Payroll is the total of financial obligations to employees in terms of salary, bonuses and deductions for services such as transit reimbursement and health insurance.  The effective functioning of payroll ensures that a business remains running optimally, which necessitates the hiring of additional personnel to perform payroll services in larger companies to manage payroll and ensure its timely and accurate payment.  Without effective payroll management, employers can be prone to mistakes, noncompliance with the law and a host of legal liability issues.  The employer is mandated by law to keep accurate records of employee payroll as well as make the appropriate tax contributions.

What are payroll taxes?

Payroll taxes are deductions made by the employer on behalf of the government to fund entitlement programs as well as income tax.  Payroll services personnel may be needed to ensure compliance with state and federal laws on tax withholding laws.  Taxes paid from payroll into Social Security and Medicare is matched by employers.  Given that payroll taxes are usually an intersection of federal, state and local law, compliance can be difficult.  Often there are a number of deductions for state disability, unemployment insurance as well as school and other programs that are held in trust.  It is the responsibility of the employer to be in compliance with tax laws and hand over the withheld taxes to the government.

Employers are responsible for the following payroll taxes:

Social Security (6.2%)

Medicare (1.45% of wages)

Federal unemployment taxes

State unemployment taxes

Under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act half of contributions to entitlement programs are paid by the employer and the other half by the employee.

What are payroll laws?

There are a number of payroll laws and some laws may vary by state:

Minimum wage – although there is a federal minimum wage law, some states, like New York will require an even higher minimum age.  

Overtime – the Fair Labor Standards Act mandates that overtime pay must be made when an employee exceeds forty hours worked in a week.  Any subsequent hours worked must be compensated with “time and a half” pay.  Exceptions include domestic workers that live with the employer who have a higher threshold for overtime.  Certain other employees are not eligible for overtime such as salespersons, computer professionals and certain administrative or professional workers.  A payroll or labor lawyer will be able to determine which employees are exempt.

Payroll tax – employers are obligated by federal law to withhold the above mentioned payroll taxes

Frequency of pay – employees are generally paid biweekly, but other arrangements include seasonal, daily, monthly and in some rare cases, semiannually or annually.  Payroll taxes will be scaled to match this payroll period.

What are payroll services?

For smaller businesses that cannot afford to have full time personnel managing payroll, specialized payroll services exist with payroll software and trained professionals that keep track of payroll laws and changes that affect how payroll is disbursed to employees.  Some payroll services may provide further services typically provided by human resources personnel such as tracking benefits plans.  Payroll services offer a number of ways to disburse salary, usually through checks sent to the employee, but also newer options, such as direct deposit.  Payroll services can also provide pay stubs to employees, although this is not required by law.  Pay stubs are useful for an employee to keep track of the taxes withheld as well as earnings to date.

What is payroll software?

Small businesses may decide to use payroll software to automate their payroll needs.  This software can calculate deductions and create paychecks as well as manage benefits plans.  There may be issues with keeping the software current, which will lead many payroll software makers to offer live support, automatic updates, or ancillary payroll services to augment the payroll software made available to small businesses.

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