Top 7 Payroll Mistakes To Avoid At All Cos
December 8, 2023
Payroll processes bridge critical financial connections between employers and staff. But when payroll makes a mistake, damaged trust and consequences ripple outward. Even minor payroll mistakes can spiral into big problems if left uncorrected.
Payroll oversees multifaceted compensation components from hourly wages to complex benefits deductions. With so many moving parts, payroll errors sneak in more often than companies realize. Ernst & Young estimates employers average around 200 payroll mistakes annually costing over $500 per misstep. Payroll errors may cause serious problems, beyond financial impacts, flawed payroll execution erodes workforce confidence. We summarize the top 7 payroll pitfalls smart employers seek to avoid.
Not keeping accurate records
One of the most common payroll mistakes is failing to keep accurate records of employees’ worked hours, absences, pay rates, and other essential details. Without organized and up-to-date records, it’s virtually impossible to correctly calculate each employee’s pay. Even minor inaccuracies can spiral over time into major payroll issues and legal violations.
For hourly employees, lacking records of hours worked, overtime, and absences often leads to incorrect pay. Salaried employees’ pay depends on employment contracts stipulating pay rates and benefits. Without maintaining signed copies of all versions of contracts, payroll administrators cannot confirm appropriate pay.
Additionally, records serve as evidence if a dispute arises over pay. Without proper documentation, the employer has no defense against an employee’s claims. Beyond causing financial losses from retroactive back pay, such disputes irreparably erode employee trust and damage the company’s reputation.
Mishandling overtime pay
A common payroll mistake involves incorrectly calculating overtime pay for non-exempt employees. Best practices dictate that employees should receive 1.5 times their regular hourly wage for any hours worked beyond 40 in a single workweek.
Unfortunately, payroll administrators often mishandle overtime in various ways – failing to verify if employees truly exceeded 40 hours before paying overtime rates, using an outdated regular rate to calculate the 1.5x overtime pay, or simply forgetting that a 1.5x multiplier applies for overtime hours.
Such calculation errors result in employees being denied earned wages at the appropriate overtime rates. Beyond just a financial impact, this breeds resentment among staff who feel exploited by being forced to work extra hours without proper compensation.
Incorrectly withheld overtime pay erodes employee trust in the company and its leadership. Employees are likely to view the organization as prioritizing profits over fair treatment of staff. This damages retention efforts as top talent leaves for companies with better compensation practices.
Improper tax withholdings
Payroll must correctly determine and withhold income taxes from employees’ paychecks as required by law. Failure to do so causes major tax headaches for employees during the filing season and steep penalties for the company from tax agencies.
Common withholding mistakes include using outdated tax tables, incorrectly claiming too many withholding allowances, and neglecting to withhold taxes for bonuses, back pay, and stock payouts. Such errors often arise from a lack of understanding of complex tax regulations. However, insufficient tax withholdings force employees into unanticipated tax bills that erode their financial stability and company loyalty.
Late or missing payments
One of the worst payroll errors involves missing scheduled pay dates or delaying the release of payroll payments. Even a single late paycheck creates major issues for employees relying on that income for mortgages, childcare, commuting, and other non-negotiable expenses.
Delayed payments quickly spiral into employee relations problems as staff lose trust in management’s reliability and competence. As pay problems repeat, top performers resign for companies offering stable payroll. Replacing them strains budgets and productivity.
Additionally, labor laws mandate specific pay schedules with strict penalties for non-compliance. Habitual late payments draw fines, lawsuits, and official investigations that further damage the organization’s reputation and ability to hire competitively.
Incorrect final payouts
When employees leave the company voluntarily or otherwise, payroll makes a final payout to compensate for accrued paid leave, health insurance premiums, pensions, severance packages, and so forth. Errors frequently creep in due to time pressure, information gaps, or misconstruing complex payout policies.
Incorrect final payout calculations often trigger legal disputes drawing out for months or years – especially if substantial commissions or equity compensation is involved. Even small errors erode former employee goodwill at a time when staying on good terms would benefit the organization. Especially when high performers leave during competitive talent markets, keeping the relationship positive for future rehiring remains key.
While payroll mistakes often arise from innocent errors or resource constraints, sometimes financial self-interest motivates deliberate manipulation. Common schemes include payroll staff accepting bribes to add fake employees called “ghosts”; managers illegally inflating reported overtime hours for staff in exchange for kickbacks; executives embezzling money by abusing PTO payout policies and falsifying commissions or expenses.
Such fraud bleeds budgets dry over years and ultimately collapses companies from the financial inside out. External audits typically catch only a fraction of fraud. Instead, internal control measures such as cross-checks between payroll, HR and managers mitigate opportunities for major fraud. Additionally, transitioning to reputable payroll software typically eliminates most scenarios for manipulating payouts.
Not keeping up with regulatory changes
Payroll compliance depends on full, current knowledge of all relevant regulations concerning minimum wage, overtime thresholds, taxation rates, social insurance contributions, paid leave accruals, garnishments, child support enforcement and countless additional parameters. Government agencies frequently introduce new requirements or update thresholds, necessitating strategies on how to manage payroll effectively. Failing to rapidly integrate such changes into payroll calculations inevitably leads to non-compliance with spiraling consequences.
For example, neglecting a minimum wage increase means unlawfully underpaying staff. Lagging on new tax tables could trigger fines and back taxes. Not updating child support garnishment rules draws penalties plus collection pressure on payment errors. Such oversights erode employee trust in company reliability and competence while exposing unprepared organizations to enforcement penalties. Staying completely up-to-date on all applicable rules remains the only way to avoid these scenarios.
Even well-intentioned payroll administrators face immense complexity that enables easy mistakes with disproportionate fallout. While common knowledge focuses mostly on tax penalties, even more critically, payroll errors undermine employee retention and erode labor relations. Especially for compliance-dependent, talent-focused organizations, proactively investing resources into flawless payroll should remain a top priority. Transitioning an efficient payroll process to reputable software or payroll services typically delivers an excellent return through strengthening accuracy, efficiency, and data security. With vigilant management, ongoing training, and integrated automation, many payroll mistakes become fully preventable. Prioritizing payroll accuracy protects company culture and enables strategic goals.