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Deciphering the Data: An Introduction to Payroll Reports

March 12, 2024

From financial forecasting to calculating taxes to PTO tracking, payroll reports can be incredibly useful for those who run and review them.

Blog Post

Almost everyone has seen a payroll report. For most, it’s the pay stub they get each time they’re paid. For payroll professionals, it may be a detailed compensation and benefits report for an entire company. 

Payroll reports vary as much as the companies that use them. They can track all forms of compensation for every employee since they were hired. Or they can drill into a handful of taxes for a single worker in the last pay period. Some payroll reports are only shared internally for budgeting or financial planning. Others you see every tax season when filing your returns (i.e., your W-2).  

Because these reports can take so many forms (pun intended), it’s easy to lose track of the differences. This guide will help you out. We’ll explain what a payroll report is, list the benefits it provides, and share a few high-quality examples.

Key Takeaways

  • A payroll report is a summary of payroll data for a specific timeframe, such as an individual pay period or an entire quarter.
  • Reports can contain several data points (e.g., net pay, withheld amounts, and retirement contributions) across different organizational levels (e.g., single employees, entire departments, or the whole company).
  • Most payroll reports are either used for internal purposes or to verify compliance with U.S. labor and tax laws.
  • Compliance-based reports are usually filed with the government every year, but some need to be filed every quarter.

What is a Payroll Report?

A payroll report is a document that captures and breaks down various payroll activities within a specific timeframe, such as:

  • Employee wages
  • Payroll deductions
  • Hours worked
  • Tax withholdings 
  • Benefits and retirement plan contributions  

Payroll reports serve various purposes within an organization, such as ensuring adherence to labor regulations and aiding in precise financial budgeting. A quality payroll report strengthens an organization’s decision-making on labor costs and financial management.

Payroll Report Benefits

Robust payroll reports offer a range of benefits to the organizations that use them:

  • Fraud Detection: Reports can create and maintain detailed transaction records for organizations to spot discrepancies and potential fraud.
  • Tax Compliance: By accurately tracking wages and mandatory deductions, reports simplify preparing tax documents.
  • Paid Time Off (PTO) Tracking: Companies can consistently and fairly enforce PTO policies with detailed records of each employee’s vacation time, sick days, etc.
  • Financial Planning: Expense forecasts based on reported data allow organizations to more efficiently allocate resources and plan for future financial needs.
  • Employee Insights: Detailed information on employee compensation, turnover, and sentiment helps organizations improve their workforce decision-making and management.

What Reports Do You Run for Payroll?

Reports can differ based on the tools used to create them, but they largely fall into one of two buckets: internal reports for company use or mandatory reports for regulatory compliance.

Internal Company Reports

Some payroll reports are primarily for internal use to improve organizational processes and awareness. A few of the more common types include:

Name Description
Payroll Summary Report Overall snapshot of a company’s key payroll activities on individual, departmental, and organizational levels. Categories include things like gross and net pay totals, tax withholding sums, and all voluntary deductions.
Employee Summary Report A similarly comprehensive snapshot but just for individual employees. Includes each’s personal information (e.g., name, address, hire date, etc.), pay type (e.g., hourly or salary), and tax data.
Payroll Details Report A more specific, line-by-line compensation record but for individuals, departments, and the organization. Particularly useful for a more meticulous review of compensation over time, such as individual transactions or pay stubs.
Employee Payroll Report Contains much of the same information as a payroll details report for an individual, such as their total gross and net pay, total deductions for the year to date, hours worked, remaining PTO, etc. Commonly shared with the employee as part of a pay stub or paycheck.
Payroll Tax Liabilities Report Complete overview of the organization’s tax responsibilities, such as total amounts of taxes withheld and any remaining amounts owed to the government. Helpful for accurately complying with various tax laws, such as the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA).
Payroll Service Charge Report Gives a detailed record of the costs associated with a company’s payroll service provider. Used to review service expenses, track invoice statuses, and fulfill any financial obligations.
PTO Report Shows time tracking data for making informed scheduling decisions and avoiding potential labor shortages. Can include how much PTO an employee has taken that year, how much remains, and any current PTO requests.
Workers’ Compensation Report Used by employers who offer worker’s compensation to calculate insurance premiums based on current payroll amounts.
Retirement Contributions Report Provides an overall view of all contributions made to retirement accounts (e.g., 401(k), 403(b), etc.) by both employees and the organization.

Mandatory Compliance Reports

Conversely, some payroll reports are required by federal, state, and local laws, and organizations must regularly submit them to remain compliant with those regulations.  

At the federal level, mandatory payroll reports are used to file an organization’s quarterly or annual payroll tax returns. Additionally, if an employer is a contractor hired by the federal government, regular certified payroll reporting is also required to verify government funds are being properly allocated.

  Name Description
Quarterly Payroll Reports Form 941 Used to file an organization’s Social Security and Medicare taxes required by the Federal Income Contributions Act (FICA).
Annual Payroll Reports Form 944 Also used to file an organization’s FICA taxes but annually instead of quarterly. 
Form 940 Used to file an organization’s FUTA unemployment taxes.  
Form W-2 Lists an individual employee’s total gross wages and tax withholdings for the calendar year. Employers must provide copies of this form to both their employees and the federal government.  
Form W-3 Summarizes all W-2 information contained in an organization’s filed return but isn’t shared with employees.  

State and local payroll reports vary by area, including how often they’re filed and their respective due dates. However, they generally serve the same purpose as their federal counterparts (i.e., reporting an organization’s total wage and tax information for the quarter or year). Organizations should check with state and local agencies for more information on their specific location(s).

Payroll Reporting Tips

Every payroll tool has different steps for building or running a report. But, here are some common best practices to use to get the most out of the reporting process:

  • Make a habit of running reports regularly (i.e., more than once a quarter). Recurring payroll data updates can keep an organization informed and financially prepared.   
  • Create a calendar to track upcoming filing deadlines. This should include frequent reminders for the days leading up to each deadline.
  • Be proactive when preparing federal, state, and local report forms. Having parts of a form finished ahead of time will help later when all the necessary data is available.

Payroll Report Examples

The following Payroll Summary Report gives a detailed overview of the company’s total net wages paid to employees, the agency fees it owes, and the different tax liabilities it has for different states.

For a more precise payroll report sample, this Payroll Details Report provides a closer look at the different taxes and retirement contributions for a single employee as well as the totals for the overall company.

How Do I Make a Payroll Report?

The most efficient way to generate a payroll report is with payroll software that has robust, integrated payroll reporting tools. Premier providers will even have tools that allow organizations to make customized reports based on their specific needs.

Ultimately, payroll reports should be easy to run, review, and apply regardless of a company’s size or industry. Paylocity’s reporting software does exactly that, whether you’re a single storefront with 10 workers or a growing enterprise with offices and employees in a dozen states.

Sound too good to be true? Take a look for yourself by requesting a demo today!

Payroll Report FAQs

What Kind of Payroll Reports Are There?

The most common types of payroll reports are those a business runs for internal use and those they run for legal compliance.

Internally, there are several kinds of reports depending on which data points (e.g., net pay, withheld taxes, retirement contributions, etc.) and level of the company (e.g., individual employees, entire departments, or company-wide) the report focuses on.

Externally, most compliance-based reports are run and filed annually (e.g., Form 940, Form 944, Form W-2, etc.), but some reports are run every quarter (e.g., Form 941).

What is Certified Payroll Reporting?

A certified payroll report is used by a contractor working for the federal government to verify the government’s funds are being used appropriately.

What’s The Difference Between a Pay Statement and a Payroll Report?

In a sense, a pay statement is a payroll report, because it shows specific payroll data for an individual employee. Just like an Employee Payroll Report, a pay statement summarizes an employee's compensation for that pay period (e.g., hours worked, withheld wages, contributions, etc.) and is shared with the employee for their awareness or records.

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