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Characteristics of a Good Payroll Clerk

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An employer is responsible for paying his employees timely and accurately. Consequently, payroll is a detailed task, which many employers prefer not to handle. An employer may choose to hire a payroll clerk, assigning her with all the company’s payroll chores. For larger companies, the employer may hire a payroll staff, which includes payroll clerks. A good payroll clerk has all the qualities an employer needs to ensure that his payroll runs smoothly.

Mathematical Ability

Payroll involves computing employees’ wages. The payroll clerk must have solid mathematical abilities so she can accurately compute employees’ income. Many hourly employees use time sheets; the payroll clerk must understand the rules of time sheet computation such as rounding and time conversion. Withholding taxes is also an integral part of payroll processing. A good payroll clerk understands the necessary taxes to be withheld and the importance of timely tax reporting and tax deposits.

Software Knowledge

A manual payroll system is done completely by hand. Many employers avoid using a manual payroll system because it is too time-consuming and creates a high potential for error. Employers often use payroll software to process their payroll. A good payroll clerk understands the value of having payroll software knowledge--the more about payroll software that she knows, the more marketable she is to prospective employers. Knowledge of payroll software also indicates to employers that the payroll clerk requires less training.

Manual Competency

Payroll software generally computes much of the employee’s final payroll data (for example, total gross wages, net pay and taxes). A competent payroll clerk knows that it is unwise to rely on payroll software alone to make the computations. Knowing how to manually compute wages and taxes is important even if payroll software is being used. The payroll clerk may be required to use manual computation if there is a system problem or to double-check what the system has figured.

Record Keeping

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to maintain payroll records for their employees. The payroll clerk must have good organizational skills so that a structured payroll record-keeping environment is maintained. The payroll clerk understands that hard copies of payroll registers and employees’ payroll files should be kept in a secured area. She also knows that computer files containing employees’ payroll data should be properly arranged on the hard drive in a confidential location.


Some employers require their payroll clerk to have only a high school diploma with the necessary training and experience; others may be willing to offer training. If a payroll clerk provides satisfactory service to her employer, she can be promoted to other payroll positions such as a payroll specialist.

Personal Attributes

A good payroll clerk knows that having an abundance of payroll knowledge will not keep her employed for long if she does not have the personal attributes required for the position. The payroll clerk must be trustworthy, confidential, honest, approachable, responsive, helpful and communicative. She must be sympathetic to employees’ payroll concerns, and she must remain levelheaded if they become irate over payroll issues.


Grace Ferguson has been writing professionally since 2009. With 10 years of experience in employee benefits and payroll administration, Ferguson has written extensively on topics relating to employment and finance. A research writer as well, she has been published in The Sage Encyclopedia and Mission Bell Media.

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