How Often Should an Employer Pay Employees?

Options, Laws, and Costs

How Often to Pay Employees - Questions Answered
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How often you pay employees is a business decision that is made by your company, taking some factors into consideration, including federal and state laws, cost of writing payroll, and type of employees.

Federal and State Laws for Paying Employees

Federal and state laws require that you pay employees regularly--that is, at regular intervals. You cannot pay employees monthly one month and weekly the next.

The number of pay periods (the frequency of paying employees) is not regulated by the IRS. Some states do impose minimum pay frequencies. For example, Utah, Ohio, and Massachusetts have minimum pay frequency. Typically those minimums are semi-monthly, but some states are more specific than others. See this chart from the U.S. Department of Labor that details the pay period requirements of states.

Some states also require employers to pay terminated employees within a certain amount of time. Check with your state's department of labor for regulations in your state.

The Usual Pay Periods

Here are the options for paying employees:

  • Weekly—usually on the same day of the week. Many companies pay on Friday, for the previous week.
  • Bi-weekly—every other week. Bi-weekly paydays may be for the previous two weeks or the immediate two weeks. For example, you may pay on Friday, September 14, for the two weeks just ended, or for the two previous weeks (ending Friday, August 31.
  • Semi-monthly—that is, twice a month. Usually, semi-monthly paydays are the first and 15th or the 15th and 30th, but they can be any day.
  • Monthly—on the last day of the month or the first day of the following month.

    How Many Times a Year Does Each Frequency Mean?

    • Employees paid weekly get 52 paychecks a year.
    • Employees paid bi-weekly get 26 paychecks a year.
    • Employees paid semi-monthly get 24 paychecks a year.
    • Employees paid monthly get 12 paychecks a year.

    Can I Change the Pay Frequency?

    You can change the frequency of payments to employees, but you can't do it arbitrarily or often. The change should be permanent. Usually, you can change pay frequency if you have a legitimate business reason (like accounting software requirements or cost) and if you don't delay payment of wages unreasonably.

    Also, be careful not to lengthen the pay period to avoid paying overtime. Federal overtime regulations require the payment of overtime above 40 hours in a work week.

    Does Paying More Often Result in More Pay for Some Employees?

    For salaried employees, paying more or less often should not affect total gross pay for a year, because a salaried employee's pay is based on an annual salary. Hourly employees get paid based on hours worked during a pay period, so pay frequency does not affect pay amount.

    Can I Pay Salaried Employees at Different Times Than Hourly Employees?

    Yes, you can pay salaried and hourly employees in different ways and at different times.

    Salaried (exempt) employees usually are paid based on an annual salary, and they do not receive overtime pay, so they are often paid monthly or semi-monthly, with the same pay each time. Since there is no reason to wait to see if any overtime is due, they can be paid currently without delay.

    For example, a salaried employee who has an annual pay of $36,000 can be paid

    • $3,000 a month
    • $1,500 semi-monthly (twice a month)
    • $1,386 every two weeks. Since this amount has been rounded up, the last paycheck of the year may be slightly different to account for this difference.

    Salaried employees are not typically paid on a weekly basis. Hourly employee pay is calculated each pay period, based on the number of hours worked in that period and including any overtime, at the applicable rate.

    Does It Cost More to Pay More Frequently?

    There are costs associated with processing payroll. If you are doing the payroll processing yourself, costs include:

    • Printing checks for employees. Payroll checks must include year-to-date pay information, so they must be special checks.
    • Direct deposit costs, charged by banks
    • Time spent by an employee or bookkeeper to calculate the gross pay, deductions, and withholding, and net pay.

    If you use a payroll processing service, there is a cost for each check processed.

    Whether you process paychecks within your company or use a payroll service, there is a higher cost of processing paychecks more frequently. For example, it will cost you more to process paychecks every other week (26 times a year) than bi-monthly (24 times a year).

    Determining How Often to Pay Employees

    Employees like to get paid more frequently, but, as discussed above, it is more costly to a business to pay more frequently, so you must balance these two conflicting sides and do what you want. If your employees belong to a union, you may have to bargain with the union to decrease the number of payrolls a year.