Salaries, Wages, & Overtime Pay

In this section of payroll accounting we focus on the gross amounts earned by the employees of a company.


Salaries are usually associated with "white-collar" workers such as office employees, managers, professionals, and executives. Salaried employees are often paid semi-monthly (e.g., on the 15th and last day of the month) or bi-weekly (e.g., every other Friday) and their salaries are often stated as a gross annual amount, such as "$48,000 per year." The "gross" amount refers to the pay an employee would receive before withholdings are made for such things as taxes, contributions to United Way, and savings plans.

Since salaried employees earn a specified annual amount, it is likely that their gross pay for each pay period is the same recurring amount. For example, if a manager's salary is $48,000 per year and salaries are paid semi-monthly, the manager's gross pay will be $2,000 for each of the 24 pay periods. (If the manager is paid bi-weekly, the gross pay would be $1,846.15 for each of the 26 pay periods.) A salaried employee's work period usually ends on payday; for example, a paycheck on January 31 usually covers the work period of January 16-31. This is convenient for accounting purposes if the company prepares financial statements on a calendar month basis.


Wages are often associated with production employees (sometimes referred to as "blue-collar" workers), non-managers, and other employees whose pay is dependent on hours worked. The pay for these employees is generally stated as a gross, hourly rate, such as "$13.52 per hour." Again, the "gross" amount refers to the pay an employee would receive before withholdings are made for such things as taxes, contributions, and savings plans.

Employees receiving wages are often paid weekly or biweekly. To determine the gross wages earned during a work period, the employer multiplies each employee's hourly rate times the number of work hours recorded for the employee during the work period. Due to the extra time needed to make calculations for each employee, hourly-paid employees typically receive their paychecks approximately five days after the work period has ended.

When the hourly-paid employees have work periods that are weekly or biweekly, but the company's financial statements cover calendar months, the company will likely have to prepare an accrual-type adjusting entry at the end of the month. If hourly wages are a significant portion of a company's expenses, it is critical that the company report the correct amount of wages expense that pertains to the 30 or 31 days in the month, not the 28 days in a four-week work period.

Bonuses & Commissions Paid to Employees

Throughout our explanation, bonuses paid to employees and sales commissions paid to employees will be considered to be part of salaries.

Overtime Pay

Overtime refers to time worked in excess of 40 hours per week. Whether or not employees are paid for overtime depends on each employee's job responsibilities and rate of pay—some employees are exempt from overtime pay and some are not. For example, executives are considered to be "exempt"; their employers are not required to pay them for their overtime hours because (1) their compensation is high, and (2) they can control their work hours. Executives do not need state or federal wage and hour laws to protect them from company abuse.

On the other hand, a design technician earning an annual salary of $18,000 per year is probably not in control of her work hours. If she works for an executive who decides to work 60 hours per week, the design technician needs to be protected from having to work 60 hours per week for no more pay than she would receive for 40 hours of work. This employee is considered a "nonexempt" employee—she is not exempt from being paid overtime compensation. Some unethical companies have been known to classify "hourly wage" employees as "salaried" in hopes of making them exempt from overtime pay—federal and state laws exist to prevent such unfair treatment of employees.

When processing payroll, don't assume that it's only the hourly paid employees who receive overtime pay—state and federal laws require overtime payments to lower—paid salaried employees. It is also possible that some generous employers will give overtime pay to employees who are not required by law to receive it.

Overtime Premium

An overtime premium refers to the "half" portion of "time-and-a-half" or "time-and-one-half" overtime pay. For example, assume an employee in the production department is expected to work 40 hours per week at $10 per hour. If the employer requires the employee to work 42 hours in a given week, the extra two hours are paid at time-and-a-half and the employee earns a total of $430 for the week (40 hours x $10 per hour, plus 2 overtime hours x $15 per hour). It can also be computed as 42 hours at the straight-time rate of $10 per hour plus 2 hours times the overtime premium of $5 per hour.