How To Pay Employees When You Can’t Make Payroll

Concept of no money

Timely inform employees:

Most entrepreneurs that are struggling are well aware of whether or not they will be able to make payrolls. But, due to embarrassment, they don’t inform their employees that they are not able to pay them. Experts recommend that, as soon as an employer comes to know that they cannot pay their employees, inform them immediately. Don’t handle the situation emotionally, be honest, and realistic. “What I have found in my consulting business is that, more often than not, small business owners are embarrassed and worried about results, so they typically handle [the situation] emotionally,” says Donald Todrin, founder of the Northhampton, MA-based Second Wind Consultants. “This usually means that they don’t tell anybody until 10 minutes before they’re supposed to get their checks.”

Once you have decided to notify employees, start from the upper management. From the seasoned employees to the new joiners. The top-down approach is adopted because the severity of the situation lessens when the news of no payments circulate from upper management to the lowest level.

Search resources for finances:

An employer is liable to many state and federal taxes if they are unable to pay employees. As soon as you come to know that you cannot make payroll, take a decisive and desperate action. Jump into the situation swiftly. Think of all the methods from where you can get the funds. These resources may be carrying out huge layoffs, swift solutions of the business modification for rapid liquidity, or, worse, closing entirely. If all of these plans fail, the owner is liable to penalties and fines. These fines are equal to fifty percent of the annual earnings. 

“Beg, borrow, or sell whatever you need in order to come up with the funds,” says Rod Jorgensen, the director of counseling at the Nevada Small Business Development Center. However, in light of recent restrictions on bank lending, gaining rapid access to cash via traditional bank loans, lines of credit, and mortgages is a thing of the past.

Utilization of the available resources:

Another method to pay employees without making payroll is to utilize all of the available resources. Theses available resources are the inventory and pending receivables. These are the immediate sources of funds. Liquidate the inventory or ask vendors to pay you receivables immediately on discount. You will be able to earn capital immediately and can pay employees.

Avoid confounding the payroll:

Some employers tend to a fraction instead of nothing at all. This method of staggering payments may not be applicable and practical in all states due to legal issues. Once you cannot pay employees, their efficiency decreases and they are likely to flee as soon as getting new employment. 

The other method recommended is reserving some of your most trusted employees the promise that you will pay them as soon as possible. Ask them if you can hold their paychecks for a few days in order to pay other employees timely. If they agree, you will be able to make on-time payments. 

Pay for labor immediately:

The U.S. Department of Labor states that all daily waged employees should be paid the full wage along with their overtime. Otherwise, the penalties and fines will be imposed according to the Fair Labor Standards Act.

If you unable to make payroll, manage to pay labor and daily waged workforce to avoid lawsuits.

Streamline your business:

Once you are able to come out of the crisis and have paid your employees, restructure your business. Necessary modifications are needed immediately to avoid this happening again. Make changes in the business model. Decrease your overhead expenses and restructure your operations. 

Employees are the asset of your business and you are cashing their hard work and honesty. Paychecks are the only source of livelihood and income for them. So, even at the time of crisis, you should be able to manage to pay off their checks so that they can survive. But, in return, they should be empathetic with you. This message should be conveyed to all of your employees.


Not being able to pay your employees is a dire situation for a business owner but options like selling assets, borrowing money, or delaying some payments, may allow you to pay them, even in the worst of situations.

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