Payroll Compliance

Achieving Payroll Compliance in Pharma: A Guide to Best Practices and Avoiding Risks

Payroll compliance

Payroll compliance is paramount for pharmaceutical companies, as it guarantees adherence to tax laws, labor regulations, and employment standards. Upholding compliance safeguards from expensive legal troubles, penalties, and damage to reputation. Furthermore, it creates trust and job satisfaction among employees, which is critical for retaining a skilled workforce in this competitive industry. A precisely maintained payroll reflects  a company’s dedication to ethical and responsible business practices, which is indispensable for its success and sustainability in the pharmaceutical sector. Despite these positive influences, many pharmaceutical companies commit payroll compliance errors for various  reasons, which may or may not be within their control.

In this blog, we will delve into the intricacies of achieving payroll compliance in the pharmaceutical sector, exploring best practices and strategies to mitigate risks. We aim to provide a comprehensive guide for pharmaceutical companies to navigate this complex landscape, ensuring they remain compliant while focusing their resources on their core mission of developing life-saving treatments and medications.

Payroll services outsourcing

The Risks of Non-Compliance: Financial, Legal, and Operational Implications

Navigating the intricate matrix of regulations and standards is critical to pharmaceutical companies, but failure to do so can result in detrimental financial, legal, and operational consequences. Let’s have a look at it:

Financial Penalties

Pharmaceutical companies risk substantial fines for not adhering to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regarding minimum wage and overtime. U.S. tax regulations are complex, and failing to keep up with changes can result in payroll errors, with potential IRS penalties of up to 15% for unpaid taxes. Non-compliance with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) can lead to fines for not providing adequate health coverage to full-time employees. Additionally, inadequate payroll record-keeping can attract regulatory fines. These financial penalties can escalate quickly, especially when multiple employees are affected. 

Legal action by employees for payroll issues can further burden the company with the cost of back wages, damages, and legal fees. Hence, maintaining strict payroll compliance is critical for the financial and operational health of pharmaceutical companies. 

Operational Disruptions

Research and development (R&D) is the cornerstone of the pharmaceutical industry. Payroll non-compliance can lead to employee dissatisfaction and increased turnover, causing significant setbacks to vital R&D initiatives. Such disruptions have the potential to slow down the drug development pipeline, resulting in financial repercussions and undermining the company’s competitive edge in the market.

In case of payroll disputes or strikes owing to non-compliance, drug production lines could be delayed which can cause serious operational disruptions. This could potentially delay the supply of medicines in the market.

Payroll non-compliance in the pharmaceutical industry can lead to regulatory approval setbacks, which  may indicate broader management issues to authorities. Additionally, it can compromise clinical trial staffing, jeopardizing the integrity and timelines of drug development. Such issues also risk damaging the company’s reputation, potentially dissuading strategic partners and affecting expansion efforts.

Reputational Damage

Payroll noncompliance in pharmaceutical companies can lead to significant reputational damage, undermining employee trust and morale as workers may feel undervalued or perceive corporate negligence, which can hamper productivity. This negative perception can also spill over into the talent acquisition sphere, as the company may struggle to attract high-quality candidates who prefer competitors with better reputations for fair and effective employee management. 

For instance, due to a controversy involving improper payments made to doctors, Pfizer’s reputation was  severely damaged for years.

Investors may view payroll non-compliance as indicative of poor management or financial risk, which can hinder investment and lower share prices. In the trust-dependent pharmaceutical industry, such non-compliance can damage the company’s reputation, lose customer confidence, and benefit competitors. It can also lead strategic partners to reconsider collaborations, impacting the company’s growth and market reach.

Legal Consequences

The pharmaceutical industry must navigate a complex array of local, state, and federal payroll regulations. Neglecting these rules can lead to costly penalties and legal issues. It’s crucial for businesses in this sector to understand and comply with the detailed legal landscape to avoid substantial financial and legal risks.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a warning to pharmaceutical companies that commission-based compensation for sales teams may contravene the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS). This indicates a potential shift in enforcement policy and is causing concerns in the industry. 

Furthermore, non-compliance may breach contracts containing compliance clauses, potentially causing contract terminations and penalties. It can also jeopardize essential licensing or certification, without which companies cannot operate legally or market their drugs. Additionally, payroll issues could disrupt the crucial management and staffing of clinical trials, leading to delays in drug development and market entry, further demonstrating the critical need for payroll compliance within the pharmaceutical sector.

Increased Costs

Pharmaceutical companies might have to reimburse workers for underpaid overtime or salaries, as well as face expensive liability for damages and interest. Payroll errors frequently necessitate more administrative labor, such as analyzing payroll data and maybe updating payroll systems, which can raise operating costs. Employer liability insurance premiums may increase as a result of noncompliance because of the company’s elevated risk profile. A company’s sales, share value, and capacity to draw and keep top people can all be negatively impacted by reputational damage, which can subsequently result in higher expenses. The implementation of preventive measures against future non-compliance may necessitate costly investments in new systems, processes, and training.

Increased Scrutiny

In the pharmaceutical industry, payroll non-compliance can lead to a cascade of increased scrutiny from various entities. Labor and tax regulatory bodies may initiate audits, and stringent industry regulations mean that such issues could prompt more extensive inspections by agencies, including the FDA, potentially affecting broader compliance areas. Non-compliance might also trigger state or federal investigations, thoroughly examining the company’s financial health and internal processes. 

Additionally, license and certification authorities may take a closer look at the company’s adherence to industry standards, as payroll issues often reflect wider organizational problems. This multifaceted scrutiny can have deep impacts on a pharmaceutical company’s reputation and operational smoothness.

Best Practices for Ensuring Payroll Compliance in the Pharmaceutical Industry

Let us delve into these best practices to ensure that pharmaceutical companies maintain utmost payroll compliance:

Conduct Regular Audits

Payroll involves a myriad of rules and regulations. Therefore, handling payroll compliance is a complicated task.  Even with the advanced payroll systems, errors can occur. These errors could range from simple data entry mistakes to more complex issues like incorrect tax deductions or benefits calculations. In order to ensure there are no errors in the payroll, pharmaceutical companies should conduct regular and thorough audits to verify everything is in order. 

Additionally, audits can also pinpoint inefficient or obsolete payroll systems, offering a chance to refine these operations for enhanced efficiency, leading to considerable savings in time and cost. One of the most critical aspects of regular audits is the reinforcement of employee trust through the assurance of accurate and prompt payroll. This fosters a positive workplace atmosphere and elevates employee morale, as it shows the company’s dedication to equitable and precise compensation.

Employee Classification

Maintaining correct worker classifications is a critical aspect of business operations in the pharmaceutical industry. Companies within this sector must be careful not to categorize their employees as independent contractors incorrectly. A thorough analysis of each worker’s tasks and responsibilities is necessary to ensure alignment with the criteria outlined in the relevant labor laws for either an employee or a contractor. 

For instance, a lab scientist engaged in research and development, a core function in a pharmaceutical company, and guided by the company’s rules and regulations would likely qualify as an employee. On the other hand, a freelance medical writer hired for a specific project with a defined outcome and freedom to achieve it might be classified as an independent contractor.

Recently, Kinray Inc. and Cardinal Health Inc. have reached a proposed $7.5M settlement in a six-year lawsuit over misclassification and unpaid overtime of 115 delivery drivers. 

Strong Internal Policies

Strong internal policies are vital for maintaining payroll compliance in the pharmaceutical sector. These policies minimize the risk of errors, an essential factor in an industry where accuracy is paramount. They provide clear and precise instructions for payroll activities.  They address critical legal components such as tax regulations, minimum wage laws, and overtime rules, ensuring adherence to laws and reducing the risk of legal repercussions. Such policies also champion fairness and consistency, treating all employees uniformly. This is particularly important in the pharmaceutical industry, where teamwork and employee morale directly impact productivity and innovation. 

Furthermore, these policies promote accurate record keeping, guide the maintenance of detailed payroll records, and are crucial for audits, dispute resolution, and strategic decision-making in this highly regulated industry.  Finally, well-documented policies facilitate training and accountability, providing a basis for orienting new staff and holding existing employees accountable for their roles in the payroll process, ensuring smooth operations in the dynamic pharmaceutical landscape.

Accurate Record Keeping

Pharmaceutical companies must navigate through a network of legal, federal, state, and local tax regulations. For instance, in line with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), pharmaceutical firms are mandated to maintain payroll or other records for all full-time, part-time, and temporary employees. 

Regulations set by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) necessitate these companies to store all employment records for at least a year. In the event of an involuntary termination, the relevant personnel records should be kept for a year from the termination date. Furthermore, pharmaceutical companies are required to retain any employee benefit plan, such as pension and insurance, for at least one year after termination.

A Pittsburgh-based home health agency owner had to pay $208,004 in damages and back wages after failing to maintain payroll and timekeeping records.

Data Security

Cyber security and data security best practices are now being prioritized by the majority of responsible pharmaceutical companies who understand and recognize the critical need to safeguard sensitive data, such as patients’ personal and health information. These companies have an ethical responsibility and a legal obligation to adhere to regulatory and international compliance laws surrounding data security.  This includes global data protection privacy policies such as GDPR. This is especially relevant when it comes to processing payroll across multiple countries, as it involves the management of highly sensitive data and personal information. Such data must be protected in accordance with the highest industry standards.


In a nutshell, while achieving payroll compliance in the pharmaceutical sector may pose some challenges, the potential risks of non-compliance far outweigh the efforts required to uphold it. Hence, pharmaceutical companies must strive to align their payroll processes with the best practices and legal requirements to ensure success and sustainability in this highly regulated industry. In this context, turning to experts like Global Accounting Corp. for payroll management can streamline processes and ensure compliance, fostering seamless operations in the pharmaceutical sector.

Secure your pharma payroll compliance with Global Accounting Corp. Get started.

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