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Paperless Pay: Should You Make the Switch?

Updated Oct 24, 2023

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Payroll used to mean hours of tedious, painstaking work for your small business, while storing mountains of papers and data. Thanks to the availability of multiple online payroll services, your payroll processes can be paperless and (almost) painless.

With online payroll programs, instead of printing out payroll reports, paying employees with paper checks, and recording time and attendance on a printed timesheet, you can handle these tasks electronically – which can save you time and effort. They can even help you save on printing and postage costs. 

As companies increasingly embrace emerging digital trends, converting your existing payroll to a paperless system will keep your business ahead of the curve. 

What is paperless payroll?

“Paperless payroll is a term that describes how an entire payroll can be processed without generating any paper,” said Eric Wade, product manager and product owner for payroll system provider Paychex. (Read our review of payroll provider Paychex for more information.)

There are many options for paperless payroll systems, all of which offer different features and capabilities. However, the main components of a payroll system remain the same. 

“There are multiple components of a paperless payroll, including recording employees’ time electronically, employees being paid via electronic payment methods (versus a negotiable paper check), delivering pay stubs to employees electronically, payroll reports being generated electronically, and delivering W-2s to employees electronically,” Wade said. 

With a paperless payroll system, managers and employees can still easily access and view essential information, including the following: 

  • Virtual timesheets
  • Pay stubs
  • W-2 forms
  • Vacation time
  • Benefits

Editor’s note: Looking for information on payroll systems? Fill in the questionnaire below, and you will be contacted by payroll providers ready to discuss your payroll needs.  

What are the different types of paperless payroll?

When choosing a paperless payroll service, consider all the payroll functions that can go paperless, such as entering timesheets or timecards, generating electronic paychecks and stubs, and using direct deposit to transfer funds. Consider how you use each function and decide whether it’s viable to replace it with a paperless process.

Next, review the different types of payroll providers and what they offer; use that information to decide which provider is right for you.

These are some standard services payroll providers offer: 

  • Electronic payroll records: This option helps you avoid paper clutter and stay organized. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires businesses to keep all payroll records for at least three years, and they need to be accurate and printable.
  • Employee self-service (ESS) models: ESS models allow you to share pertinent information online about your business – such as employee handbooks, benefit options and company history. An ESS also enables employees to clock in and out of work electronically. It then automatically computes time and attendance data.
  • Electronic funds transfer (EFT): An electronic funds transfer allows you to transfer wages without exchanging a physical check. To do this, your employees will need to provide their bank account and routing numbers. Then, for each pay period, your bank account will transfer wages to the employees’ accounts. Keep in mind that EFT laws vary from state to state.

Employees can opt in to direct deposit during their onboarding process to transfer wages to their bank accounts, or they can opt to receive a pay card to transfer their funds directly onto a debit-like card. 

What are the benefits of a paperless payroll service?

There are many benefits to running a paperless payroll, including increased security and peace of mind. For instance, if there were a natural disaster, your paper records would likely be damaged or destroyed, but your online records would be safe and you would be able to access them from any place at any time.

Here’s a look at some more advantages of going paperless: 

Paperless payroll is good for the environment.

“Switching to paperless payroll is environmentally friendly, requiring less paper and printing resources,” Wade said.

As more companies seek ways to reduce their carbon footprint, implementing paperless payroll is an effective and easy way to conserve natural resources.

Paperless payroll saves money.

Paperless payroll comes with tremendous cost savings. According to Wade, research from the Electronic Payments Association and the American Payroll Association (APA) found that you can save between $2.87 and $3.15 per pay run by paying employees electronically. You can save another $1.20 by providing pay stubs online, the research found.

Replacing a lost check can even save you money. “The APA indicates that if a check is lost and needs to be replaced, there can be an additional cost savings of $8-$10 per replacement check,” Wade said.

Paperless payroll streamlines tax processes.

Paperless payroll systems protect your business (and save you more money) by streamlining tax reporting. 

Paperless systems ensure you pay and file your company’s taxes on time, according to Tomer London, co-founder of payroll system provider Gusto. (Read our review of payroll system provider Gusto for more information.) Paperless payroll programs file all local, state and federal taxes automatically, so business owners no longer have to remember to send in forms or make payments.

Running payroll manually is a time-consuming, complicated and error-prone process,” London said. “As a result, one-third of small business owners get fined every year for filing or paying their payroll taxes incorrectly.”

Did You Know?Did you know

Because paperless payroll documents are stored online, there’s less chance they’ll be misplaced – making paperless payroll a safer and more secure option than standard payroll models.

Paperless payroll has additional benefits.

Wade named these further benefits of going paperless:

  • Efficiency: You’ll save time you would have otherwise spent preparing checks, delivering checks to employees, resolving lost and undelivered checks, fixing check-cashing problems, and handling fraud issues. With paperless payroll platforms, employees can log in and resolve questions and issues themselves.
  • Reliability: You’ll pay employees on time, regardless of holidays or unexpected events – such as bad weather or natural disasters. Your employees will know they’ll be paid on time and can budget accordingly.
  • Accessibility: By going the paperless route, you’ll gain convenient access to your employees’ payroll data either online or via mobile device, should questions arise after hours. Employees also have access to their payroll data – including direct deposit information, pay stubs and W-2s.
  • Organization: Storing three years’ worth of paper payroll records per employee can lead to a lot of wasted space, and hours spent establishing and maintaining an organized filing system. Most paperless payroll services provide digital storage of all records, and continued access to employee records whenever you or your personnel need them.
Did You Know?Did you know

Paperless systems often integrate with payroll software programs, which streamline the process of recording payroll-related expenses.

How to get started with paperless payroll

Before going completely paperless, first ensure your state allows it. Wade advised that certain states require employers to offer paper checks as a payment option, while other states mandate that employees have the ability to opt out of online paystub delivery.

Additionally, the Internal Revenue Service requires that all employees first consent to receive their W-2 forms online. Employees who don’t consent must receive a paper copy.

Here are the steps you should take to go paperless:

1. Ensure your workers use employee self-service (ESS). 

An ESS portal or software package can be a hub for exchanging all payment and paid time off information between employees and management. Should something go wrong, ESS will enable clear communication about these matters between you and your employees. There won’t be a need for managers to sign paper requests. ESS will also provide W-2s to your employees quickly.

2. Introduce direct deposit or pay cards for employees.

More than 65% of employees in the United States now receive their payments via direct deposit. Aside from the need to stay up to date with current technology, direct deposit payments are faster than issuing paper checks. 

Pay cards and direct deposit go hand in hand with ESS. Once your employees are trained in their new ESS software, they’ll be better equipped to take care of their direct deposit and pay card payments as they arrive in their accounts. Consequently, your employees will feel a greater sense of gratification because of the increased speed with which they are now being paid. Employees define the company: If they’re happy, you’ll be happy. 


If your company is looking for alternatives to direct deposit, consider digital payments through services like PayPal and digital banking alternatives such as Simple.

3. Set up automatic email reports.

Automatic emails will keep your payroll department, HR staff and other employees in the loop throughout the payment process. This will save paper that would have been used previously to distribute reports long after payments were issued. Using automatic email reports will ensure that information is up to date and that payment is monitored in real time. Executives and managers will also have access to the reports, which will bolster companywide communication.

4. Import employees’ hours.

Importing employees’ hours not only saves time in the long run, but also reduces the chances of errors. The easiest way to set up an hour-logging system is to use digital timecards that your employees can use to punch in and out of work, instead of using unnecessary amounts of paper. 

Reducing time and errors will save your company money – money that can be better used to make companywide improvements. Consequently, making your payroll system more efficient will increase your company’s return on investment.

To learn more about what to look for in a payroll system, check out our payroll system buyer’s guide. If you’re ready to get started, see which payroll systems we recommend for your unique business.  

Kiely Kuligowski contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Sean Peek
Contributing Writer at
Sean Peek has written more than 100 B2B-focused articles on various subjects including business technology, marketing and business finance. In addition to researching trends, reviewing products and writing articles that help small business owners, Sean runs a content marketing agency that creates high-quality editorial content for both B2B and B2C businesses.
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