Spring Cleaning of Your Payroll Records

Erin Colbert Former Growth & Operations, Gusto 
Payroll Records

It’s springtime and now that your personal taxes have been filed (let’s hope!) it’s time to start thinking about what you can do to clean up your employer files. The IRS requires that every employer who runs payroll maintain certain records for each employee. If you are contacted by the IRS or involved in an employment-related lawsuit, you may be asked to furnish these documents. Not having them available could result in a sizable penalty.

Not to worry! We’ve got you covered with a quick breakdown of the documents you should retain. If you’re a Gusto (formerly ZenPayroll) customer, all of these documents are filed and stored paperlessly within your account.

The full list of documents was originally published in the IRS Reporter, Spring 2013 Newsletter for Employers and include:

Income, Social Security, and Medicare taxes

Employers must keep income, social security, and Medicare tax records for at least four years after the due date of the employee’s personal income tax return (generally, April 15) for the year in which the payment was made:

  • The Employer Identification Number (EIN).
  • Employee name, address, occupation, and social security number.
  • The total amount and date of each payment of compensation and any amount withheld for taxes or otherwise. This should include reported tips and the fair market value of non-cash payments.
  • Amount of compensation subject to withholding for federal income, social security, and Medicare taxes, and the corresponding amount withheld for each tax (also the date withheld if withholding occurred on a different day than payment).
  • The pay period covered by each payment of compensation.
  • If applicable, the reason(s) why the total compensation and the taxable amount for each tax rate are different.
  • The Employee’s Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate.
  • Each employee’s beginning and ending dates of employment.
  • Any statements provided by the employee report­ing tips received.
  • Information regarding wage continuation pay­ments made to the employee by an employer or third party under an accident or health plan. This should include the beginning and ending dates of the period of absence from work and the amount and weekly rate of each payment (including pay­ments made by third parties). You also need to keep copies of the employee’s Form W-4S, Request for Federal Income Tax Withholding from Sick Pay.
  • Fringe benefits provided to the employee and any required substantiation.
  • Employee requests to use the cumulative method of wage withholding.
  • Adjustments or settlements of taxes.
  • Copies of returns filed (on paper or electronically), including Forms 941 (with Schedule B, D, and/or R, as applicable), 943, 944, 945, 941-X, W-3, Copy A of Form W-2, and any Forms W-2 sent to employees but returned as undeliverable. If you can electronically reproduce the undeliverable Forms W-2, you may destroy the originals.
  • Amounts and dates of tax deposits.

If an employer files a claim for refund, credit, or abatement of withheld income and employment taxes, records related to the claim must be retained for at least four years after the filing date of the claim. Employers must also keep records substanti­ating any information returns and employer state­ments to employees regarding tip allocations for at least three years after the due date of the return or statement to which they relate. Employers with a health insurance, cafeteria, educational assistance, adoption assistance, or dependent care assistance plan providing benefits that are exclude from income must also keep whatever records are needed to determine whether the plan meets the requirements for excluding the benefit amounts from income.

Unemployment tax

Employers subject to the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) must also keep records about unemployment claims to substantiate the following for at least four years after the due date of Form 940, Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return, or the date the required FUTA tax was paid, whichever is later:

  • The total amount of employee compensation paid during the calendar year.
  • The amount of compensation subject to FUTA tax.
  • State unemployment contributions made, with separate totals for amounts paid by the employer and amounts withheld from employees’ wages. Currently, Alaska, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania require employee contributions.
  • All information shown on Form 940 (with Schedule A and/or R as applicable).
  • If applicable, the reason why total compensation and the taxable amounts are different.

Department of Labor, state requirements

There are also record retention requirements set by the Department of Labor, as well as wage-hour and unemployment insurance agencies at the state level. You can read the DOL’s rules by visiting their site. Links to state agencies can be found by visiting the APA website.

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