Payroll 101: What Payroll Documents Do You Need Before You Can Pay Your Employees?

Payroll documents

As part of our celebration of National Payroll Week, we spoke with ADP payroll expert Stephanie Monaco, CPP, who helped us create this checklist of documents you need before you can hire employee number one.

Paying a new employee isn't as simple as just writing a check. The government requires you to put together several payroll documents ahead of time for tax purposes and other employer responsibilities. As part of our celebration of National Payroll Week, we spoke with ADP payroll expert Stephanie Monaco, CPP, who helped us create this checklist of documents you need before you can hire employee No. 1.

1. Employer Identification Number (EIN)

An EIN is like a Social Security number for your business. You need an EIN to pay your business's federal taxes. As you'll be collecting payroll taxes from your employees on behalf of the government, you must have an EIN before you can hire and pay employees.

It's free to get an EIN. You can apply online. Or you can fill out Form SS-4 and send it to the IRS via mail or fax.

2. State/Local Tax ID Number

If your state assesses income tax, your business must apply for a state tax ID number through the relevant state agency. If your local government also charges income tax, you need to apply for a local tax ID number, too.

3. State Unemployment ID Number

Businesses must pay state unemployment tax on behalf of employees. Most states require that you apply for a separate state unemployment tax ID number — you can't use your regular state income tax number.

4. Employee Addresses and SSNs

You need this information on file in order to prepare your employees' federal W-2 forms at the end of the year.

5. I-9

Whenever you hire a new employee, you both need to complete federal I-9 forms. This form shows that your new employee is legally allowed to work in the United States.

6. W-4

New employees must also complete federal W-4 forms. Your employee will list their income and family information. Then, you can calculate how much money to withhold from their paycheck for federal income taxes.

7. State Withholding Allowance Certificate

If your state has an income tax, it may require each of your employees to fill out a state withholding allowance certificate to set their tax withholding. Other states accept the federal W-4 form instead. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a directory to help you figure out what form you need.

8. Department of Labor (DOL) Records

The DOL requires you to track employee payroll information like weekly hours worked, wages and earned overtime. You need this information in case you're audited by the DOL, as it demonstrates that you're following labor laws. You can look up your state's labor requirements through the DOL.

9. Workers' Compensation ID Number

Washington, Wyoming and New Mexico require you to register for a state ID number before you can buy workers' compensation insurance for your employees. In all the other states, you can simply buy the insurance.

10. Publication 15 (Circular E)

If you plan on managing payroll yourself, carefully review the IRS's Publication 15 (Circular E), which lists all your tax responsibilities as an employer. Even if you outsource payroll, Publication 15 is still a helpful reference point.

After getting all these payroll documents together, you can move forward with hiring and paying employees. Admittedly, it's a lot of work, so consider outsourcing your human resources or payroll needs to a service provider who can help you get it right and free up time to focus on your business.

See part two of Payroll 101: The 6 Payroll Taxes Employers Need to Cover

If you are unsure about what your state or federal law requires, you should check with your tax and legal counsel.

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