Skip to content Skip to footer

Employer Payroll Taxes: A Comprehensive Guide

Employers have a crucial responsibility. Understanding which payroll taxes are paid by employers, without any employee-paid portion, is essential for businesses. These employer-paid payroll taxes are separate from the contributions made by employees towards their own taxes.

Payroll taxes encompass various types of employment taxes that employers must handle diligently. This includes federal payroll taxes such as federal income tax and the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA). Employers are responsible for depositing employment taxes and ensuring accurate calculations based on the applicable tax rates.

Types of Payroll Taxes Paid by Employers

Employers have the responsibility of paying various types of payroll taxes. These taxes are crucial for funding important government programs and services. Let’s take a closer look at some common examples of payroll taxes that employers are required to pay:

Social Security Taxes

One type of payroll tax that employers must pay is Social Security tax. This tax is calculated based on a percentage of an employee’s wages, up to a certain income cap. The funds collected from Social Security taxes are used to provide benefits to retired workers, disabled individuals, and the surviving spouses and children of deceased workers.

Medicare Taxes

In addition to Social Security taxes, employers also pay Medicare taxes on behalf of their employees. Medicare is a federal health insurance program primarily for people aged 65 and older, as well as certain younger individuals with disabilities. The funds generated from Medicare taxes help cover the costs associated with healthcare services for eligible individuals.

Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA)

Employers are also responsible for paying the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) tax. FUTA provides temporary financial assistance to workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. The funds collected from this tax go into the federal unemployment trust fund, which helps support state unemployment programs across the country.

State Unemployment Insurance (SUI)

Apart from FUTA, employers may also be required to pay State Unemployment Insurance (SUI) taxes. These taxes vary from state to state and help fund unemployment benefits provided by individual states. SUI taxes are typically calculated based on an employer’s payroll expenses and the experience rating assigned by the state.

Workers’ Compensation Insurance

Another type of payroll tax paid by employers is workers’ compensation insurance premiums. Workers’ compensation provides medical benefits and wage replacement to employees who suffer work-related injuries or illnesses. The premiums paid by employers contribute to the pool of funds used to compensate injured workers.

Additional Local Taxes

In some cases, employers may also be required to pay additional local payroll taxes. These taxes can vary depending on the specific locality and are typically used to fund local government initiatives and services.

It’s important for employers to understand their obligations. Failure to comply with tax requirements can result in penalties and legal consequences. By fulfilling their responsibilities, employers contribute to vital government programs and support the well-being of their employees.

Understanding Employer Payroll Taxes vs. Employee Contributions

Distinguishing between employer payroll taxes and employee contributions is crucial for understanding the overall tax obligations. While both employers and employees contribute towards various taxes, it’s essential to recognize which specific taxes are solely paid by the employer, without any portion being deducted from the employee’s wages.

Employer Payroll Taxes

Employer payroll taxes refer to the taxes that employers are responsible for paying on behalf of their employees. These taxes are separate from the income tax that individuals pay on their personal earnings. Some common examples of employer payroll taxes include:

  1. Social Security Tax: Employers are required to pay a percentage of their employees’ wages towards Social Security tax. This tax funds benefits such as retirement, disability, and survivor benefits.
  2. Medicare Tax: Employers also pay a portion of their employees’ wages towards Medicare tax, which helps fund healthcare services for individuals aged 65 and older.
  3. Federal Unemployment Tax: Employers contribute to the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA), which provides temporary financial assistance to workers who lose their jobs.
  4. State Unemployment Insurance (SUI) Tax: In addition to FUTA, employers may be required to pay state unemployment insurance taxes, which support state-level unemployment benefit programs.

Employee Contributions

On the other hand, employee contributions refer to the portion of an individual’s wages that they contribute towards certain taxes or benefits programs. These deductions are typically withheld from an employee’s paycheck by their employer and remitted accordingly. Some examples of employee contributions include:

  1. Federal Income Tax: Employees have a portion of their wages withheld for federal income tax purposes based on factors such as filing status and allowances claimed on Form W-4.
  2. State Income Tax: Depending on the state in which they reside or work, employees may also have a portion of their wages withheld for state income tax purposes.
  3. Social Security and Medicare Contributions: While employers pay a portion of Social Security and Medicare taxes, employees also contribute to these programs through payroll deductions. These deductions are often referred to as FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) taxes.
  4. Retirement Contributions: Many employees have the option to contribute a portion of their wages towards retirement plans, such as 401(k) or IRA accounts. These contributions are deducted from an employee’s paycheck before taxes are applied, providing potential tax advantages.

Understanding the distinction between employer payroll taxes and employee contributions is essential for both employers and employees. It helps individuals comprehend how their wages are allocated towards various taxes and benefits programs, while also enabling employers to fulfill their tax obligations accurately.

By having a clear understanding of which payroll taxes are solely paid by the employer and which involve employee contributions, individuals can make informed decisions about their finances and plan accordingly for future expenses or retirement savings.

Social Security and Medicare Taxes: Solely Employer-Paid

Employers bear the entire burden of paying Social Security and Medicare taxes.

Employers have a significant responsibility. One of these obligations is paying Social Security and Medicare taxes on behalf of their employees. These taxes are solely employer-paid, meaning that the employers bear the entire burden of contributing to these particular taxes.

Employees do not contribute directly to these particular taxes.

Unlike other payroll taxes where both employers and employees make contributions, such as federal income tax or state unemployment tax, employees do not contribute directly to Social Security and Medicare taxes. The full responsibility lies with the employer to pay these taxes on behalf of their employees.

These funds support programs like retirement benefits and healthcare for eligible individuals.

The purpose behind collecting Social Security and Medicare taxes is to fund important programs that benefit eligible individuals throughout their lives. The funds collected from these employer-paid payroll taxes go towards supporting various initiatives, including retirement benefits and healthcare services for individuals who qualify for them.

Social Security tax is a federal insurance program that provides income support during retirement or in case of disability or death. This program helps ensure financial security for retired workers and their dependents by providing them with a steady stream of income after they stop working. It also offers assistance to individuals with disabilities or those who have lost a loved one who was the primary earner in the household.

Medicare tax, on the other hand, supports the federal government’s health insurance program for people aged 65 years or older, as well as certain younger individuals with disabilities. This program helps cover medical expenses such as hospital stays, doctor visits, prescription drugs, and preventive care for eligible individuals.

Additional Medicare Tax and Other Employer Payroll Taxes

Apart from the regular Medicare tax that employers are responsible for, there are other payroll taxes that employers may need to pay. It’s important for employers to familiarize themselves with these additional obligations to ensure accurate compliance.

Additional Medicare Tax

Under certain circumstances, employers may be required to pay an additional Medicare tax. This tax is imposed on high-income individuals and is separate from the regular Medicare tax. The additional Medicare tax rate is 0.9% of an employee’s wages above a certain threshold.


  • Helps fund the Medicare program and provides healthcare benefits to eligible individuals.
  • Ensures that high-income earners contribute more towards the program.


  • Can increase labor costs for employers with highly compensated employees.
  • Requires careful tracking of employee wages to determine when the additional Medicare tax applies.

Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA)

The Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA) is another employer payroll tax that helps fund unemployment benefits for workers who have lost their jobs. Employers are responsible for paying this tax based on their employees’ wages, up to a certain wage base limit.

Key Information:

  • The FUTA tax rate is 6% of the first $7,000 in wages paid to each employee.
  • Employers can claim a credit of up to 5.4% against their FUTA liability by timely paying state unemployment taxes.
  • If a state has outstanding federal loans related to its unemployment insurance program, it may result in a credit reduction, increasing the effective FUTA rate for employers in that state.

State Unemployment Insurance (SUI) Tax

In addition to federal taxes, employers also need to consider state-specific unemployment insurance taxes. Each state sets its own SUI tax rates and wage base limits, which can vary significantly.

Key Information:

  • SUI rates depend on factors such as an employer’s industry, experience rating, and the state’s overall unemployment fund balance.
  • Employers must register with their state workforce agency to obtain an SUI account number and fulfill their tax obligations.
  • Failure to comply with SUI tax requirements can result in penalties and interest charges.


  1. In California, the SUI tax rate for new employers is 3.4% for two to three years, after which it is determined based on the employer’s experience rating.
  2. New York has different contribution rates depending on an employer’s industry classification, ranging from 0.6% to 7.9%.

Other Employer Payroll Taxes

Besides Medicare tax, FUTA, and SUI taxes, there may be other employer payroll taxes that vary depending on factors such as location and industry. Some examples include:

  • Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) Tax: This includes Social Security tax and regular Medicare tax.
  • State Income Tax Withholding: Employers are responsible for withholding state income taxes from employees’ wages in states that impose an income tax.
  • Local Payroll Taxes: Certain cities or municipalities may levy additional payroll taxes that employers must pay.

Exploring the Self-Employment Tax Obligations

Self-employed individuals have unique tax obligations known as self-employment tax. Unlike traditional employment scenarios, they are responsible for both the employer’s and employee’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes. Understanding self-employed tax requirements helps in proper planning.

Self-Employment Tax Liability

Self-employed individuals are subject to self-employment tax, which consists of Social Security and Medicare taxes. These taxes fund benefits like retirement income, disability benefits, and healthcare for seniors. The current self-employment tax rate is 15.3% of net earnings.

Employer and Employee Share

In a traditional employment setting, employers withhold Social Security and Medicare taxes from their employees’ paychecks and contribute an equal amount themselves. However, when you’re self-employed, you’re responsible for both portions.

Calculating Self-Employment Tax

To calculate your self-employment tax liability, you need to determine your net earnings from self-employment first. This can be done by subtracting your business expenses from your total business income. Once you have your net earnings figure, you can multiply it by the current self-employment tax rate to find out how much you owe.

Reporting Self-Employment Taxes

When filing your federal income tax return as a self-employed individual, you’ll need to report your self-employment taxes on Schedule SE (Form 1040). This form calculates your total self-employment tax liability based on your net earnings.

Additional Considerations

Apart from the federal level obligations, there may also be state-level requirements for reporting and paying unemployment taxes or other local government levies. It’s crucial to research these obligations specific to your location to ensure compliance with all applicable laws.

Penalties for Noncompliance

Failing to meet your self-employment tax obligations can result in penalties imposed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). These penalties can include fines and interest on the unpaid taxes, which can significantly increase your tax burden over time. It’s essential to fulfill your responsibilities to avoid these penalties.

Seeking Professional Guidance

Navigating self-employment taxes can be complex, especially for those new to entrepreneurship. Seeking guidance from a tax professional or accountant with experience in self-employment tax matters can help ensure accuracy and compliance with all tax obligations.

Calculation and Submission of Employer Payroll Taxes

Calculating employer payroll taxes can be a bit tricky, but it’s an essential task that every business owner must understand.Employers have certain responsibilities and obligations. Let’s dive into the details of how employer payroll taxes are calculated and submitted.

Factors to Consider in Calculating Employer Payroll Taxes

Calculating employer payroll taxes involves considering various factors to ensure accurate withholding and submission. Here are some key factors:

  1. Employee Wages: The first step is to determine the wages paid to employees during a specific pay period. This includes regular wages, bonuses, commissions, and any other taxable compensation.
  2. Applicable Rates: Different types of payroll taxes have different rates that need to be applied correctly. Some common types of employer payroll taxes include federal income tax withholding, state income tax withholding (if applicable), Social Security tax, Medicare tax, and unemployment insurance tax.
  3. Thresholds: Certain thresholds exist for specific types of taxes. For example, Social Security tax is only applied up to a certain wage limit each year ($142,800 in 2021). Once this threshold is reached, the Social Security tax is no longer withheld from employee wages.

Timely Submission of Employer Payroll Taxes

Submitting employer payroll taxes on time is crucial to avoid penalties or interest charges on unpaid amounts. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Due Dates: Different types of payroll taxes have different due dates for submission. It’s important to familiarize yourself with these dates and ensure you meet them consistently.
  2. Filing Methods: Employers can choose between electronic filing or paper filing when submitting their payroll taxes. Electronic filing is often more convenient as it allows for faster processing and reduces the risk of errors.
  3. Reporting Accuracy: Employers must accurately report all relevant information when submitting their payroll taxes. This includes details such as employee wages, tax withholdings, and any other required information.

Reporting and Remitting Employer Payroll Taxes

Once you have calculated the amount of payroll taxes owed, it’s important to report and remit these taxes correctly. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Form 941: Employers typically use Form 941, also known as the Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, to report their payroll taxes. This form summarizes the total wages paid, tax withholdings made, and the amount of employer taxes owed.
  2. Deposit Schedule: The IRS provides deposit schedules that determine how frequently employers must deposit their payroll taxes throughout the year. The deposit frequency is based on the size of your payroll tax liability.
  3. Payment Methods: Employers can make payments electronically through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) or by mail using a check or money order.
  4. Record-Keeping: It’s crucial to maintain accurate records of all payroll-related documents, including pay stubs, tax forms, and proof of payment for at least four years.

Mastering Employer Payroll Taxes

We discussed the different types of payroll taxes paid by employers, highlighting the distinction between employer contributions and employee deductions. We also delved into specific taxes like Social Security and Medicare, which are solely employer-paid, as well as additional Medicare tax and other payroll taxes that employers need to be aware of. Furthermore, we explored self-employment tax obligations and provided insights into the calculation and submission process for employer payroll taxes.

To ensure compliance with your employer payroll tax responsibilities, it is crucial to stay informed about the latest regulations and guidelines set forth by relevant authorities. By mastering these intricacies, you can effectively manage your business’s financial obligations while avoiding potential penalties or legal issues. Stay proactive in keeping up with any updates or changes in tax laws that may impact your organization’s payroll practices.


Can employers deduct employee portions of payroll taxes from their wages?

No, employers cannot deduct the employee portions of payroll taxes from their employees’ wages. These deductions are typically taken directly from an employee’s paycheck and remitted separately to the appropriate tax authorities.

Are all employers required to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes?

Yes, nearly all employers are required to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes on behalf of their employees. These taxes fund benefits such as retirement income (Social Security) and healthcare coverage for individuals aged 65 and older (Medicare).

What happens if an employer fails to pay their required payroll taxes?

Failure to pay required payroll taxes can result in severe consequences for employers. The IRS may impose penalties, fines, or even pursue legal action against non-compliant businesses. It is vital for employers to fulfill their tax obligations promptly and accurately.

Do self-employed individuals have different payroll tax obligations?

Yes, self-employed individuals have different payroll tax obligations compared to traditional employees. They are responsible for paying both the employer and employee portions of payroll taxes, as they do not have an employer to contribute on their behalf.

How often do employers need to submit payroll tax payments?

The frequency of submitting payroll tax payments depends on various factors, including the size of the business and the jurisdiction in which it operates. In general, employers are required to make regular deposits of payroll taxes throughout the year. The specific deadlines and schedules can vary, so it is essential to consult with relevant tax authorities or a qualified tax professional for accurate guidance.

Leave a comment