payroll compliance

Payroll Compliance in the United States (Small Business Owner Guide)

Straight off the bat, here are a few important tips to ensure payroll compliance:

  • Maintain proper payroll records using a centralized system like Buddy Punch.
  • Withhold and remit the correct amount of taxes for each employee.
  • Ensure accurate and timely reporting of new hires.

Any small business owner knows that payroll compliance is a crucial aspect of running a successful operation. Ensuring that your payroll is accurate and up-to-date can protect your business from penalties, fines, and potential lawsuits.

This guide will explore the different aspects of payroll compliance in the United States, including employee classification, fringe benefits, tax rates, and recordkeeping. We will also provide a payroll compliance checklist to help you stay on top of your responsibilities.

As a time tracking and payroll management solution, Buddy Punch is well-equipped to ensure payroll compliance. We will cover this in more detail later on. First, let’s take a step back and explore employee classification and compliance requirements.

Payroll compliance laws and regulations can vary depending on your specific situation and jurisdiction. To ensure you are fully compliant with all applicable laws and regulations, it is strongly recommended that you consult with a labor law attorney or a qualified payroll professional who can provide guidance tailored to your individual circumstances.

Employee Classification & Compliance Requirements

Employee Classification

When it comes to ensuring payroll compliance, employee classification is essential. Misclassification of employees can lead to non-compliance and potentially result in large fines and penalties. There are two main types of workers: employees and independent contractors.

Employees are classified into two categories: exempt and non-exempt employees.

Non-exempt employees are entitled to overtime pay, while exempt employees are not. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides guidelines for determining employee classification, including minimum wage and overtime requirements.

Independent contractors are not considered employees under the FLSA. As a result, independent contractors are not subject to the same wage and hour requirements as employees.

However, it’s critically important that employers do not misclassify employees as independent contractors. If this happens, it can lead to significant penalties and back wages.

Compliance Requirements

Various federal, state, and local laws govern payroll compliance in the United States. Here are some of the main federal laws:

  • The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
  • The Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA)
  • The Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA)

The FLSA sets out the minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor standards for employers. Although, state laws and local governments may have additional requirements that employers must follow, such as higher minimum wage rates, meal and rest breaks, and specific pay

Payroll Tax Compliance & IRS Requirements

FICA Taxes & Social Security Tax

Under the FICA, employers are responsible for withholding Social Security and Medicare taxes from their employees’ paychecks. The Social Security tax funds the Social Security program, while Medicare taxes fund the Medicare program. Employers must also contribute a matching amount of these taxes.

Federal Income Tax Withholding

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidelines, employers are required to withhold federal income tax from their employees’ wages. The amount of withholding depends on the employee’s income, filing status, and allowances claimed on their Form W-4.


The FUTA (Federal Unemployment Tax Act) tax is a federal tax paid by employers to fund unemployment benefits for workers who lose their jobs. this tax is not withheld from employees’ paychecks; instead, it is an employer-only tax.

State & Local Taxes

Alongside federal taxes, employers may be required to withhold state and local income taxes from their employees’ wages. State laws govern these tax rates and may vary between states. With this in mind, you should conduct your own research into the tax rates in your state.

Payroll Compliance Checklist & Common Mistakes

Payroll Compliance Checklist

A simple payroll compliance checklist can help employers ensure they are successfully meeting all federal, state, and local requirements.

Here are some important elements of a payroll compliance checklist:

  • Employee classification (exempt vs. non-exempt)
  • Minimum wage and overtime pay requirements
  • Proper tax withholding and reporting
  • Recordkeeping
  • Compliance with child labor laws and the Equal Pay Act
  • Employee benefits and reimbursements
  • Tax deposits and filings
  • Garnishments and deductions
  • Year-end payroll tasks and reporting

Regularly reviewing and updating your payroll compliance checklist will help minimize the risk of non-compliance and avoid potential penalties and fines.

You should cover all bases and make sure you are doing everything in your power to ensure payroll compliance.

Payroll Compliance (Common Mistakes)

Here are just a handful of common mistakes that can result in payroll non-compliance:

  • Misclassification of employees as independent contractors.
  • Incorrect calculation of overtime pay for non-exempt employees.
  • Failure to withhold and remit the correct amount of taxes.
  • Inaccurate or untimely reporting of new hires.
  • Not providing required notices and disclosures to employees.
  • Failure to maintain proper payroll records.

To avoid these mistakes, you should consider implementing a robust payroll system, utilizing payroll software, or engaging professional payroll services.

Buddy Punch enables you to calculate overtime pay automatically and provides everything you need to maintain proper payroll records.

Here are just some of the immediate benefits offered by Buddy Punch:

  • Automate payroll filings
  • Gain accurate and in-depth data
  • Run payroll in a few simple steps

This payroll software for small businesses comes with everything you need to streamline pivotal processes.

Payroll Software & Services For Small Business Owners

Payroll Software (How Does It Work?)

Payroll software like Buddy Punch can help small business owners streamline their payroll processing, ensure compliance with federal and state payroll laws, and reduce the likelihood of errors. Many payroll software options offer features such as automatic tax calculations, direct deposit capabilities, and integration with accounting software.

Some popular payroll software providers include Buddy Punch, QuickBooks, ADP, and Gusto. Additionally, these software solutions can help with employee onboarding by automating the collection and storage of essential new hire documents and information. This can help ensure a smooth start for both the employer and the employee.

Payroll Services (What Is Available?)

If you are daunted by the prospect of managing payroll internally, outsourcing your payroll to a professional service provider is an alternative option. Payroll services can handle tasks such as calculating and depositing taxes, filing required reports, and ensuring compliance with federal, state, and local regulations. Engaging a reputable payroll service provider can help small business owners focus on other important tasks while mitigating the risk of payroll non-compliance.

Running Payroll (Why Does It Matter?)

Running payroll is a critical aspect of managing a small business. This involves calculating employee wages, withholding the appropriate taxes and deductions, and ensuring timely payments. Employers must comply with federal and state payroll requirements, including minimum wage laws, overtime pay, and employee exemptions. When running payroll, it’s essential to stay informed about any changes in tax rates, wage laws, and other regulations that may impact your payroll process.

Overtime Pay (How Can You Ensure Compliance?)

Under the FLSA, non-exempt employees must receive overtime pay at a rate of at least one and a half times their regular rate of pay for any hours worked over 40 in a workweek. It’s essential for employers to track employees’ hours accurately and calculate overtime pay correctly to maintain compliance with federal and state laws.

Fringe Benefits, Reimbursements, & Premiums

Fringe Benefits (What Are The Tax Implications?)

Fringe benefits are any form of non-wage compensation provided to employees in addition to their regular salaries or wages. Examples of fringe benefits include health insurance, retirement plans, and paid time off. Employers must be aware of the tax implications of offering fringe benefits, as some benefits are taxable and must be reported on employees’ W-2 forms. Alongside this, employers must ensure that fringe benefits are provided in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

Reimbursements (When Are They Necessary?)

Employers may reimburse employees for business-related expenses, such as travel or equipment costs. Proper documentation and recordkeeping are essential for these reimbursements to be considered non-taxable. The IRS provides guidelines for accountable plans, which are reimbursement arrangements that meet specific criteria and allow for tax-free reimbursements.

Premiums (What Are They?)

Premiums refer to additional payments made to employees for working specific hours or under certain conditions, such as working on holidays or performing hazardous tasks. Employers must ensure that these premiums are accurately calculated and included in employees’ wages for tax purposes.

Year-End Payroll Compliance (Reporting & Exemptions)

Year-End Reporting

Year-end payroll compliance is an essential aspect of managing a small business. It involves reconciling payroll records, verifying tax payments, and filing necessary tax forms with the IRS and other relevant agencies. Employers must ensure that their year-end payroll process complies with federal, state, and local requirements to avoid penalties and ensure accurate tax reporting.

Employee Exemptions

During the year-end payroll process, employers must review employee exemptions, such as withholding allowances and filing status, to ensure that they are up-to-date and accurate. If there are changes in employee exemptions, employers must update their payroll system accordingly. This step is crucial to avoid under-withholding or over-withholding taxes and ensure compliance with federal and state tax laws.

Equal Pay Act (EPA), Child Labor, & Child Support

Equal Pay Act

The Equal Pay Act (EPA) is a federal law that prohibits pay discrimination based on sex. Employers must ensure that they pay employees of the opposite sex equally for performing substantially similar work. This requirement applies to all forms of pay, including salary, overtime pay, bonuses, stock options, and other benefits. Employers must be vigilant in reviewing their pay practices to avoid potential violations of the EPA.

Child Labor

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets federal standards for child labor, which apply to businesses engaged in interstate commerce or the production of goods for commerce. The FLSA establishes minimum age requirements for employment, restrictions on hours worked by minors, and hazardous occupations that are off-limits to minors. Employers must comply with both federal and state child labor laws, as state laws may impose additional restrictions.

Child Support

Employers may be required to withhold child support payments from employees’ paychecks based on court orders or administrative actions. The withheld amount must be remitted to the appropriate state agency, which will then distribute the funds to the custodial parent. Employers must comply with these requirements, as failure to do so can result in penalties and liability for the unpaid child support.

Workers’ Compensation and Employee Wages

Workers’ Compensation

Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance that provides medical and wage benefits to employees who suffer work-related injuries or illnesses. Employers are required to maintain workers’ compensation coverage in most states, and failure to do so can result in fines and penalties. Employers should consult their state’s workers’ compensation agency for specific coverage requirements and ensure that they are in compliance.

Employee Wages

Compliance with wage laws is a critical aspect of payroll compliance. Employers must pay employees the applicable minimum wage, which may vary depending on the federal, state, or local jurisdiction. Employers must also ensure that non-exempt employees receive overtime pay for hours worked beyond the standard 40-hour workweek.

In addition to meeting minimum wage and overtime requirements, employers must also comply with wage payment laws, which govern the timing and frequency of wage payments. State laws may also regulate the permissible deductions from employees’ paychecks, such as for uniforms or cash register shortages.

Social Security & Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA)

Social Security (How Does It Work?)

Social Security is a federal program that provides retirement, disability, and survivor benefits to eligible individuals. Employers are responsible for withholding Social Security taxes from employees’ wages and matching those contributions. The Social Security tax rate is subject to change, and employers must stay informed of any adjustments to ensure accurate withholding.

Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA)

The Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) establishes the framework for Social Security and Medicare taxes. Employers are required to withhold FICA taxes from employees’ wages and remit those taxes to the federal government. Employers must also pay a matching amount of FICA taxes, which fund the Social Security and Medicare programs.

FICA Taxes (What Are They?)

FICA taxes include Social Security and Medicare taxes, which are withheld from employees’ paychecks and matched by employers. Employers are responsible for depositing the withheld taxes and their matching contributions with the federal government on a regular basis.

Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) & State Unemployment Taxes

Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA)

The Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) imposes a tax on employers to fund unemployment compensation programs at the federal and state levels. Employers are responsible for depositing FUTA taxes on a quarterly basis, and they must file Form 940, Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return, at the end of the year.

State Unemployment Taxes

In addition to FUTA taxes, employers are also responsible for paying state unemployment taxes. These taxes fund unemployment benefits for eligible workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. State unemployment tax rates and wage base limits vary from state to state, and employers must consult their state’s unemployment agency for specific requirements and compliance.

Recordkeeping & Best Practices For Compliance


Employers are required to maintain accurate and complete payroll records for their employees under the FLSA. These records include information such as employee names, addresses, Social Security numbers, hours worked, wages paid, and deductions made.

Complete recordkeeping is essential for payroll compliance and helps ensure that employees receive the wages and benefits they are entitled to under the law.

Payroll Compliance Best Practices

Implementing best practices in your payroll process can help ensure compliance and reduce the likelihood of errors.

Here are some payroll compliance best practices to consider:

  • Regularly reviewing and updating your payroll policies and procedures to comply with the latest payroll laws and requirements.
  • Conducting periodic audits of your payroll system to identify potential errors or discrepancies.
  • Providing ongoing training and support for payroll staff to ensure they stay informed of changes in payroll laws and regulations.
  • Establishing clear communication channels between payroll, human resources, and other departments to ensure accurate information sharing and collaboration.

Having access to the right payroll management solution can make compliance a breeze. For instance, with an effective payroll management platform in your corner, you can ensure all parties have access to up-to-date payroll information.

Payroll Compliance (Stay Informed & Be Proactive)

As an ongoing responsibility, payroll compliance requires small business owners to stay informed and proactive. You must regularly monitor changes in federal, state, and local laws to maintain compliance and avoid costly penalties and fines. Staying informed, implementing best practices, and utilizing tools such as payroll software or professional payroll services can protect small business owners and support a stable and successful future.

Using Buddy Punch To Support Compliance

While maintaining payroll compliance may feel like a complex task for many small business owners, it’s possible with the support of the right systems. You can use payroll software like Buddy Punch to collect accurate employee time records and seamlessly feed this data into your go-to accounting platform. Having access to the right platforms can make all the difference to your ability to ensure compliance. If you are curious about the potential of Buddy Punch, you should take a look at how this platform can help automate payroll for your small business.

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