Tag Archives: employee

Payroll Fraud Schemes Every Business Should Know

According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, nearly 30 percent of businesses are victims of payroll malfeasance, with small businesses twice as likely to be affected as large businesses. Here are four scary payroll fraud schemes you need to know:

  • Ghost employees. A ghost employee does not exist anywhere except in your payroll system. Typically, someone with access to your payroll creates a fake employee and assigns direct deposit information to a dummy account so they can secretly transfer the money into their own bank account.
  • Time thieves. Time stealing happens when employees add more time to their timecard than they actually worked. Sometimes multiple employees will team up to clock each other in earlier than when they arrive or later than when they depart for the day.
  • Shape-shifting commissions. In an attempt to bump up a commission payment or attain a quota, sneaky sales employees may alter a sales contract to their benefit. A typical tactic used by a dishonest salesperson is to make a booked sale appear larger than it is and then slide a credit memo through the system in a later period. Companies with complicated commission calculations or weak controls in this area are the most vulnerable.
  • External swindlers. A popular scam, known as phishing, starts with a fraudster impersonating a company executive through email or over the phone asking an employee with access to payroll data to wire money or provide sensitive information. These imposters can make the correspondence look very real by using company logos, signatures and email addresses.

Tips to combat payroll fraud

Being aware of the threats is a start, but you also need to know how to stop them. Here are some tips to reduce your company’s payroll fraud risk:

  • Better internal controls. While most employees are trustworthy, giving too much control over your payroll to one person is not a good idea. Separating payroll duties and formalizing an approval process protects both your business and your employees.
  • Review payroll records. Designate someone outside of the payroll-processing department to periodically review the payroll records. Have them review names, pay rates and verify that the total payroll matches what was withdrawn from the business bank account.
  • Perform random internal audits. During an internal audit is when you can really get into the details to look for potential payroll fraud. You can do an in-depth review of the whole payroll system or select a random sample of dates and employees. Keep the timing of the audit under wraps to prevent giving someone the chance to cover up their misdeeds.

Managing your business payroll is a daunting task by itself, and actively protecting against fraud adds additional complexity.

Contractor or Employee? Knowing the Difference is Important

Is a worker an independent contractor or an employee? This seemingly simple question is often the contentious subject of IRS audits. As an employer, getting this wrong could cost you plenty in the way of Social Security, Medicare, and other employment-related taxes. Here is what you need to know.

The basics

As the worker. If you are a contractor and not considered an employee, you must:

  • Pay self-employment taxes (Social Security and Medicare-related taxes)
  • Make estimated federal and state tax payments
  • Handle your own benefits, insurance and bookkeeping

As the employer. You must ensure your employee versus independent contractor determination is correct. Getting this wrong in the eyes of the IRS can lead to:

  • Payment and penalties related to Social Security and Medicare taxes
  • Payment of possible overtime including penalties for a contractor reclassified as an employee
  • Legal obligation to pay for benefits

Things to consider

When the IRS re-characterizes an independent contractor as an employee, they look at the business relationship between the employer and the worker. The IRS focuses on the degree of control exercised by the employer over the work done and they assess the worker’s independence. Here are some guidelines:

  • The more the employer has the right to control the work (when, how and where the work is done), the more likely the worker is an employee
  • The more the financial relationship is controlled by the employer, the more likely the relationship will be seen as an employee and not an independent contractor To clarify this, an independent contractor should have a contract, have multiple customers, invoice the company for work done, and handle financial matters in a professional manner
  • The more businesslike the arrangement, the more likely you have an independent contractor relationship

While there are no hard-set rules, the more reasonable your basis for classification and the more consistently it is applied, the more likely an independent contractor classification will not be challenged.

Five Steps Managers Can Take to Improve Performance Reviews

Performance review meetings can bring stress to both sides of the table. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right planning by supervisors, the meeting can be a productive, stress-free event. Review these five steps before you review your next employee:

#1: Keep a performance log for every employee. How many times have you sat down to write a review and you can only remember what the person has done in the last few weeks or the last month? Or maybe you allow one single incident, either good or bad, to color your assessment. That’s why the best way to prepare is to take notes throughout the year. This can be as simple as notes on paper or in a Word document.

A few key points about performance logs: Include notes on both positive and negative work habits, avoid making references to protected characteristics, like race, age or gender, and don’t make assumptions about the reasons for a behavior or work habit — just stick to the facts, and assume that the notes could someday be read in court — because they could.

#2: Be aware of employees’ main concerns. Employees are understandably anxious about reviews. Does the employee know the expectations that he’ll be evaluated on? And were those expectations explained in advance? Will there be any surprises? Have you been giving the employee feedback throughout the year? Will the manager listen to what the employee has to say? And how does this review affect the employee’s pay? Be prepared for the employee’s questions and concerns, and you’ll be better prepared to handle them.

#3: On review day, create the right atmosphere. Your goal is to help the employee feel at ease. So hold the review in a private, neutral environment, such as a small conference room. You want a setting that supports discussion and cooperation, not confrontation. Sit next to the employee if possible, not across the table or across the desk. Schedule the time in advance with the employee’s input. Avoid meeting during a busy or stressful time for the person. And don’t squeeze it in between meetings or before a lunch. Finally, eliminate all interruptions and focus solely on that review.

#4: Cite specific examples of good and bad work. Stay away from broad generalizations about the employee’s work. Specifics will help you point out exactly what the employee needs to do to improve. For example, you don’t want to tell an employee, “You didn’t get your work done on time.” Instead, say something like, “Over the past six months, you’ve submitted six of your nine customer reports at least three days late.” Those specifics will really help the employee understand — and help your review stand up in court if it ever becomes an issue.

#5: Remember the ABCs of giving feedback.

A – Accurate: Offer objective, concrete examples backed by your performance log notes. You want to avoid words like “always” or “never.” Those are exaggerations that don’t usually reflect the realistic frequency of the way employees behave.

B – Business-oriented: Focus on the business reasons for the corrective comments. Stay away from any critiques about the employee’s personality or behavior.

C – Consistent: Remember to provide regular feedback throughout the year. Don’t dump it on the employee all at once during performance review time. It’s not fair to the employee and it’s not fair to you. Consistency is the key to improving performance.

New Overtime Regulations Start December 1, 2016

On May 18, 2016 President Obama and Labor Secretary Perez announced new Department of Labor overtime regulations that go into place December 1, 2016. The Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has information everyone needs to know to comply with these new rules.

The Changes

  • Any worker making $47,476 or less must be paid overtime for hours worked in excess of 40 in a given week. This is true whether the employee receives a salary or hourly pay. The overtime rate must be at least time and one-half.
  • Up to 10% of the compensation amount can be in the form of nondiscretionary bonuses or incentives.
  • Highly compensated employees (HCE) is now defined as $134,004 or higher. The old rate was $100,000. Those above these income levels are exempt from the overtime rules as long as a minimal duties test is met.
  • The new rule is effective December 1, 2016.
  • The wage amount will automatically reset every three years. The next change will be January 1, 2020.
  • Actual implementation documentation has not been published in the Federal Register. Final regulations could still change slightly.

What this means

There will be change – Any salaried employee who makes less than the $47,476 amount will see a change. It could take any of the following forms:

  • A move from salaried employee to hourly employee
  • A raise to $47,476 or more
  • A move from a flexible work-week to a scheduled work-week to comply with a strict 40-hour work-week
  • An increase in the tracking of hours

Flex hours a thing of the past? – Because works hours must now be tracked, working from home and working flexible hours is more difficult. While the legal burden of reporting is placed on employers, employees will now need to track their work time.

Required reporting – While the Department of Labor provides flexibility on how employers track hours, the standard of reporting will probably be tested through legal action. Here are some of the options per the Department of Labor.

  • Time clock – Have everyone track their hours by punching in and out.
  • Personal record keeping – Have each employee track their daily hours and report them to the employer each pay period on a time sheet.
  • Hard scheduling – Publish a schedule of hours for each employee. Record any deviation from the schedule and place the documentation with payroll records.

Summary

The impact of this change is unknown. The only certainty is that all employers now face additional administrative duties and potential legal action for non-compliance. This includes businesses, schools, and non-profit organizations. What is important at this point is to be aware of the upcoming change and plan for it.