19 Common Payroll Mistakes You Should Avoid When Paying Your Workers

Are you making these payroll mistakes? We've prepared a guide to help you avoid common payroll errors and make managing your employees' payments more efficient.

Anja Simic
Written by Anja Simic
September 17, 2021
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Your employees provide you with working hours, and you compensate them in different ways, the most prominent of which is payroll. Salaries, wages, and other names for remuneration all have the same purpose - providing your workers with value because of the work they did for you.

Even though it seems pretty easy, you can make a lot of mistakes when paying your workers. To ensure a healthy and productive work environment as a payroll manager, you’ll want to avoid making these 19 most common payroll mistakes.

1. Miscalculating the payroll or paying the wrong amount

Providing both your employees and contractors with an accurate payroll is the basis of a good professional relationship. Ensuring you get the right amount for each payroll is a task and a half, but it needs to be done. It usually involves looking through a lot (sometimes even hundreds) of timesheets and ensuring that every one of them is proper.

Miscalculations with paying both your employees or contractors the right amount of money can lead to some serious issues.

First off, you can underpay your workers by accident. This means that you’ll be providing them with less income than they deserved. Apart from being very unprofessional, this can devastate an employee’s motivation.

Overpayment is also a serious issue when it comes to miscalculating payroll, which may be due to a simple data entry mistake. However, giving one of your workers more money than they’ve earned is a bad business model. Not to mention that it can seriously damage your company’s finances if it goes unchecked. This is especially true for smaller businesses.

2. Disregarding payroll taxes

Paying taxes is one of your most important tasks when you own a business. The government requires all businesses to pay federal income tax, employment taxes, as well as a variety of state or local taxes. Missing any of these tax payments can cause problems with the IRS. And ignoring the payroll taxes will bring issues with both the IRS and the Department of Labor. Most of these taxes are collected on a pay-as-you-go basis. This means that one missed payment can result in severe fines, which relate to both big and small businesses.

3. Forgetting to send out tax forms or missing deadlines

Some payrolls are tightly tied to specific tax forms. Failing to submit these as soon as you hire an employee or contractor is a serious payroll mistake you should never make. There are a lot of necessary government forms you’ll need to submit, and some of them might be completely different from what you’re used to. For example, the tax responsibilities when hiring foreign independent contractors will be pretty different than when hiring regular employees. Make sure you’re informed about what forms you need to have for new hires and when you need to submit them.

Many employers also fall into the trap of focusing on their payroll employees and completely forgetting about their independent contractors. Not sending the 1099 tax forms is one of the most common payroll errors companies make.

4. Being inconsistent or infrequent with payrolls

Managing something as challenging as payroll will put you in various unpredictable situations, especially if you have many employees or contractors abroad. Tackling global payroll is one of the main causes of frustration and inconsistency regarding payroll. However, no matter which challenges you run into, a payroll provider should find a way to tackle them and provide a stable and consistent payroll for their workers worldwide.

5. Being late with payroll payments

Businesses can be very unpredictable, and campaigns and product launches are usually late. However, there is one thing that should never be late: the employees’ salaries.

The payroll should arrive exactly at the predetermined pay period. This helps create trust and gives the people working for you a sense of stability.

Sure, the payday can be a bit late once or twice a year, but there should be a good explanation. And you should notify your teams in advance - don't keep your employees waiting!

6. Skipping payments

The only thing worse than a late salary is a salary that doesn’t come at all. Many employees and contractors alike would resign from businesses that do this at the first chance possible.

As a payroll manager, you should make sure that all of your workers receive their remuneration come payday.

A missed payday is not something that people working for you will take lightly. Also, it will demotivate your teams and create an unfavorable precedent. Not to mention putting a stain on the business’s reputation.

7. Misclassifying employees as independent contractors or vice versa

Before you put a worker on your payroll, you’ll need to classify the kind of work relationship your business has with them. You might need to submit a different kind of payroll depending on this predetermined relationship.

Treating an employee as a contractor or vice versa will cause serious problems down the line. Apart from different payroll policies, there are a lot of other aspects that differentiate independent contractors from employees. For one, employees get their contributions withheld from their salaries, which is not the case for contractors. Not to mention that hiring full-time employees requires different tax forms from when hiring independent contractors. This misclassification is one of the more serious payroll mistakes that you’d want to avoid at all costs.

8. Miscalculating overtime pay or performance bonuses

Expecting your employees to work outside of normal working hours and not rewarding it is a serious mistake. It can demotivate your workforce or outright turn it away. This is why acts such as the Fair Labor Standards Act established the laws and regulations that require you to pay overtime to your employees.

There is no set overtime pay, but most employers decide to go with 150%-200% of the employee’s regular hourly rate.

Paying overtime wages to contractors is a bit more difficult. Since you won’t be tracking time for most contractors, it will be more difficult to determine when they went the extra mile. You can give bonuses when tasks have been completed quickly or especially well.

This is also applicable to your regular employees. If they do well, you should reward them through payroll or other means.

9. Misfiling gross and net payroll

This is a pretty basic mistake as far as payroll is concerned. It is really easy to avoid making it - it requires a bit of focus and practice. In some cases, it might be a challenge to calculate the net employee’s paycheck from their gross payroll. However, it is usually pretty straightforward. What is important is that you don’t get them mixed up.

Gross income is the amount your worker is due before deductions, subtractions, taxes, or contributions are withheld. Net income is everything an employee earned minus the taxes, contributions, or any other withheld expenses.

10. Failing to keep proper payroll records

Poor record keeping can cause both in-house problems and issues when tax filing or completing other external errands. To have a successful business, you need to keep records of everything, especially payroll records.

Proper record keeping will protect you legally and allow you to see the improvements or deteriorations in all the aspects related to your business. From business transactions and changes implemented to payroll, you need a record of it all.

11. Failing to compensate employees for work-related injuries

If an employee gets injured while at work and/or performing business activities, they are entitled to various types of compensation. Paid leave and covering medical expenses are just some of them. If you fail to provide these for your employee, whether right away or through a paycheck later on, your business can be sued.

12. Not staying up to date with laws and regulations

Apart from the FLSA, there are hundreds of regulatory Acts and Bills that deal with paying your workers. The most common laws like these deal with minimum wage and vacations.

However, no matter whether you’re paying an employee or a contractor, you’ll need to abide by some regulations. These will differ depending on your situation, business scope, and many more factors.

Check our global hiring guide for specific laws and regulations in different countries

13. Failing to subtract garnishments from an employee’s payroll

While it may seem that taxes and contributions are the only things that you need to withhold from your employee’s salary, this is not the case. Garnishments such as debts, credit installments, and even mortgages, in some cases, should be deducted from the net salary before giving the employee a paycheck. Garnishments are a way to ensure the person receiving a paycheck pays their own debts.

Forgetting to remove the garnishments from your employee’s salary can cause both you and them many problems.

14. Not utilizing payroll software

We live in a digital age, and we can say with almost absolute certainty that there is an app for everything.

While an app on your phone might be too simple or insecure for time tracking or helping you run payroll, there is payroll software designed especially for that.

All you need to do is take some time to do data entry (such as the employee’s social security numbers or when they started working for you), and the software will do the rest.

  • You won’t need to double-check everything all the time
  • You could save money by keeping a smaller payroll department
  • No need to go to the bank or pay salaries from a computer. The payroll software calculates and pays all the amounts
  • It will save you a lot of time

These are just some of the advantages of automating your payroll system.

15. Rushing payroll and related paperwork

One of the most commonly overlooked payroll mistakes is paperwork. This especially becomes evident when processing new hires and getting them through the payroll process. The documentation is sometimes rushed to fill a job opening as soon as possible. This is a terrible mistake as it'll make your new employee feel completely disoriented. Not to mention data entry errors that may cause serious miscalculations down the line!

Avoid this mistake by planning each hiring process and investing the time to double-check the paperwork if necessary. This will ensure a better hiring process and faster payroll processing.

16. Forgetting about a holiday

If your paydays fall on fixed dates (for example, on Jan 4th, Feb 4th, and so on), at some point throughout the year, they may fall on a holiday. Banks will be closed on that day, so your payments will be at least a day late, which may cause dissatisfaction among your employees and independent contractors.

While this may not affect the payroll itself a lot, plan ahead and keep these days in mind to avoid being late with payroll processing.

17. Not including all taxable items when tax filing

Sometimes, employers only report the worker's base pay and completely disregard other taxable items that must be included in the tax reports. That may cause serious legal trouble even if it was an honest mistake.

For example, stock options or different types of discounts you offer your employees are also taxable, and therefore, you need to report them to the IRS.

18. Not keeping your data safe

Whether you're outsourcing your payroll to a third-party service provider or you hire independent contractors to work on projects, you need to protect your confidential data from leaking. That involves your employees' personal data and payroll information. That's why it's essential to sign a DPA with any external collaborator.

Also, if you've decided to rely on technology, bear in mind that it's not perfect. A server may go down, your computer may get damaged. Ensure adequate backup for all your data and keep your payroll information in a secure environment and protected from hackers or any other issues.

19. Overburdening your payroll staff

Payroll services are usually related to a single department that works with the help of all the teams in the company to ensure everyone gets the right payroll at the right time.

However, no matter how well your payroll system works, this department is bound to get swamped sooner or later - keeping track of contracts, the number of hours worked, salaries, payroll taxes, days off, and more can really be overwhelming. This is why it’s necessary to alleviate your payroll staff's workload from time to time.

Small businesses especially suffer from this since there isn’t a proper department for payroll processing. This usually means that it falls to the business owner to go through endless timesheets and double-check employee hours for the entire workweek. Running payroll as a small business entails several challenges that require some expertise or help to tackle.

Successfully avoid payroll errors with Deel

Automating your payroll can help you skip many of the most common payroll mistakes and streamline your whole payroll process. Using software helps you avoid manual mistakes and inconsistent data, as well as miscalculations and forgetting about deadlines. What else could you ask for?

To learn more, book a demo and learn what our services include other than handling your payroll processes and helping you avoid these common mistakes that sometimes cost companies millions.

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