Five Common Payroll Questions Employees Ask, and One They Should Ask

Five Common Payroll Questions Employees Ask, and One They Should Ask

Kristy Roberts, Xenium’s most senior payroll specialist, has worked for The Stoller Group for almost 30 years. Since she started with us in 1990, she’s always had at least one hand in the payroll process. That means she fields a lot of questions about payroll. Some of these come from Xenium’s clients, but most come from those clients’ employees directly.
What kinds of questions are your employees asking your payroll department? What does the average employee not know about their paycheck, and what can you do to minimize the mystery? We spoke with Roberts to find out—and to find out the one big question they’re not asking.

1. “What’s my PTO balance?”

Nowadays, most companies, even very small ones, use payroll systems that list the employee’s current paid time off balance on every pay stub. This information is also typically available for employees to view through a web portal. Most of the time, Roberts says, when she’s asked about this, it’s easier for her to look up the information herself. But if you find your employees asking you about this often, remind them about the convenience of the web portal, and perhaps create a diagram that shows where the information is located on their pay stubs, too. If all your payments are through direct deposit, and you issue no paper pay stubs, it’s worth sending out step-by-step instructions for accessing this information online.


2. “How do I access the web portal? I forgot my user ID/password!”

Inevitably, at least one person will have trouble logging on every pay period, perhaps even more if you don’t issue paper pay stubs. Your payroll person should have access to this information—or at least the ability to reset login credentials for your staff—but you can also create an easier system for helping your employees remember. You could, for example, standardize all user IDs by setting them as employees’ email addresses. And if your system allows it, you could enable employees to request password resets themselves so they don’t always have to ask human resources.


3. “What am I claiming on my W4? What should I be claiming on my W4?”

Roberts gets a lot of questions about W4 withholding, and in these cases, she directs people to their CPAs for specific advice. But she does recommend people to be aware of what they’re withholding and to adjust as needed.

Roberts says she’s had employees claim exempt all year long, then ask in February why they owe so much, and why there are no federal taxes coming out of their checks. “It’s because they claimed exempt,” she says. And that’s on the employee—payroll doesn’t have the authority to advise on personal tax matters. However, you can always reiterate to employees that they can change their withholding at any time if not enough or too much federal tax is being taken out.

4. “What’s this coded deduction? There’s no explanation for it on my pay stub.”

The payroll system we use with our clients at Xenium allows us to enter garnishments under a certain code. This way, we don’t have to label them as garnishments. That keeps the information confidential in case someone else catches a glance at that pay stub.


5. “What’s coming out of my paycheck, and what’s an employer contribution?”

Pay stubs can be confusing, and some people mistake employer contributions for deductions. You can help keep your employees from panicking about what look like outsized deductions by clearly labeling contributions in a separate section on your pay stubs. And remind them that those contributions don’t affect their pay at all. They merely show the dollar amount the company is investing in them for medical and other benefits.


BONUS: what should your employees be asking, but few of them are?

“What’s up with my taxes?”

“They don’t usually have questions on tax,” Roberts says. “Our tax table did change in 2018, so I did get a couple questions. ‘Why is my net pay less than it was last month?’” But overall, she says people don’t ask about the taxes coming out of their paychecks, especially if their tax rate lowers and their take-home pay increases. Let your employees know your payroll department is available for any questions they have about where their money is going, including current tax rates and any recent or upcoming changes to them.

Brandon Laws

As Director of Marketing, Brandon Laws leads all marketing efforts for Xenium, providing oversight on all marketing campaigns, digital marketing strategy, events, sponsorships and public relations. Brandon brings a positive energy to every aspect of his role at Xenium—from internal initiatives around culture and wellness to industry thought leadership through the Xenium podcast and other social efforts. Active within the HR community, he currently volunteers on the board of the Portland Human Resource Management Association as the Director of Marketing & PR.

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