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What Does a Payroll Clerk Do? Find Out If You Need One

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As your company grows, so does the need to hire workers. And as your payroll grows, so does the need to hire support staff. At this point, you might be asking, what does a payroll clerk do – and do I need one?

Payroll clerks, also called payroll assistants, perform a wide range of duties, primarily focused on payroll processing. In today's tough hiring market, it can be challenging to find someone with payroll experience, so it might be necessary to offer on-the-job training. One more reason to have an answer to the question, "What does a payroll clerk do?"

In a nutshell, the job of a payroll clerk is to collect and organize time sheets, enter data related to employees and pay periods and review and process payroll. On top of that, they might answer phones, do some bookkeeping and answer questions employees have about their paychecks, from benefit deductions to vacation pay.

The duties of a payroll clerk are typically outlined in this way:

  • Perform data entry and reconcile timecards
  • Distribute paychecks and statements to department managers
  • Answer inquiries from employees and vendors

The technical skills of a payroll clerk
As with other positions, payroll clerks should be expected to have two skill sets. Hard skills are the ability to carry out the technical and analytical functions of the job. Soft skills are the personal attributes a payroll specialist brings to the job.

On the technical side, payroll clerks need to pay close attention to detail and be comfortable with numbers. At some companies, payroll jobs are primarily data entry. At others, payroll clerks compile data and create statements, which requires proficiency with Microsoft Office applications. As for payroll software, whether your company uses ADP, Workday, Kronos, QuickBooks or other platforms, you'll need someone who either has experience using it or is able to quickly learn new programs.

Soft skills to do the job best
Payroll clerks should be capable of working well alone or as a member of a team. They must also have a strong ability to follow instructions, along with these skills:

  • Communication – Payroll clerks need to interact well with members of their team and other company employees, whether verbally or in writing.
  • Customer service – At times, they may have to deal with questions from coworkers, such as why certain taxes were taken out of their paychecks.
  • Confidentiality – Employee and company data are private and proprietary, so payroll clerks need to take the issues of data protection and cybersecurity seriously.

You should consider what kind of personality and work style fits best with your organizational culture. Will the payroll clerk be expected to respond to employee and vendor inquiries regarding payroll? Will they be expected to work cross-departmentally? Will the person in this position be expected to answer employee questions regarding payroll policies?

When you're writing the job description, specify that you want solid communication, customer service and organizational skills in addition to attention to detail.

Education, certifications, training
For payroll clerks, a high school education is usually sufficient. As they advance on their payroll career path, continuing education classes and professional payroll certifications, such as the Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) or Certified Payroll Professional (CPP), may be desirable. Both credentials are offered by the American Payroll Association (APA).

You'll have to decide which kind of experience will work best for your company. Are you willing to train someone in your payroll system? Do you expect the top candidates to create Excel spreadsheets? Should they have a working knowledge of multi-state payroll?

Yes, it would be easier to hire someone who already knows the ins and outs of your payment processing system. But system experience may not be as important as the ability to learn it, because your needs and the tools you use to address them can change over time.

What does a payroll clerk do for your company?
Payroll professionals, from clerks to payroll managers, are vital to the successful operation of any business, regardless of industry. You can't wear all the hats forever, and as your company grows, so does its administrative tasks.

Payroll might seem like a straightforward duty of calculating employees' hours and sending out paychecks. But there's a lot to ensuring payroll gets processed accurately and on time. Complexity enters the picture when it comes to federal and state compliance and regulations involving overtime, healthcare, workers' comp, employee classification and taxes.

Choose temporary or full-time staffing
Keep in mind that not every payroll clerk needs to be full time. You can enlist the help of a specialized finance and accounting staffing service to find a payroll clerk to work on an interim, part-time or full-time basis – or in a temp-to-hire arrangement.

That way, the staffing agency conducts the interviews and skills evaluations and handles the details of hiring a payroll clerk who can start adding value right away, saving you time, money and hassle.

Payroll is a critical task for your company, and a talented payroll clerk can be just what you need to keep your business moving ahead.


This article was first published on the Robert Half International blog. Accountemps, a Robert Half company, is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. Accountemps has 300 locations worldwide. More resources, including job search services can be found on the Accountemps website.