Adam DeSanges May 25, 2023 11:17:12 AM 10 min read

Why conducting a Payroll Audit is Crucial for Your Business's Financial Health

Ensuring the precision of payroll records is more than just timely salary disbursement—it's a crucial step towards protecting your business's financial stability. A key tool to employ for this purpose is a payroll audit. Given that the ACFE reports an average discovery time of 30 months for payroll frauds, the prevention offered by audits becomes a vital asset. In this comprehensive guide, we'll unpack the intricacies of a payroll audit—its goals, advantages, and the essential steps inherent to its implementation.


What is a payroll audit?

A payroll audit thoroughly assesses a company's payroll systems, examining its policies, procedures, and financial records. Regular payroll audits are advisable to keep the payroll system current and law-abiding, preferably once a year. Usually carried out internally, these audits serve as an early-warning system for spotting mistakes. This minimises the chance of issues arising from later external audits.

After the audit is complete, it's vital to scrutinise the resulting payroll audit report. This document highlights any areas that might need adjustment in future payroll cycles. Sometimes, these alterations could even have retrospective implications, such as issuing back pay to an employee or making extra tax payments to the appropriate authorities.

By sticking to a regular schedule of payroll audits, companies can ensure that their payroll systems are both strong and compliant. More importantly, this proactive approach enables the swift resolution of any issues, safeguarding the company's financial stability and building employee trust.

What are the main objectives of a payroll audit?

The primary objectives of auditing payroll are threefold:

  • Compliance: Ensuring your company's payroll practices adhere to the various laws and regulations.

  • Accuracy: Verifying the correctness of pay rates, tax deductions, and benefit calculations.

  • Preventing fraud: Identifying irregularities that might indicate fraudulent activity, such as ghost employees or unauthorised overtime.

The objectives of a payroll audit can help maintain the overall financial health of your business, as inaccuracies and non-compliance can lead to severe penalties, financial losses, and a damaged reputation.

The benefits of conducting a payroll audit

Regular payroll audits hold numerous benefits for your company, offering more than just error detection. They help improve payroll management efficiency, maintain legal compliance, and deter potential fraud while ensuring process transparency and accuracy.

Here's how regular audits can assist your business:

  • Minimising errors: Audits help catch and correct manual and calculation errors before they become costly, thus safeguarding your company against financial losses and possible legal complications.

  • Preventing fraud: By regular auditing, you deter fraudulent activity such as payroll fraud, ghost employees, or mismarked time cards. The proactive approach taken in maintaining accuracy and transparency discourages any nefarious activities.

  • Maintaining compliance: As laws and regulations change, audits ensure your business stays compliant with employment laws, including overtime pay, which can vary country to country. This proactive approach helps avoid potential hefty fines or legal issues.

  • Optimising efficiency: Audits allow you to identify outdated or inefficient processes that can be streamlined for better productivity. They can also help you realise when it's time to factor in a raise or remove terminated employees from your payroll.

  • Ensuring accuracy: Payroll audits can accurately verify the accuracy of tax withholdings and account for paid or unpaid time off. They also assist in comparing the hours paid to when employees clocked in and out.

Neglecting to audit your payroll process can lead your business to pay out excessive money, violate employment laws, and submit incorrect tax amounts. By incorporating regular payroll audits, you can efficiently manage these risks and maintain your company's financial health.

Payroll audit checklist

Conducting a payroll audit may seem like a daunting task due to its comprehensive nature. However, having a straightforward checklist can simplify the process considerably and guide you effectively through each step. Here's an elaborated version of a payroll audit checklist to aid in your auditing process:

  1. Verification and pay rates: Begin by confirming the list of active employees and their respective pay rates. Ensure no inactive or terminated employees are being compensated and the current employees receive the correct pay.

  2. Review of overtime payments: Scrutinize overtime payments to ensure they are issued appropriately. This involves checking whether the right employees are getting overtime and if the payments align with the hours worked beyond regular hours.

  3. Confirmation of tax and deductions: Check that all tax withholdings and statutory deductions, such as social security contributions, are accurate and follow the current laws and regulations.

  4. Proper record keeping: Records relating to sick leave, vacation time, and other types of paid leave should be carefully maintained. Confirm these records are accurately logged and that the corresponding pay reflects the time off taken

  5. Accuracy of payments: Validate the payments made to independent contractors and vendors. Make sure these payments match the services provided and the terms of the contracts.

  6. Cross-verification of payroll reports: To ensure accounting accuracy, cross-verify the figures in the payroll reports with those in the general ledger entries. Any discrepancies can highlight errors or inaccuracies that need to be rectified.

  7. Reconciliation of statements: Lastly, reconcile the bank statements associated with payroll transactions with the payroll register. This step helps verify that the amounts paid out align with those recorded in the payroll system.

Remember, a thorough payroll audit ensures accuracy and enhances the overall efficiency of your payroll process.

The payroll audit procedure

While each company's payroll system may have unique elements, a generalised process can guide you when performing a payroll audit. This process includes six key stages:

1. Plan the audit

Start by setting the scope and objectives for the audit. Define the time period it will encompass, and identify which specific areas of the payroll system you'll focus on. The scope may include active employees, pay rates, tax withholdings, and benefits.

2. Collect data

This step involves gathering all necessary payroll records, including pay rates, timesheets, tax documents, and benefits records. Ensuring you have all relevant data to hand before the audit begins can streamline the process and avoid delays.

3. Review procedures

Here, you'll assess your existing payroll procedures. The goal is to ascertain whether they are accurate, efficient, and aligned with current labour laws. A comprehensive review at this stage could help identify any procedural changes that could make future audits more effortless and more efficient.

4. Perform the audit

With your prepared payroll audit checklist, you'll delve into your payroll records in detail. Look for discrepancies, inconsistencies, and any signs of fraud. A careful, meticulous examination is key to a successful audit at this stage.

5. Report findings

After the audit, you'll document your findings. This report should clearly outline any discrepancies or areas of concern you've identified and provide recommendations for improvements or corrections. A well-structured report provides a record of the audit and a roadmap for future action.

6. Implement changes

This is the actionable stage, where you rectify identified errors and implement recommended procedural improvements. Following through on the audit findings is crucial to ensure the same errors don't reoccur.


Remember, communication plays a vital role throughout this process. Engage with relevant departments such as HR, Finance, and key management staff to ensure full understanding and cooperation. This sense of collective responsibility and team effort is critical to the success of your payroll audit. Open communication and collaboration can help identify potential issues that might have otherwise gone unnoticed, fostering efficiency and transparency in your payroll processes.


Key takeaways

Regular payroll audits are an indispensable part of sound financial management for any business. By understanding what a payroll audit is and its main objectives — compliance, accuracy, and prevention of fraud — you can protect your business from legal issues, financial loss, and reputational damage.

The benefits of a payroll audit extend beyond mere compliance and error detection. It can improve efficiency, streamline payroll processes, and create a more transparent work environment.

With the help of a comprehensive payroll audit checklist, you can systematically verify all essential aspects of your payroll system. Following a clear and consistent payroll audit procedure ensures thoroughness and accuracy, helping you build a robust and compliant payroll system.

In conclusion, a payroll audit isn't just a good-to-have — it's a must-have for every business. Regular audits keep your payroll processes healthy and transparent, ensure financial stability, and, most importantly, build a trustworthy relationship between the company and its employees. Make payroll audits a routine part of your business operations and experience a positive impact on your financial health.

Adam DeSanges

Part of Emerald since 2006, Adam has personally developed an Executive Search process that has been incorporated throughout the entire Emerald Technology business and has enabled our team to offer an unrivalled, collaborative service to our clients. As one of our Company Directors, he is responsible for leading, training and mentoring this methodology.

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