The Crucial Role of Compliance in Payroll: Key Principles and Audit Tips

Compliance in Payroll

In today’s complex business environment, maintaining compliance in payroll management is essential for both legal and ethical reasons. Employers must accurately compensate employees while adhering to numerous regulations. This article explores the crucial role of compliance in payroll management, offering key principles and audit tips to help organizations navigate this landscape smoothly.

Importance of Compliance in Payroll Management

  1. Legal Compliance:
    • Ensuring adherence to labor laws, tax regulations, and employment standards is crucial.
    • Failure to comply can result in fines, lawsuits, and reputational damage.
  2. Employee Trust and Morale:
    • Accurate and timely payments contribute to employee satisfaction and trust.
    • Payroll errors can lead to dissatisfaction, reducing productivity and increasing turnover.
  3. Financial Accuracy:
    • Compliance ensures accurate financial reporting, which is essential for budgeting and financial planning.
  4. Risk Mitigation:
    • Minimizing risks associated with penalties, lawsuits, and employee grievances.

Conducting Internal Payroll Audits

An internal payroll audit is a systematic review of a company’s payroll processes to ensure compliance with internal policies and external regulations. Conducting regular audits helps identify discrepancies, errors, and opportunities for process improvement. Here’s a step-by-step guide to conducting an effective internal payroll audit:

1. Define the Audit Scope and Objectives

  • Scope:
    • Determine which payroll areas will be reviewed (e.g., employee classification, tax compliance, benefits).
    • Decide on the time period to be covered (e.g., previous quarter, last fiscal year).
  • Objectives:
    • Ensure compliance with tax and labor laws.
    • Verify the accuracy of employee classifications, wages, and deductions.
    • Identify process weaknesses and improve payroll management.

2. Gather and Review Documentation

Collect the following documents for a comprehensive review:

  • Payroll Records:
    • Employee payroll registers
    • Pay slips
    • PAYG withholding summaries
    • Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT) returns
    • Payroll tax returns
  • Employee Data:
    • Tax File Number (TFN) declarations
    • Superannuation fund details
    • Employment contracts
    • Timesheets and attendance records
  • Policies and Agreements:
    • Payroll policies and procedures
    • Modern Awards, Enterprise Agreements, and Company Agreements
    • Benefits policies

3. Conduct the Payroll Audit

Employee Classification:

  • Verify that each employee is correctly classified as full-time, part-time, casual, or contractor.
  • Ensure that casual and contractor classifications align with legal requirements.

Pay Rates and Hours Worked:

  • Compare current pay rates with applicable Modern Awards, Enterprise Agreements, or employment contracts.
  • Verify that hours worked match employee timesheets.
  • Check for accurate application of overtime, penalty rates, and allowances.

Deductions and Benefits:

  • Ensure correct application of PAYG withholding based on ATO tax tables.
  • Verify that superannuation contributions are calculated correctly and paid on time.
  • Review salary sacrifice arrangements and benefits deductions.
  • Ensure accurate calculation of Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT).

Leave Entitlements:

  • Review leave balances for annual leave, personal/carer’s leave, and long service leave.
  • Ensure leave accruals are calculated accurately and align with employment agreements.

Payroll Tax Compliance:

  • Verify that payroll tax returns match payroll records.
  • Check the correct application of payroll tax thresholds, grouping provisions, and exemptions.

4. Document Findings and Action Plan

Audit Report:

  • Prepare a comprehensive report detailing the audit findings.
  • Highlight discrepancies, non-compliance issues, and opportunities for improvement.

Action Plan:

  • Develop an action plan to address discrepancies and enhance compliance.
  • Assign responsibilities for corrective actions and set deadlines for completion.
  • Implement changes to payroll policies and processes as needed.

5. Implement Changes and Follow-Up

  • Implement Changes: Apply necessary changes to payroll processes, software, and policies.
  • Communicate Findings: Share the audit findings and action plan with management.
  • Follow-Up Audit: Conduct a follow-up audit to ensure corrective actions have been implemented successfully.

Handling Payroll Discrepancies and Errors

  1. Identify the Error:
    • Determine the nature and extent of the discrepancy (e.g., underpayment, overpayment, incorrect deductions).
  2. Communicate with the Employee:
    • Inform the affected employee(s) about the discrepancy and the corrective steps being taken.
  3. Correct the Error Promptly:
    • Issue a corrective payment or arrange for deductions if overpaid.
    • Update payroll records and systems.
  4. Review Procedures:
    • Identify the root cause of the error.
    • Implement changes to prevent recurrence.

Responding to Payroll-Related Government Audits

  1. Understand the Scope:
    • Determine the focus of the audit (e.g., payroll tax, superannuation, PAYG withholding).
  2. Gather Required Documentation:
    • Provide payroll records, employee data, and tax returns as requested.
  3. Cooperate Fully:
    • Ensure all communications with auditors are accurate and transparent.
  4. Implement Auditor Recommendations:
    • Correct any identified issues promptly.
    • Update policies and procedures accordingly.

Best Practices for Maintaining Compliance in Payroll

Maintaining compliance in payroll is essential to avoid penalties, legal disputes, and to foster a positive work environment. Here are some best practices for staying compliant with payroll laws and regulations:

1. Understand and Stay Updated on Relevant Laws and Regulations

  • Fair Work Act: Ensure compliance with the Fair Work Act 2009, which governs minimum wages, working conditions, and employee rights.
  • Modern Awards and Agreements: Understand applicable Modern Awards and Enterprise Agreements for industry-specific standards.
  • Tax and Superannuation Legislation: Stay updated on Pay As You Go (PAYG) withholding, Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT), payroll tax, and Superannuation Guarantee (SG) requirements.
  • Legislative Changes: Regularly review updates to legislation, tax rates, and compliance requirements through trusted sources like the ATO, Fair Work Ombudsman, and state revenue offices.

2. Implement Reliable Payroll Software

  • Automation: Use payroll software to automate calculations, deductions, and tax withholdings.
  • Compliance Features: Ensure the software includes compliance features like Single Touch Payroll (STP), superannuation, and payroll tax reporting.
  • Regular Updates: Choose software that receives regular updates to reflect changes in payroll legislation.

3. Conduct Regular Internal Payroll Audits

  • Periodic Audits: Schedule regular internal payroll audits to identify and correct discrepancies.
  • Audit Checklist: Create a comprehensive audit checklist covering key areas like employee classification, pay rates, deductions, and tax compliance.
  • Action Plans: Develop action plans to address audit findings and prevent future errors.

4. Keep Accurate and Comprehensive Payroll Records

  • Record Retention: Retain payroll records for at least seven years, as required by the ATO and Fair Work Ombudsman.
  • Employee Data: Ensure employee data (e.g., Tax File Numbers, superannuation details) is accurate and updated regularly.
  • Payroll Registers: Maintain accurate payroll registers, pay slips, and tax summaries.

5. Develop Clear Payroll Policies and Procedures

  • Employee Handbook: Include payroll policies in the employee handbook to ensure clarity and consistency.
  • Payroll Procedures Manual: Create a payroll procedures manual detailing steps for payroll processing, audits, and compliance.
  • Communication: Communicate policies clearly to employees and payroll staff.

6. Provide Ongoing Training for Payroll Staff

  • Legislative Training: Offer training on payroll legislation, awards, and agreements to payroll staff.
  • Software Training: Ensure staff are proficient in using payroll software and staying updated on new features.
  • Cross-Training: Cross-train staff to handle various payroll functions and avoid single points of failure.

7. Ensure Timely Filing and Payment of Taxes

  • Filing Deadlines: Mark important filing deadlines for PAYG, payroll tax, FBT, and superannuation contributions.
  • Payment Deadlines: Set reminders for tax payments and ensure sufficient cash flow to meet obligations.
  • Single Touch Payroll (STP): Report payroll information to the ATO through STP each payday.

8. Engage Professional Support When Needed

  • Tax Advisors: Consult tax advisors or payroll specialists for complex compliance issues.
  • External Audits: Consider external payroll audits for an unbiased compliance assessment.
  • Legal Advice: Seek legal advice on disputes or changes in employment legislation.

9. Handle Payroll Discrepancies Transparently

  • Identify and Correct Errors: Identify errors early, correct them promptly, and communicate with affected employees.
  • Review and Improve Procedures: Investigate the root cause of discrepancies and improve payroll procedures to prevent recurrence.


Compliance in payroll is a non-negotiable aspect of business operations, requiring meticulous attention to detail and proactive management. By understanding key principles and adopting best practices, businesses can ensure accurate payroll processing, build employee trust, and avoid costly penalties.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a payroll compliance auditor?

A payroll compliance auditor reviews an organization’s payroll records and procedures to ensure compliance with tax laws, employment standards, and internal policies.

What is auditing in payroll?

Auditing in payroll involves systematically reviewing payroll processes, records, and calculations to identify discrepancies, verify accuracy, and ensure compliance.

What is audit and compliance?

Audit refers to an objective examination of financial records, while compliance ensures adherence to laws, regulations, and internal policies.

What are the 3 main types of audits?

Internal Audits: Conducted by internal teams to evaluate processes and internal controls.
External Audits: Performed by independent auditors to verify financial statements and compliance.
Government Audits: Conducted by regulatory bodies to ensure tax and legal compliance.

What is an HR audit checklist?

An HR audit checklist is a tool used to evaluate HR practices, ensuring compliance with labor laws and internal policies. It typically includes recruitment, onboarding, compensation, benefits, and termination.