ConnectPay Blog » Latest Articles
Get Your Free Review
Jul 26, 2023 ConnectPay

How to Calculate Retroactive Pay: Tips and Best Practices

How to Calculate Retroactive Pay: Tips and Best Practices

Everyone loves a pay raise! But when that pay raise is made retroactive, it can cause a headache for payroll professionals. And pay raises aren’t the only time retroactive pay challenges come into play.

Picture this scenario: you're diligently going about your payroll duties when you stumble upon an overlooked error. Maybe it's an outdated salary scale, a missed promotion, or an overlooked pay increase. 

Suddenly, you realize that for months—perhaps even years—your employee has been underpaid. Panic sets in as you wonder how to make things right! This is where retroactive pay comes into play.

This post will break down the process of calculating retroactive pay into manageable steps, providing you with practical tips and best practices along the way. By the end of this journey, you’ll have everything you need to handle retroactive pay calculations and avoid payroll errors like a pro.

How to Calculate Retroactive Pay: A Step by Step Guide 

What is retroactive pay? Retroactive pay refers to the process of recalculating an employee's wages to account for changes in compensation that are implemented retroactively. In simpler terms, it means going back in time and adjusting the employee's pay to reflect a change that should have been in effect earlier. 

Retroactive pay happens for a number of reasons, like revised overtime policies, salary increases, or the resolution of disputes regarding wages. By calculating retroactive pay, employers ensure that their employees receive the correct amount of compensation they are entitled to, even for past periods. 

Essentially, retroactive pay issues come up when there is a change in compensation that affects a period your employee was already compensated for. 

Accurately calculating retroactive pay is crucial for maintaining trust and fairness in the employer-employee relationship. When employees realize that their wages have been adjusted to reflect the correct compensation, even for past periods, it builds confidence and demonstrates that the company values their contributions. 

On the flip side, failing to calculate retroactive pay accurately can result in legal and compliance issues. It's essential to follow the appropriate calculations and regulations to avoid potential disputes, penalties, and damage to the company's reputation.

Related Read: Employment Tax Compliance: 5 Actions You Need to Take Now

Calculating retroactive pay can be a complex and time-consuming task, and partnering with a reliable payroll provider can help you manage these challenges without tearing your hair out. Additionally, robust payroll software solution can automate the calculations, saving you valuable time and reducing the risk of errors. 

Payroll providers like ConnectPay can also partner you with tax experts who are up-to-date with IRS regulations and can review the calculations to ensure compliance. By leveraging the expertise of a payroll provider, you can streamline the process and have peace of mind knowing that your retroactive pay calculations are accurate and in accordance with legal requirements.

Retroactive Pay vs. Back Pay 

But what about back pay? Is it the same as retroactive pay?

Retroactive pay and back pay are similar in that both terms refer to payment employees receive for past work. However, they are not identical. 

Retroactive pay refers to providing employees with increased wages or salary for work already completed, typically as a result of a pay raise, promotion, or changes in employment contracts. It is a way to fix underpayments in past periods or align past compensation with updated salary scales or pay raises. 

On the other hand, back pay refers to compensating employees for wages they were entitled to but did not receive due to various reasons such as errors in payroll, disputes, or violations of labor laws. Back pay is often a result of legal or administrative decisions, settlements, or court rulings that determine the owed amount to the employee.

How to Calculate Retroactive Pay for Hourly Employees 

You need to know the new hourly rate, the old hourly rate, the effective date for the new hourly rate and the number of hours paid at the old rate. To arrive at the gross retroactive wages, multiply the hours paid at the old rate by the difference in the old and new rates.

Related Read: The 5 Best Contractor Payroll Services [Features and Pricing]

Example: John received a pay increase, from $12 per hour to $13 per hour. The new rate took effect at the start of the previous biweekly pay period in which he worked, and was paid for, 80 hours.


$13/hour – $12/hour = $1 per hour difference in pay

80 hours x $1/hour = $80 gross back pay owed to John

Factor in any overtime that the employee worked during the pay period(s) for which back pay is due; retroactive pay for overtime hours is based on the difference in the old and new overtime rates.

Related Read: Five Steps for Converting an Hourly Employee to Salary

How to Calculate Back Pay Pay for Salaried Employees

You need to know the difference in the employee’s old and new annual salaries plus the effective date for the new annual salary.

Example: Mary, who is paid semimonthly, on the 15th and last day of every month, received a 3 percent salary increase, going from $70,000 per year to $72,100 per year. The increase took effect February 1 and will be paid on March 15. This means Mary is due back pay for two semimonthly pay periods: Feb. 15 and Feb. 28. Her March 15 paycheck will include her new rate, covering March 1 to March 15, so no retro pay is due for that period.


$70,000 / 24 (number of semimonthly pay periods in a year) = old semimonthly salary of $2,916.67

$72,100 / 24 = new semimonthly salary of $3,004.17

$3,004.17 – $2,916.67 = $87.50 difference in old and new semimonthly salaries

$87.50 x 2 semimonthly pay periods = $175 gross retro pay owed to Mary

If Mary’s new rate had taken effect after the start of any of the two pay periods for which retroactive pay is due — e.g., three or four days later — you would need to calculate her back pay based on the difference in her old and new daily rates. For salaried employees, the daily rate can typically be computed by dividing the annual salary by 52 to get the weekly salary and then dividing the weekly salary by 5.

Retro Pay Tips and Best Practices

Retroactive pay, can create complexities and challenges for both employers and employees. However, following some simple best practices can help you master retro pay processes like a pro and keep your payroll running smoothly.

First, understand that maintaining accurate and up-to-date employee records is crucial. Keep track of changes in employment status, job titles, promotions, and pay rates. By regularly reviewing and updating employee records, employers can proactively identify any discrepancies and address them in a timely manner. 

Additionally, maintain open lines of communication with your employees. Clearly communicate any changes in compensation, benefits, or employment terms, ensuring that employees are aware of any adjustments to their pay. 

By providing regular updates and ensuring employees have a clear understanding of their compensation structure, employers can minimize the stress and impact when retro pay situations arise. 

You can also combat retroactive pay challenges by conducting periodic reviews of pay scales and industry standards. Staying informed about market trends, minimum wage laws, and prevailing wage rates can help you adjust your compensation structure as needed when the market shifts. 

Regularly benchmarking salaries against industry standards and conducting comprehensive compensation analyses can help identify potential gaps and address them proactively.

Lastly, implementing robust payroll systems and software can streamline the process of calculating and administering payments. Automated systems can help minimize human errors, ensure accurate calculations, and facilitate efficient payroll management. 

Investing in reliable payroll software and partnering with a payroll solutions provider can help you stay on top of rate changes, reduce the chance of errors, and minimize your need for retroactive pay. 

Remember, calculating back pay can be complex, and there may be legal considerations. Partnering with a payroll provider, like ConnectPay, can help! Book a free consultation today to see how we can help you navigate retroactive pay and other payroll challenges with ease.

New call-to-action

Book Mockup
Guide Mobile

Don't Get Overwhelmed by Payroll Complexity

Master the 6 essential pillars of payroll processing for your business

Get Your Payroll Guide Now
Published by ConnectPay July 26, 2023