What Are Certified Payrolls: A Detailed Guide For Employers

Wajiha Danish | March 31 2023

What is a Certified Payroll? 

If you’re an employer, you may have heard the term “certified payroll”. It’s an important aspect of running a business, especially if you’re working on public work projects. It is a document that provides a detailed breakdown of the wages and benefits paid to each employee who worked on the project. In this blog, we’ll explain what is a certified payroll, why it’s important, and everything you need to know about it. 

Certified payroll is a process that employers use to prove that they’re paying their employees the appropriate wages and benefits on funded projects. It’s a requirement for any business that receives government contracts, and it ensures that the government is paying workers fairly and providing them with the benefits they deserve. 

Certified payroll reports are a detailed set of documents that outline the employee’s name, social security number, hours worked, pay rate, and benefits received. They’re signed by the employer and submitted to the government agency overseeing the project. The report is a way for the employer to certify that they’re following the government’s wage and benefit requirements. 

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Why are Certified Payrolls Important? 

Now that we have an understanding of what certified payroll is, let’s explore the reasons why it holds significance.  

– First and foremost, it ensures that employees are receiving the appropriate wages and benefits. By requiring employers to submit certified payroll reports, the government can hold businesses accountable for their payment practices. It means that employees are less likely to be underpaid or denied benefits that they’re entitled to. 

– It helps to prevent fraud and abuse of government funds. By requiring detailed payroll reports, the government can ensure that businesses are only billing for hours worked and benefits provided. It prevents businesses from overbilling the government or claiming expenses that aren’t valid. 

– It helps to protect them from legal liabilities. By following the government’s wage and benefit requirements, businesses can avoid fines, penalties, and lawsuits. Certified payrolls report provides a paper trail that can be used to defend the business in court if necessary. 

What Are the Requirements for Certified Payroll? 

The requirements for certified payroll can vary depending on the government agency overseeing the project. However, there are some basic requirements that all businesses must follow. These include: 

– Paying employees’, the appropriate wage rate for the work they perform. 

– Providing employees with the appropriate benefits, such as health insurance and retirement plans. 

– Keeping accurate records of hours worked, pay rates, and benefits provided. 

– Submitting certified payrolls reports to the government agency overseeing the project. 

In addition to these requirements, some government agencies may have additional requirements for certified payroll. For example, they may require businesses to submit certified payroll reports on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.  

How Do You Prepare Certified Payrolls? 

Preparing certified payroll can be a complex process, especially if you’re not familiar with the government’s wage and benefit requirements.  

Following are the steps you can take to make the process smooth:  

1. First, make sure you understand the government’s wage and benefit requirements. These requirements can vary depending on the project and the government agency overseeing it. You can find information on the government’s wage and benefit requirements on their website or by contacting the agency directly. 

2. Next, keep accurate records of hours worked, pay rates, and benefits provided. This will make it easier to prepare your certified payrolls report. You can use a payroll software or spreadsheet to track this information. 

3. Finally, submit your certified payroll reports on time. The government agency overseeing the project will specify when reports are due. Make sure you submit your reports on or before the deadline to avoid fines or penalties.  

Common mistakes to avoid when filling certified payroll reports 

Filing certified payroll reports can be a difficult process, and mistakes can lead to penalties, fines, and even legal action. Following are some common mistakes to avoid when filing certified payroll reports.  

Missing deadlines

One of the most common mistakes is missing the filing deadlines. Contractors must file certified payroll reports within a specific timeframe, usually every week or every two weeks, depending on the project. Failing to submit the reports on time can result in penalties and even loss of the contract. 

Incorrect information

Another common mistake is providing incorrect information on the payroll reports. This includes errors in worker names, social security numbers, hours worked, and wages paid. Contractors must ensure that the information provided is accurate and up-to-date to avoid issues with compliance. 

Omitting fringe benefits

Contractors have to include fringe benefits in their payroll reports. These include items like health insurance, pension contributions, and vacation pay. Failing to include these benefits can lead to underpayment of wages and noncompliance with labor laws. 

Incomplete reports

Contractors must ensure that their payroll reports are complete and include all required information. This includes details on the project, worker classifications, and wage rates. Incomplete reports can lead to delays in payments and cause compliance issues. 

Lack of documentation

Contractors should maintain detailed documentation to support their payroll reports. This includes records of hours worked, wage rates, and fringe benefits.  

What are the consequences if You Fail to Comply with Certified Payrolls? 

Failure to comply with certified payrolls can result in serious consequences for contractors and subcontractors. The specific penalties can vary depending on the laws in the jurisdiction, but here are some examples of potential consequences: 

Fines and Penalties

Contractors or subcontractors who fail to comply with certified payrolls requirements may face monetary fines and penalties, which can vary depending on the nature and severity of the violation. These fines and penalties can be substantial and can significantly impact the financial viability of a business. 

Withholding of Payment

In some cases, a government agency may withhold payment to a contractor or subcontractor until they can provide satisfactory evidence of compliance with certified payroll requirements. 

Loss of Contract

If a contractor or subcontractor repeatedly fails to comply with certified payroll requirements, they may be deemed ineligible for future government-funded projects, which can result in significant financial losses. 

Legal Action

In some cases, the failure to comply with certified payroll requirements may result in legal action against the contractor or subcontractor, which can include criminal charges, civil lawsuits, and other legal penalties. 


In conclusion, certified payrolls are a critical component of contracts and are required to ensure compliance with prevailing wage laws. As an employer, it is important to understand the basics of certified payrolls, including what they are, why they are necessary, and how to create and submit them correctly. By following the guidelines outlined in this detailed guide, employers can avoid potential legal issues and ensure that they are fulfilling their obligations to their employees. 

Read Also: Payroll For Startups: 5 Common Mistakes To Avoid

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Author Bio

Wajiha is a Brampton-based CPA, CGA, and Controller with 17+ years of experience in the financial services industry. She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Applied Accounting from Oxford Brookes University and is a Chartered Certified Accountant. Wajiha spearheads Monily as its Director and is a leader who excels in helping teams achieve excellence. She talks about business financial health, innovative accounting, and all things finances.