Brotman Law July 9, 2024 20 min read

ERTC Audit Defense: How Vermont Businesses Can Achieve The Best Results

Learn How Business Owners Can Best Prepare for ERTC Audits 

In Vermont, where the economy is bolstered by sectors such as tourism in areas like Stowe, agriculture particularly dairy farming, and a burgeoning artisanal and craft business community, the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) has been pivotal in helping businesses navigate the economic difficulties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. This federal program supports companies that have maintained their workforce despite significant operational and financial challenges. However, benefiting from the ERTC also subjects these businesses to potential IRS audits. For Vermont companies, a thorough understanding of ERTC compliance is essential to maximize the benefits of the program and effectively handle potential audits.

This guide will provide strategies for ERTC audit defense tailored to Vermont's unique economic landscape, emphasizing the importance of comprehensive preparation and specialized legal expertise.

Understanding the ERTC in Vermont’s Business Environment

The ERTC offers a refundable tax credit to employers who retained employees despite experiencing significant declines in gross receipts or undergoing full or partial suspensions of their operations due to government-mandated COVID-19 restrictions. For businesses across Vermont, particularly those in sectors directly impacted by such disruptions, accurately documenting these impacts is crucial for establishing ERTC eligibility and preparing for potential IRS audits.

Vermont Statewide Orders That May Have Impacted Their Business

Below is a detailed summary of ten significant COVID-19 orders issued in Vermont during 2020 and 2021 under Governor Phil Scott, which significantly impacted businesses, particularly in relation to the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) Audit.

  • State of Emergency Declaration (March 2020) - Governor Phil Scott declared a state of emergency, enabling Vermont to mobilize state resources and set the stage for stringent pandemic-related measures. This was crucial for businesses beginning to assess and document operational disruptions for ERTC eligibility.

  • Closure of Non-Essential Businesses (March 2020) - Non-essential businesses, such as retail stores, gyms, and personal care services, were mandated to close temporarily. This direct suspension of operations supports businesses’ claims for the ERTC as they faced government-imposed shutdowns.

  • Stay Home/Stay Safe Order (March 2020) - This extensive order required Vermonters to stay at home unless for essential activities, reducing customer traffic and impacting the ability of businesses to operate normally. This supports ERTC claims as businesses faced forced reductions in operational capacity.

  • Mandatory Mask Mandate (August 2020) - Vermont implemented a statewide mandate requiring masks in all public indoor spaces, adding operational challenges for businesses in managing compliance, impacting customer interactions, and potentially reducing revenues.

  • Phased Reopening Plan (May 2020) - The state introduced a phased approach to reopening, allowing businesses to gradually resume operations but with strict capacity limits and mandatory safety protocols. Despite reopening, these restrictions continued to affect business functionality and profitability, relevant for ERTC due to partial suspensions of normal operations.

  • Ban on Large Gatherings (2020-2021) - Restrictions on the size of gatherings continued to affect venues and businesses reliant on large-scale events, reinforcing their ERTC claims due to restricted operational capacity and direct revenue impacts.

  • Extension of State of Emergency (Multiple Extensions) - The frequent extensions of the state of emergency underscored the ongoing impact of the pandemic, reinforcing the need for continuous documentation of business disruptions for ERTC eligibility.

  • Financial Assistance Programs for Businesses (2020-2021) - Vermont launched several financial aid programs aimed at supporting businesses facing severe economic distress. Participation in these programs underscores the financial impact experienced, supporting ERTC documentation by illustrating the need for additional support to retain employees.

  • Relaxation of Liquor Laws for Restaurants (2020) - The state temporarily relaxed liquor laws to allow restaurants to sell alcohol via takeout and delivery, helping them to adjust to new operational realities and continue generating revenue under modified conditions.

  • Remote Work Encouragement (2020-2021) - The state strongly encouraged businesses to maintain remote work arrangements where possible. This shift often involved additional investments in technology and adjustments in business operations, impacting financial and operational strategies relevant for ERTC claims.

Throughout the pandemic, Governor Phil Scott’s administration took various measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while trying to manage its economic impact. For Vermont businesses preparing for an Employee Retention Tax Credit Audit, it is crucial to document how each state order affected their operations, financial health, and employment practices. Detailed records should include the timing of government orders, descriptions of how these orders influenced operational capacities, financial impacts, and efforts to retain employees under challenging conditions. This comprehensive documentation will be key to demonstrating the necessity of the ERTC during periods of significant operational disruption and recovery.

Impact of COVID-19 on Key Vermont Sectors

The COVID-19 pandemic had a profound impact on various sectors in Vermont, a state renowned for its tourism, robust agricultural industry, and vibrant community of craft and artisanal businesses. Each of these sectors faced unique challenges brought on by the pandemic, necessitating swift adaptations and strategic responses. These adaptations and the overall economic impact highlight the importance of accurate documentation for securing financial relief measures such as the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) and preparing effectively for IRS audits.

  • Stowe: Impact on Tourism - Vermont's tourism sector, especially its ski resorts and other tourist attractions, experienced dramatic downturns due to travel restrictions and public health advisories. Normally bustling with visitors, especially during the peak winter season, resorts and hotels saw a significant drop in occupancy rates as potential tourists opted to stay home or were unable to travel due to lockdown measures. The ripple effects were felt widely, impacting not only accommodations but also local restaurants, shops, and the myriad businesses that depend on tourist dollars. For businesses in this sector, documenting the reduction in visitor numbers, associated revenue losses, and any mitigating actions taken is crucial. This documentation is essential for substantiating ERTC claims by illustrating the severe impact of the pandemic on operations and the ongoing efforts to retain employees under drastically reduced revenue conditions.
  • City of Brattleboro: Challenges Faced by the Agricultural Sector - Vermont’s agricultural sector, particularly dairy farmers and other food producers, faced significant disruptions. Market fluctuations and supply chain issues were rampant as the closure of restaurants, schools, and other major buyers led to an immediate surplus of products with fewer outlets for sales. Additionally, disruptions in the supply chain affected the availability of necessary supplies and equipment, complicating daily operations. Farmers had to quickly adapt, finding new markets or modifying their business models to deal directly with consumers. Documenting these market disruptions, changes in sales channels, and the financial impact of these changes is vital for these businesses. Such records support ERTC claims by detailing the direct impacts of the pandemic on agricultural operations and the adaptive measures taken to sustain the business and maintain employment.
  • Burlington's Economic Stability of Craft and Artisanal Businesses: Craft and artisanal businesses in Vermont, known for their small-scale production and local retail presence, saw significant shifts in consumer behavior and retail operations. As foot traffic diminished in local shopping districts, many of these businesses enhanced their online presence or pivoted to virtual marketplaces to reach customers. These changes often involved new costs and adjustments in business models, from increasing online marketing efforts to implementing contactless pickup and delivery services. For these small-scale producers and retailers, maintaining detailed records of changes in consumer behavior, adjustments in operations, and the associated costs and revenue impacts is crucial. This documentation is essential for ERTC claims, demonstrating how the pandemic necessitated operational shifts and continued efforts to retain staff amidst economic uncertainties.
  • Montpelier: Government and Administrative Services Impact - Montpelier, as the state capital, is the hub for many of Vermont’s government offices and administrative services. The pandemic led to a significant shift to remote work, reducing foot traffic downtown where cafes, restaurants, and small retail shops rely heavily on the business from state employees. These businesses had to quickly adapt to diminished daily clientele by enhancing their delivery and pickup services or shifting to online sales platforms. Montpelier businesses should maintain records of reduced sales, adaptation costs, and efforts to retain staff despite reduced operations for their ERTC claims.
  • Rutland: Healthcare and Social Assistance Disruptions - Rutland, a key center for healthcare services in central Vermont, experienced disruptions particularly in elective medical procedures and routine healthcare services, which were postponed or canceled during the peak pandemic months. Healthcare providers had to manage costs with reduced service offerings while still maintaining employment levels. For ERTC documentation, these healthcare facilities should record the specifics of service disruptions, any measures taken to adapt (like expanding telehealth services), and efforts to avoid layoffs.
  • Barre: Manufacturing Slowdown - Barre, known for its granite quarries and manufacturing, saw a slowdown in production due to supply chain disruptions and reduced workforce capacity following social distancing requirements. Manufacturing plants had to modify operations, often running at lowered capacity, which directly impacted their revenue streams. Manufacturers in Barre need to document these production changes, associated financial impacts, and how they managed to maintain employment during these challenging times.
  • South Burlington: Retail and Hospitality Sector Challenges - South Burlington, with its commercial districts and proximity to Burlington International Airport, saw significant impacts in the retail and hospitality sectors due to reduced tourist arrivals and general consumer caution. Hotels, restaurants, and retail stores faced periods of closure and stringent operating restrictions once they reopened. Detailed records of these operational limitations, efforts to pivot to online or takeaway services, and how these businesses managed to retain employees are critical for ERTC claims.
  • Essex: Educational Services Adaptation - Essex, with several schools and educational facilities, dealt with the transition to online learning platforms. This transition affected businesses that provide services and products to schools, from cafeteria services to school bus transportation, all of which saw reduced demand. Businesses connected to educational services should document changes in service delivery, impact on contracts, and employment retention strategies to support their ERTC claims.


For businesses in these Vermont cities, accurately documenting how pandemic-related government orders affected operations, financial health, and workforce management is essential. This documentation not only supports claims for the Employee Retention Tax Credit but also prepares businesses for potential audits by providing the appropriate support to their claim. 

Common Triggers for IRS Audits in Vermont

Businesses in Vermont might face IRS audits due to:

  • Inconsistencies in Financial Reporting: Discrepancies between the information provided in ERTC claims and other financial or employment records can raise red flags.
  • Excessive Claims: Large claims that appear disproportionate to the business's operational impact or size may trigger further scrutiny.
  • Random Selection: Routine checks by the IRS to ensure compliance and verify the accuracy of claims.

Avoiding Common Mistakes in ERTC Claims

When applying for the ERTC, Vermont businesses often encounter several pitfalls:

  • Misinterpreting Eligibility Criteria: Incorrectly assessing what qualifies as significant operational disruption or substantial decline in gross receipts.
  • Inadequate Documentation: Failing to maintain detailed records that clearly link operational changes and financial outcomes directly to the pandemic.
  • Errors in Calculation: Mistakes in calculating the eligible amount due to complexities in payroll data or misunderstanding IRS guidelines.

Key Documentation for ERTC Audit Defense

Building a strong defense against an ERTC audit involves comprehensive documentation:

  • Detailed Employment Records: Demonstrating the continuity of employment and payroll expenses throughout the affected periods.
  • Financial Statements: Clearly showing revenue declines directly correlated with pandemic-related disruptions.
  • Regulatory Compliance Documents: Providing evidence of compliance with federal and state COVID-19 regulations that impacted business operations.

Role of Tax Attorneys in ERTC Audit Defense

In Vermont, tax attorneys are crucial for effectively navigating the complexities of ERTC audits by providing:

  • Expert Legal Guidance: Offering interpretations of complex tax laws and advising on their application to specific business scenarios.
  • Audit Preparation: Assisting businesses in organizing and reviewing documentation to ensure it robustly supports the ERTC claim.
  • Representation During Audits: Managing communications with the IRS to ensure that the business’s interests are effectively represented.

Proactive Audit Preparation Strategies

To minimize the risk of audits and ensure readiness, Vermont businesses should adopt several proactive measures:

  • Regular Documentation Review: Ensuring all documents related to the ERTC are accurate and complete.
  • Continuous Legal and Financial Consultation: Staying updated on changes to ERTC regulations and IRS auditing practices through regular consultations with tax professionals.
  • Mock Audits: Conducting internal or third-party audits to identify and address potential issues before they can be flagged by the IRS.

Cultivating a Compliance-Focused Corporate Culture

Developing a corporate culture that emphasizes compliance can significantly aid in managing ERTC audits. This involves training employees on the importance of precise record-keeping, regularly updating compliance protocols, and implementing strong internal controls over financial management.

Conclusion: Securing Continued Benefits from the ERTC in Vermont

For businesses across Vermont, effectively managing ERTC claims involves more than just meeting eligibility criteria; it requires strategic planning, meticulous documentation, proactive audit defense measures, and leveraging specialized legal expertise. By adopting these practices, businesses can confidently navigate the complexities of ERTC audits and ensure continued financial stability and growth in Vermont’s dynamic economic environment.

"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 10, 2024

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