTC audit process in Hawaii. Their contributions include:

  • Interpreting ERTC Regulations: Providing expert insights into intricate tax laws, helping Hawaii businesses navigate eligibility criteria and compliance requirements effectively.
  • Facilitating Audit Preparation: Assisting in the meticulous organization and presentation of essential documentation, ensuring businesses are well-prepared to address IRS inquiries.
  • Advocating for Businesses in IRS Interactions: Representing businesses in all communications with the IRS, from initial inquiries to formal audit procedures, advocating for their interests and rights throughout the process.

Effective Preparatory Measures for Audit Readiness in Hawaii

To preemptively address the risk of audits and mitigate their potential impact, businesses in Hawaii are encouraged to implement proactive strategies:

  • Regular Documentation Reviews: Conduct consistent assessments of all ERTC-related records to ensure they are comprehensive and precise.
  • Ongoing Legal and Financial Consultation: Maintain active engagement with tax advisors to stay abreast of evolving ERTC regulations and tax legislation pertinent to Hawaii.
  • Simulation of Audit Scenarios: Organize mock audit exercises to simulate IRS scrutiny, identifying and rectifying any deficiencies in the audit trail before they become audit triggers.

Fostering a Culture of Compliance in Hawaii

Instilling a corporate ethos that values meticulous record-keeping and unwavering adherence to tax regulations is paramount in Hawaii. This necessitates employee training initiatives, regular updates to compliance procedures, and the implementation of robust internal oversight mechanisms.

Conclusion: Upholding ERTC Compliance in Hawaii


In Hawaii, managing ERTC claims transcends immediate financial relief; it encompasses the imperative of ensuring ongoing adherence to tax laws and readiness for potential IRS audits. Through a deep understanding of Hawaii's economic landscape, meticulous maintenance of comprehensive records, and strategic collaboration with seasoned tax attorneys, businesses can adeptly navigate ERTC audits while positioning themselves for sustained prosperity in Hawaii's ever-evolving business ecosystem.


"Sam is a wonderful, results-oriented and extremely knowledgeable and talented attorney, who really has 'heart' in working on behalf of his clients, and explains options in a straightforward, respectful manner. He has assisted us with great outcomes which have added to our quality of life. I would not hesitate to recommend Sam for his services as he is an ethical, personable and expert attorney in his field. You will likely not be disappointed with Sam's work ethic, approach and his efforts."

-Aileen Dwight, Licensed Clinical Social Worker & Psychotherapist

Last updated: July 8, 2024

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