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5 Common Payroll Compliance Mistakes

Posted by Leslie Ruhland on May 16, 2017 9:03:00 AM
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Every business has to do payroll and payroll compliance is critical. But do you know what some of the most common payroll compliance mistakes are?


While payroll compliance can be a challenge, failure to be in compliance with the labor laws can be costly. One of the most common employee complaints that lead to legal claims against employers involves payroll issues.

Failing to Comply Can Be Costly

The cost of non-compliance means more than possible fines, fees, and government penalties. There is also the time and labor involved in going back and re-doing paperwork, correcting existing errors, and filling out additional forms. The added labor that is the result of mistakes can cost you far more. 

An full list of payroll errors could fill a small book, but here are five common errors made in payroll compliance practices that should be avoided:

1) Employee Payments Outside Of Your Payroll

All payments to employees, regardless of the form or intent, should go through payroll since these are considered a form of taxable wages. In other words, any bonuses, commissions, or even tangible gifts in lieu of cash payments, are usually considered taxable income or wages. Even gift cards are considered the same as cash and need to be included in taxable wages. 

You may, however, apply for business reimbursement expenses for some items providing you have supporting receipts. And keep in mind that the IRS requires employers to accurately withhold the proper payroll taxes from payments to employees. 

2) Failing to File Appropriate Forms on Time

As of October 1996, the federal government requires employers to report all new hires to their state agencies. They are required to report this information within 10 to 20 business days. The state then provides this information to the National Directory of New Hires (NDNH).

In addition to individual employee hiring requirements, there are quarterly and Year End payroll tax filing deadlines that must be met in order to avoid penalties, fees, and possible audits. These include:

  • Form 941 filings that are due on the last day of the month following the end of the quarter
  • Most state quarterly filings that are due on the last day of the month following the end of the quarter
  • Year End deadlines for distributing W-2s to your employees, 1099s to your vendors, and filing paper 1096 and 1099 forms with the IRS

3) Assigning the Wrong Classification for a Worker

Workers can be classified as employees, independent contractors, a statutory employee, or a statutory non-employee, each of which are fraught with potential for misunderstanding. Referring to the IRS Publication 15-A is a first step to clarify the IRS definitions of employment status.

Secondly, be sure to use the IRS Form SS-8 to determine the worker's status for tax purposes. The IRS will then notify you as to what employee classification category the worker should be classified under.

Don't neglect to withhold taxes and report wage and tax information during the time until the IRS has informed you of their classification decision. A failure to withhold taxes or report wages could result in penalties after you file taxes. 

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4) Failing to Keep and Maintain Employee Records Accurately

Because of the sheer volume of records and the large number of payroll compliance requirements surrounding them, this is an area that is likely to result in unintentional non-compliance. Checklists are again a great tool to employ to keep everyone responsible for employee and tax records informed of what is required.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has specific time regulations for employee documentation:

  • Employee payroll records must be stored for at least three years after the last entry date.
  • The IRS requires employee records be held for four years after the employee leaves the workplace. 
  • Any workplace that employs 50 or more workers must keep records regarding any employee leave in compliance with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

In addition, each state adheres to individual laws governed by unemployment agencies that require businesses to retain employment records. The time frame to hold onto these records can be between four to seven years.

5) Inaccurate Tracking or Payment of Overtime Pay

Employers must keep in mind that for almost all nonexempt private sector California employees who are not covered by collective bargaining agreements, California overtime pay is based primarily on the number of hours worked in a day. In addition, and employer must also account for weekly totals when calculating California overtime.

Most hourly employees in the California are entitled to a special overtime pay rate for any hours worked over a total of 40 in a single work week, which is defined as any seven consecutive work days by the FLSA. This is an area that many employers tend to have some confusion, but the onus of accurate overtime payment falls on the employer in most cases.

Another California labor law overtime rule provides for any employee who works for more than 15 hours in a single day to be paid at least one and a half times their normal rate for all hours worked over the overtime limit.

Regular Rate of Pay

When calculating overtime pay in California, you must use the employee's "regular rate" of pay, not the normal hourly amount. The regular rate is not simply an employee's normal hourly amount. The regular rate is a term used to mean the employee's actual rate of pay once all hourly earnings plus many other types of compensation are considered. The regular rate must include nearly all forms of pay received by that employee.

Weekly Overtime

Only hours worked at straight-time apply to the weekly 40-hour limit. This prevents "pyramiding" of overtime, where an employee earns overtime on top of overtime already paid.

Information to Help You Stay Compliant

Payroll processing and payroll compliance is often a labor-intensive requirement for employers, and there are scores of resources available for the employer who chooses to manage their own payroll processes.

Here are a few for your reference:

Another option to consider is outsourcing to a managed payroll service. By outsourcing these functions you can also outsource all of the requirements that are currently on your HR staff to maintain compliance. 

If your company would like to learn more about its obligations, or acquire resources to deal with payroll requirements, Accuchex recently partnered with HR Solutions Partners to offer its customers the most up-to-date and professional human resources management solutions available.

To learn more about the different levels of Human Resource Management services available, please click this linkTo learn more about the other payroll services Accuchex provides, click on the button below to get our free consultation.


Topics: managed payroll services, payroll tax filing, outsourcing payroll management, overtime pay, employee classification, payroll compliance, compliance mistakes

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