Careers

More than 50% of US workers have had a mistake on their paycheck—here's what to do

personal finance bills taxes
Jamie Grill | Getty Images

Payday is finally here and you're ready to collect your hard-earned cash. But when you look at your paycheck, you realize that something doesn't add up.

More than half of workers in the United States have experienced an issue with their paycheck at some point in their career, according to a 2017 survey from The Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated.

"Errors are going to happen," Bill Dunn, director of government relations for the American Payroll Association, tells CNBC Make It. "They are not common, but they do happen."

Instead of missing out on money you've worked hard for, or getting hit with a painful bill come tax time, review your pay stub regularly, and look closely at the following:

  • Were there changes in gross or net pay?
  • Were your wages recorded correctly? (For hourly workers, were you paid for all hours worked, and for salaried employees, was your salary was recorded correctly for the pay period?)
  • Were taxes withheld, both federal and state?
  • Are your 401(k) (or other retirement account) contributions correct?
  • Are other benefits, such as healthcare, cafeteria plans, life insurance, disability or commuter benefits being withheld correctly?

If there is a mistake on your paycheck, there are steps you can take to right the error quickly and prevent any future mistakes from becoming a larger issue.

Find the right person to help you

The first thing to do if you notice that there's a mistake on your paycheck is find the right person in your company to help you.

That person is most likely a payroll professional, not your immediate manager, says Dunn. They'll be able to answer any questions you have about your pay stub, troubleshoot any errors and find a solution. The most common errors are input errors — either the employee failed to record their time correctly (such as forgetting to clock out one day) or the payroll person put that information in the system incorrectly.

It's important to remember that in many companies, an entire package including pay, benefits and other rewards is run on disparate systems, Tanya Jansen, cofounder of cloud based compensation company bequom, tells CNBC Make It.

This means that it can be difficult to understand how everything is breaking down once you have a paycheck in hand. If you have questions, go calmly to the correct person. "I'd go into it seeking information, instead of with fury," Dunn says.

Most simple errors, such as incorrect time input, should be resolved within one pay period, says Dunn. More complicated issues might take longer.

Overpaid? No, you don't get to keep the money

Sometimes, a mistake might take place in your favor. Alison Green, author of the book and website "Ask a Manager" and writer of The Cut's "Ask a Boss" column says that she frequently receives letters from readers who have been overpaid, asking if they can keep the money.

"Almost definitely not," Green tells CNBC Make It. "Your employer is legally entitled to claw that money back." Green says that if you do notice that you've been overpaid, you should speak up right away — it's your responsibility to alert your employer and work with them to fix the problem.

"People think, 'Oh, my employer should be responsible for making that right'," for a lot of paycheck issues. "But legally, that's not correct."

If speaking to payroll about a potential error makes you nervous, Green says to remember that you're just solving a normal work problem. "Sometimes it can feel more fraught, because it's our money. But ultimately, it's like any other work issue to be resolved."

Still have questions? Just ask — really

If you have questions about your pay, reach out to your payroll department — even if there hasn't been a mistake.

"Payroll employees are used to people coming to them," says Green. "People shouldn't feel embarrassed if they don't understand it."

Getting employees paid accurately and on time is the ultimate goal of the payroll department, and a key part of a healthy, functioning business.

"Most payroll professionals are well-paid and understand what they're doing," says Dunn. "Getting people paid properly and on time is very important to them."

Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!

Don't miss:

Why Alibaba's Jack Ma doesn't want you to be like him

4 things to consider before sharing your phone number with a co-worker

Founding member of SpaceX: The simple formula for success isn't money or intelligence