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Small Business Tips

What is Payroll? Compensation and Compliance

MileIQ Team

Payroll is a complete list of employees entitled to compensation, which includes precise information regarding salary, bonuses, additional benefits, and withheld taxes. If you hired employees for your business, you'll need to manage payroll.

Payroll processing is instrumental for legal and tax compliance, and an efficient payroll process helps companies keep their employees happy. The process includes five basic steps:

  • Calculating gross pay
  • Subtracting deductions 
  • Calculating net pay
  • Issuing payments 
  • Recordkeeping and reporting 

Throughout the process, companies have to consider guidelines for processing and legal regulations from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA), and Equal Pay Act (EPA), in addition to specific state regulations. It can be done manually, but many companies use payroll software to streamline and automate the payroll process, reducing the potential for errors and improving overall efficiency.

What Is Payroll?

Payroll refers not only to the list of employees but also to the management of the entire payroll process. Payroll’s “role” is to ensure that employees are paid timely and accurately and the company is perfectly compliant with all the legal and tax regulations.

A thorough payroll document must include hourly wages, fixed salaries, bonuses, and all valid deductions for all employees.

Components of Payroll

There are three key components of payroll:

  • Gross salaries or wages
  • Deductions
  • Net pay

Gross salary refers to an employee's total earnings before any deductions. It includes the base salary or hourly wage and any additional compensation in bonuses, overtime pay, or commissions. It is the starting point for calculating net pay.

Deductions include everything that affects gross salary. They can be mandatory or optional. The most common deductions are:

  • Income taxes (mandatory, federal and state, if applicable)
  • Social Security and Medicare taxes (mandatory)
  • Retirement/pension plans (voluntary)
  • Health insurance (voluntary)
  • Other employee benefits (voluntary)

Deductions ensure that employees contribute to taxes and benefits while also allowing for personal preferences in voluntary deductions.

Net pay is the paycheck, the final amount an employee receives after subtracting all deductions from the gross salary.

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Payroll Processing

Payroll processing refers to managing all aspects of paying employees. It's quite a complex puzzle that requires a rigorous approach from a company, especially if it hires many employees on different types of contracts. There are at least 10 steps, and possibly a couple more to follow before employees receive the salaries they’re entitled to and your company has all its books in order. 

  1. Timekeeping

A company has to record the hours worked by non-exempt, hourly employees. The most popular method for that used to be time cards. Nowadays, time-tracking systems are much more widely used.

  1. Gross Pay Calculation

Determine the gross pay based on hourly wages, salaries, or otherwise, depending on the contract.

  1. Overtime Calculation

If applicable, calculate any overtime hours according to relevant labor laws.

  1. Deductions

Subtract all mandatory and voluntary deductions and contributions such as income tax, Social Security, Medicare, health insurance premiums, mileage reimbursement, etc.

  1. Net Pay Calculation

Calculate the net pay by subtracting all deductions from the gross pay. 

  1. Employer Contributions (optional)

Ensure that relevant employer contributions to retirement plans, health insurance, etc., are accounted for accurately.

  1. Create Payroll Register

Create a register that outlines each employee's compensation with all the details from steps 2-6.

  1. Taxes!

Withhold and make all the necessary tax payments. Ensure that all of them are paid within the deadline. 

  1. Direct Deposit or Check Issuance

Distribute employee payments through direct deposit or by issuing physical checks, based on the preferred payment method.

  1. Recordkeeping

In case of potential audits, maintain accurate and organized payroll records, including timecards, pay stubs, and tax filings.

  1. Compliance

Ensure compliance with federal, state, and local labor laws and tax regulations. Stay updated on changes in regulations that may affect payroll processing.

  1. Year-End Reporting

Complete and submit year-end reports, including W-2 forms for employees and any other required documentation for tax reporting.

Legal and Regulatory Aspects of Payroll

Payroll processing requires full compliance with several regulations including:

  • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
  • Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA)
  • Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA)
  • Equal Pay Act (EPA)

FLSA regulates all the basics regarding minimum wage, overtime, and recordkeeping. 

FICA regulates mandatory Social Security and Medicare taxes. 

FUTA regulates payroll tax to fund unemployment benefits.

EPA includes regulations regarding equal pay to prevent the gender pay gap. 

There is additional legislation that regulates payroll in the public sector (The Davis-Bacon and Related Acts (DBA) & (DBRA)) and for employers that hire immigrants (The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA) and Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)).

Payroll Systems and Software

Payroll processing can be done manually, with dedicated software, or outsourced.

The manual method is a viable option for small businesses. It usually involves using spreadsheets with formulas and manual data input. Companies that process payroll manually must be very diligent and careful to avoid errors, delays, and compliance issues with the latest regulations. But perhaps the biggest disadvantage of manual payroll processing is that it’s not scalable and becomes more and more cumbersome as the company grows.

At some point, introducing software or full outsourcing becomes the best option for companies that don’t intend to create a new position or department dedicated to payroll. Here’s how both approaches compare. 

Manual Payroll Processing Advantages

  • Cost-effective at a small scale: Manual payroll processing doesn't require making additional purchases, making it very affordable for small businesses.
  • Flexibility: Manual systems can be customized and easily adapted to changes in tax regulations or company policies (as long as you’re able to follow those changes).
  • Control: You maintain full control over the entire payroll process, allowing for full security and data privacy. 

Manual Payroll Processing Disadvantages

  • Time-consuming: Manual payroll processing is a tedious task, requiring considerable effort and diligence.
  • Error-prone: Manual calculations and data entry are prone to errors, which can lead to costly audits and employee dissatisfaction.
  • Compliance challenges: You need to stay up-to-date with constantly evolving tax and labor laws, which can be challenging to manage without dedicated expertise.

Software-based Payroll Processing Advantages

  • Efficiency: Payroll software automates most of the process, saving time and reducing the risk of errors.
  • Accuracy: Software-driven calculations ensure precision and compliance with tax and labor regulations.
  • Compliance support: Payroll software typically provides updates and support to help businesses stay compliant with changing laws.
  • Reporting and analytics: Software offers comprehensive reporting and analytics tools to track payroll trends and identify areas for improvement.

Software-based Payroll Processing Disadvantages

  • Initial investment: Payroll software requires initial time and money investment and may involve additional fees for support or customization.
  • Integration: Integrating payroll software with other HR systems can be complex and require technical expertise.
  • Dependency: Businesses rely on software vendors for updates and support, which can limit flexibility and control over the process.

Outsourcing payroll to a vendor brings similar advantages and challenges. The ideal payroll processing method for you depends on your company’s size, complexity, and resources. It’s fair to say that small businesses can easily manage with manual processing, but any large or rapidly growing company should strongly consider a software-based or outsourced approach.

Challenges in Payroll Management

Common issues include miscalculations, incorrect tax withholdings, and inaccuracies in record-keeping.

Another significant challenge in payroll management is effectively addressing employee payroll queries. Maintaining trust and transparency with employees necessitates clear and effective communication.

A mix of thorough training, advanced payroll software, and routine audits is critical to preventing payroll errors. Another important element is maintaining employee satisfaction, which contributes to a positive work environment and ensures employees feel valued and compensated fairly.

Challenges can still arise, even with the use of advanced payroll systems and software. 

Global Payroll Considerations

Employers hiring internationally must consider additional requirements. The most common challenges include:

  1. Currency Exchange and Fluctuations

Converting salaries from one currency to another can impact the actual amount employees receive, leading to potential financial discrepancies, and even dissatisfaction.

  1. Diverse Tax Regulations

Tax regulations and reporting requirements can be vastly different between countries. More importantly, the required information isn’t always in English and may require professional translation to ensure clear understanding and compliance.  

  1. Legal Compliance

Regulations related to minimum wages, overtime, and employment contracts vary significantly, and employers must comply with local laws to avoid legal consequences.

To address these challenges, companies often seek assistance from international payroll service providers specializing in navigating complexities across borders. On a smaller scale, it may be helpful to consult with legal and tax professionals familiar with international employment laws.

What Is Payroll Tax?

A payroll tax has been introduced in almost every country in the world. It’s levied on employees' wages and salaries to fund social insurance programs, education, healthcare, and other public endeavors. In the United States, it contributes to Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment benefits. In most states, reports regarding payroll taxes are required quarterly and annually and have to be filed electronically by all companies except for small businesses. 

Each country has a particular system and a set of regulations regarding payroll tax. For example, payroll tax in France contributes to family allowance funds to support families with children, and the Occupational Health Insurance Fund for people who suffer workplace injuries and illnesses.

Payroll: A Crucial Cog in a Well-Oiled Business Machine

Payroll processing can be quite a complicated process. Payroll systems and software significantly aid this process, reducing errors and streamlining operations. They simplify and automate the entire process and ensure there’s less room for human error. 

Managing payroll becomes even more complex as businesses expand globally due to diverse tax laws, currency exchange, and local regulations. But with the combined help of professional consulting and dedicated software, you can maintain full compliance and control over your company’s payroll.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does ‘payroll’ mean?

Payroll refers to the total amount a company pays its employees for their work during a specific period. It involves tracking hours worked, calculating pay, and distributing payments, either through direct deposit or check. It may also refer to the list of employees who need to be paid and the process through which a company manages these payments.

What is the difference between salary and payroll?

The difference between salary and payroll is that salary refers to the amount an employee earns, while payroll is the process of paying that salary and managing related taxes. In short, salary is the individual's earnings, and payroll is the system used to track and process those earnings.

What is the function of payroll?

The function of payroll is to ensure that all employees receive their wages and to stay compliant with various labor, tax, and compensation laws. 

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