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The ultimate guide to payroll audit in 2024

The ultimate guide to payroll audit in 2024

Palak Jamuar
April 3, 2024

Often viewed through the lens of compliance, payroll audits carry the weight of ensuring everything is up to standard. However, this view overlooks the strategic potential these audits hold for driving organizational change and efficiency. 

Take a step back. Reflect on the narrative hidden within your payroll data. Beyond the numbers, audits offer a unique vantage point on the operational pulse of your organization. Have you ever thought about what these insights could mean for strategic planning and employee satisfaction?

This blog aims to arm you with the knowledge and tools necessary to not just survive but thrive through your next payroll audit.

What is payroll audit?

A payroll audit is a systematic review of a company's payroll records to ensure the accuracy of employee information, wages paid, and tax withholdings. This process involves scrutinizing various payroll components such as hours worked, salary amounts, benefits deductions, and compliance with tax laws. The objective is to identify any discrepancies or errors that could lead to financial misstatements or legal issues. Through this examination, businesses can verify that they are fulfilling their obligations to employees and government agencies, thereby safeguarding against potential penalties and ensuring the integrity of their financial records.

What are the benefits of payroll audit?

1. Staying on the right side of the law

Payroll audits make sure you're ticking all the legal boxes. These audits meticulously examine your payroll procedures to uncover any lapses or misunderstandings of the law. By ensuring compliance with all legal requirements, payroll audits offer reassurance and stability, freeing you to concentrate on your main business operations without concern for legal complications.

2. Catching mistakes and dodging fraud

These audits meticulously review financial records and transactions to ensure everything is as it should be, preventing small errors from escalating into significant issues. They act as a reliable ally in identifying inaccuracies or potential instances of fraud early on. This proactive approach not only ensures the accuracy of payroll records but also safeguards businesses against financial and reputational damage caused by overlooked mistakes or fraud.

3. Keeping your financial house in order

A comprehensive verification process is fundamental in maintaining robust financial health for the business. Moreover, demonstrating a commitment to managing finances with utmost integrity, payroll audits help to establish a foundation of trust and reliability within and outside the organization. Payroll audits help businesses ensure that their financial practices are transparent, accountable, and reflective of high ethical standards

4. Spotting discrepancies early on

View payroll audits as an essential early detection system that identifies any payroll discrepancies right at the start, enabling you to quickly rectify them. This proactive measure is key to preventing future financial issues, ensuring your business operations remain uninterrupted and efficient. By addressing issues early on, you safeguard your company's financial health and keep everything running smoothly.

How do you perform a payroll audit?

Preparing for a payroll audit requires a structured approach to ensure all necessary records are accurate and readily available. These steps ensure a streamlined preparation process: 

Step 1: Gather payroll records

Start by collecting all payroll-related documents. This includes pay slips, time sheets, employment contracts, and records of wages paid. Ensure you have documents for the entire period under audit.

Step 2: Review employee information

Verify the accuracy of all employee information, including names, social security numbers, addresses, and employment status (full-time, part-time, contractor). This step is crucial for ensuring that tax withholdings and reporting are correct.

Step 3: Check classification of employees

Carefully review whether employees are classified correctly as either regular employees or independent contractors. Misclassification can lead to significant legal and financial implications.

Step 4: Audit wage and compliance

Examine your records to ensure that all employees have been paid according to state and federal labor laws, including minimum wage and overtime.

Step 5: Validate tax withholdings and payments

Ensure that all tax withholdings (federal, state, and local) are accurately documented and that payments to tax authorities have been made on time. This includes income tax, Social Security, and Medicare contributions.

Step 6: Prepare for audit meeting

Organize your documents in a way that makes them easily accessible. Be ready to explain your payroll processes and how you maintain compliance.

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Common pitfalls and how to avoid them

Navigating through the complexities of payroll management, several common pitfalls can lead to audits or complications during the audit process. Awareness and proactive measures can significantly reduce the likelihood of encountering these issues:

Misclassification of employees

Incorrectly categorizing employees as independent contractors or vice versa can trigger audits. Ensure accurate classification by reviewing job roles and responsibilities against federal and state guidelines.

Inaccurate record-keeping

Failing to maintain detailed and accurate payroll records is a major red flag for auditors. Implement a reliable system for tracking hours worked, wages paid, and tax withholdings. Regularly update records to reflect any changes.

Errors in tax withholdings and payments

Mistakes in calculating or remitting payroll taxes can lead to penalties and audits. Utilize payroll software or consult with a tax professional to ensure accuracy in tax calculations and timely payments.

Failure to comply with wage laws

Not adhering to minimum wage, overtime pay, and other wage-related laws can prompt an audit. Stay informed about current labor laws and regularly audit payroll practices to ensure compliance.

Incomplete documentation

Lack of proper documentation for payroll transactions can complicate an audit. Maintain comprehensive records, including timesheets, pay stubs, and tax forms, for at least the minimum period required by law.

The ultimate payroll audit checklist

Initiating payroll audits can be daunting initially. However, with each subsequent cycle of the payroll audit checklist, opportunities for enhancement become apparent. Over time, the process becomes more streamlined, enabling organizations to identify and address areas in need of improvement more effectively.

1. Verify employee information

Ensure employee details like names, addresses, and tax info are correct. Document and get approval for any changes. This maintains accurate records and ensures compliance with regulations. Regular checks prevent errors and keep employee information up-to-date.

2. Cross-check timesheets and hours

Verify that timesheets correspond with attendance records to maintain accuracy. Ensure proper calculation of overtime hours according to company rules and laws. This prevents payroll errors and ensures employees are paid correctly for their work hours.

3. Review payroll deductions

Check wage rates against employment contracts. Ensure deductions like taxes and benefits are correct and documented. This guarantees employees are paid accurately and deductions comply with legal requirements, preventing potential disputes or penalties.

4. Compliance with labour laws

Verify payroll procedures follow federal, state, and local labor laws. Stay informed about any law changes and adapt payroll practices accordingly. This ensures legal compliance, minimizes risks, and avoids penalties for non-compliance with labor regulations.

5. Confirm payroll tax accuracy

Ensure payroll taxes are calculated correctly and paid on time to the appropriate authorities. Review tax filings and reports to ensure accuracy and completeness. This prevents errors and penalties related to tax non-compliance.

6. Validate benefits and leave accruals

Check if employee benefits and leave accruals are accurately calculated. Ensure benefit deductions align with employee choices and eligibility criteria. This guarantees employees receive the correct benefits and deductions, fostering employee satisfaction and compliance with company policies.

7. Verify accurate payment distribution

Ensure employee payments are correct and punctual. Verify appropriate documentation and approval for any additional or out-of-cycle payments. This ensures transparency, accuracy, and compliance with payment procedures, enhancing trust and accountability in the payroll process.

8. Recordkeeping and documentation

Keep detailed records of payroll transactions and approvals. Organize all payroll-related documents for easy access during audits. This ensures transparency, accountability, and compliance with regulations, facilitating smooth audits and accurate financial reporting.

9. Maintain audit trails and reconciliation

Keep a transparent record of all payroll transactions and adjustments. Reconcile payroll records with general ledger accounts to guarantee accuracy in financial reporting. This ensures transparency, accountability, and accuracy in financial records, aiding in effective decision-making and compliance.

Wrapping up...

Payroll audits are key to maintaining a business's financial and legal standing. They ensure that payroll practices comply with laws and are free from errors, safeguarding the company from potential fines and legal issues. Regular audits promote a transparent and compliant work environment, building trust among employees and stakeholders. To keep on top of this, businesses should adopt a proactive stance towards payroll management, making audit preparations a routine part of their payroll processes. Hence, making ongoing audit readiness a fundamental aspect of payroll management is crucial for any business aiming to maintain its reputational and operational excellence. 

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Is accurate payroll processing a challenge? Find out how peopleHum can assist you!
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