In short, a payroll clerk ensures employees are paid accurately and on time. In a small business, she might perform tasks similar to those of an accounting clerk, general office clerk or secretary. In a large company, she might handle more specialized payroll duties. A payroll clerk is also called a payroll technician or payroll assistant.
A payroll clerk verifies that time cards are correct before paycheck processing occurs. For example, she sees if regular, overtime, vacation and sick hours are accurately calculated and coded. If not, she goes through the necessary channels, such as contacting the employee’s supervisor, for clarification.
Paycheck processing involves calculating wages and deductions and generating paychecks and pay stubs. The payroll clerk calculates all types of wages, including regular, overtime and supplemental wages, to arrive at employees’ gross earnings. She subtracts mandatory deductions such as payroll taxes and wage garnishment, and voluntary deductions such as health insurance and retirement contributions, from an employee’s wages to arrive at the net pay. Employers generally use computerized payroll systems to process payroll; the payroll clerk makes paycheck adjustments based on system data.
The payroll clerk performs routine clerical duties, including filing, coding, typing and posting. She updates employees’ payroll records, such as address and tax changes, and terminates their files when they leave the company or transfer. She prepares and mails employees’ their pay stubs and annual W-2 forms and communicates with employees to resolve paycheck issues. Payroll clerks also ensure that the company’s record-keeping procedures comply with federal and state policies.
You do not need payroll or accounting knowledge to become a payroll clerk. Typically, employers require six months to one year of office experience and basic knowledge of spreadsheet, word processing or database programs. Knowledge of federal, state and local wage and hour and employment tax laws are a plus and so is experience with payroll and timekeeping software. To stand out among other job candidates, obtain certification through the American Payroll Association. Start with Fundamental Payroll Certification, which does not require any payroll experience to take the exam. You may qualify to take the Certified Payroll Professional exam if you received FPC designation and finished the required APA courses in the last 18 months. You might also qualify for the CPP exam if you have been practicing payroll for the past three years out of the previous five years from your application date, or if you finish specific APA courses over the past 24 months. You must fulfill one of the three criteria to take the CPP exam.
The payroll clerk works under close supervision. She might report to the payroll supervisor or manager or the head of a related department. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2011, payroll and timekeeping clerks earned a mean hourly wage of $18.31.
- University of Missouri-St.Louis: Payroll and Timekeeping Clerks
- American Payroll Association: Job Descriptions
- American Payroll Association: Fundamental Payroll Certification
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Payroll and Timekeeping Clerks
- American Payroll Association: Certified Payroll Professional
- American Payroll Association: Application for Certification by Examination for Payroll Professionals
Grace Ferguson has been writing professionally since 2009. With 10 years of experience in employee benefits and payroll administration, Ferguson has written extensively on topics relating to employment and finance. A research writer as well, she has been published in The Sage Encyclopedia and Mission Bell Media.