hivepayroll logo

Labor Burden - What Is Meaning and How to Calculate

Labor Burden

Starting your own contracting business is an exhilarating experience, filled with excitement, optimism, and a healthy dose of uncertainty about the future. While there’s a lot to learn through trial and error, certain concepts must be dialed in from the beginning to ensure the success of your venture. One of the most critical concepts is labor burden. Labor burden is the true cost of an employee’s labor, far exceeding just the hourly wage or salary. If you only consider wages at face value, your cost estimates could be off by as much as 50% or more. This miscalculation can wreak havoc on a young business. Fortunately, understanding labor burden and accurately calculating it can safeguard your bottom line. In this article, we’ll cover everything contractors need to know about labor burden: where to find the necessary information, how to calculate it, and how to apply it to ensure all costs are accounted for, protecting your business from unforeseen financial pitfalls.

What is Labor Burden?

Labor burden is the total cost for a company to employ a worker. This cost goes beyond just the wages or salary paid to the employee. It includes additional expenses such as payroll taxes, health insurance, training costs, and paid time off. Essentially, labor burden encapsulates all the extra costs associated with having an employee on board.

Typically, labor burden is expressed as a percentage of the base wages. When combined, these costs can quickly add up, often making the true cost of employing someone significantly higher than their hourly wage or annual salary. Ignoring labor burden can create the illusion that a business is more profitable than it actually is, as these hidden costs silently drain financial resources. Understanding and calculating labor burden is crucial for accurate job pricing, estimating, bidding, and scheduling. This awareness ensures that businesses can maintain profitability while effectively managing their workforce.

What is Included in Labor Burden?

Labor burden is a comprehensive measure that includes a wide range of costs associated with employment. These costs are generally categorized into two main groups: burdened labor costs and additional costs.

Burdened Labor Costs:

These are the “all-in” costs beyond an employee’s wage and mainly include mandatory and consistent expenses. Key components are:

  • Payroll Taxes: Taxes imposed on employers based on the wages paid to employees, including contributions under FICA, Medicare, and social security.
  • FICA: Contributions to the Federal Insurance Contributions Act, which funds social security and Medicare.
  • Medicare: Federal health insurance program contributions.
  • Social Security: Contributions towards an employee’s future social security benefits.
  • Health Insurance: Employer-provided health coverage.
  • Dental and Vision Insurance: Additional healthcare benefits covering dental and vision care.
  • Workers’ Comp/Liability Insurance: Insurance covering workplace injuries and liabilities.
  • Retirement Contributions: Employer contributions to retirement plans such as 401(k).
  • Bonuses: Performance-based or annual bonus payments.
  • PTO/Vacation: Paid time off for vacation, illness, or personal time.

Additional Costs:

These are expenses not directly linked to mandatory labor costs but are essential for employee productivity and well-being. They include:

  • Company Cell Phones or Communication Expenses: Costs for providing communication tools like cell phones.
  • Equipment Insurance: Insurance for tools and equipment used by employees.
  • Training and Employee Development: Investments in employee training and professional development programs.
  • Company Apparel: Costs for uniforms or company-branded clothing.

By tracking these costs meticulously, businesses can ensure they capture the full scope of labor-related expenses. This comprehensive understanding helps in making informed financial decisions, setting appropriate pricing strategies, and maintaining overall business health.

Why Should I Know My Labor Burden Rate?

Knowing your labor burden rate is crucial for accurately assessing the full cost of your employees. This rate includes not just the base salary but also health insurance, retirement benefits, payroll taxes, and other related expenses. By understanding this metric, you gain a clearer picture of your true employee costs, which can fluctuate due to changes in benefits or insurance premiums.

This insight allows for more informed decision-making regarding your company’s finances. For instance, you can determine which benefits are sustainable, assess the feasibility of hiring additional staff, and identify potential areas for cost savings. Additionally, understanding labor burden rates on a global scale can inform your hiring strategies, whether you choose to expand internationally or keep your workforce domestic. Different countries have varying average labor burden rates, so comparing yours to global standards can guide you in making cost-effective hiring decisions.

Components of Labor Burden

Labor burden consists of various elements that collectively contribute to the total cost of an employee. These components typically include:

Health Insurance and Benefits: These are often the most significant part of the labor burden. They cover medical, dental, and vision insurance, as well as other health-related benefits.

  1. Payroll Taxes: Employers are responsible for paying a portion of Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation.
  2. Paid Time Off: This includes vacation days, sick leave, and any other paid leave employees are entitled to.
  3. Retirement Contributions: Employer contributions to retirement plans, such as 401(k) or pension plans, also add to the labor burden.
  4. Training and Development: Costs associated with training programs, certifications, and ongoing professional development.

Formula for Calculating Labor Burden Rate

To calculate the labor burden rate, you need to add up all the indirect costs associated with an employee and divide that by the employee’s base salary. The formula can be simplified as:

Labor Burden Rate=Total Indirect CostsBase Salary

Labor Burden Rate=

Base Salary

Total Indirect Costs

For example, if the total indirect costs for an employee amount to $20,000 annually and their base salary is $50,000, the labor burden rate would be 40%.

How to Calculate Labor Burden Rate

Calculating the labor burden rate is essential for understanding the true cost of an employee beyond their base salary. The labor burden rate helps businesses determine the full cost associated with employing staff, including indirect costs like taxes, benefits, and insurance. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you calculate your labor burden rate accurately.

1. Determine Employee’s Gross Pay

Start by identifying the employee’s gross pay. Gross pay is the total amount paid to an employee before any deductions like taxes, retirement contributions, or insurance premiums. This includes their base salary or hourly wages. For hourly employees, calculate gross pay by multiplying the hours worked per week by the hourly rate, and then by the number of weeks worked per year.

Example: If an employee earns $20 per hour, works 40 hours a week, and works 52 weeks a year, their gross pay is:

20 (hourly rate)×40 (hours per week)×52 (weeks per year)=$41,600

20 (hourly rate)×40 (hours per week)×52 (weeks per year)=$41,600

2. Calculate Payroll Taxes

Next, calculate the payroll taxes you, as the employer, are responsible for. These include:

  • Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA): Covers Social Security and Medicare.
  • Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA): Generally 6% on the first $7,000 of wages per employee annually.
  • State Unemployment Tax Act (SUTA): Rates vary by state and are employer-only taxes.

Sum up these taxes to find your total payroll tax costs.

Example: If the combined payroll taxes amount to $4,000 annually for an employee, this figure contributes to the indirect labor costs.

3. Calculate Other Voluntary Payments

Include additional voluntary payments made to employees, such as:

  • Additional paid time off
  • Extra retirement plan contributions
  • Supplemental health insurance

These benefits enhance employee satisfaction but also increase overall labor costs.

Example: If you provide $2,000 in additional benefits annually, add this to the indirect labor costs.

4. Total the Individual Percentages

To find the labor burden rate, use the formula:

Labor Burden Rate=(Indirect Employee CostsDirect Payroll Costs)×100

Labor Burden Rate=(

Direct Payroll Costs

Indirect Employee Costs



  • Indirect Employee Costs are the total of payroll taxes and voluntary payments.
  • Direct Payroll Costs are the employee’s gross wage.

Example: If an employee’s gross pay is $60,000, and the total indirect costs (taxes and benefits) are $8,000:

Labor Burden Rate=(8,00060,000)×100≈13.33%

Labor Burden Rate=(




By following these steps, you can accurately calculate the labor burden rate and gain a comprehensive understanding of the total employment costs. This information is vital for budgeting, financial planning, and strategic decision-making in your business.

Impact on Business Decisions

Understanding your labor burden rate impacts several business decisions:

  • Budgeting: Accurate labor burden calculations help in creating realistic budgets and forecasts.
  • Pricing: Knowing your labor costs ensures you can price your products or services correctly to maintain profitability.
  • Hiring: Determines whether your company can afford to hire additional staff or if outsourcing might be more cost-effective.
  • Cost Management: Identifies areas where expenses can be reduced without compromising on employee satisfaction.

Labor Taxes Across the Globe

Labor burden, a crucial aspect of any country’s tax system, varies significantly across the globe. For example, labor taxes in Belgium are remarkably high, standing at 5,260% more than those in Colombia. According to the OECD, the combined impact of income tax and social security contributions from both employers and employees reveals stark differences among countries. In some nations, like Germany and France, workers face substantial deductions from their paychecks, which fund extensive social security systems. Conversely, countries such as Mexico and New Zealand impose relatively lower labor taxes, resulting in a lighter financial load on both workers and businesses. These differences reflect each country’s economic priorities and social policies, highlighting the diverse approaches to balancing tax revenue and labor market competitiveness. Understanding these variations is essential for grasping how different tax structures influence global labor markets and economic health.

How do labor taxes vary across the globe?




















United Kingdom


How Often You Need to Recalculate Your Labor Burden Rate

Keeping your labor burden rate accurate is crucial for managing costs effectively. While it’s beneficial to double-check your labor burden as often as possible, a general best practice is to recalculate it every six months. This frequency allows you to account for changes in costs, needs, goals, and personnel throughout the year. Slower business periods are ideal for revisiting these numbers and making necessary adjustments.

To ensure your labor burden rate remains accurate, you should regularly:

  1. Compare your estimates with actual cost totals.
  2. Reevaluate how you capture and track labor costs.
  3. Verify that labor burden is applied correctly for each employee.
  4. Check for any overlooked costs.
  5. Ensure labor burden is included in all estimates.

By addressing these points, you can maintain a more accurate labor burden rate, leading to better financial planning and resource management.


Labor burden is a vital metric for any business that employs staff. It provides a comprehensive understanding of the true cost of employment, aiding in better financial planning and decision-making. By accurately calculating and analyzing your labor burden rate, you can ensure your business remains financially healthy and competitive in a global marketplace.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between direct labor and labor burden?

Direct labor refers to the hours an employee works and the wages paid for those hours. It's simply the time worked multiplied by the hourly wage. Labor burden, however, includes all additional costs beyond wages that a business incurs for an employee. These costs can include: - Taxes (like payroll taxes) - Benefits (health insurance, retirement contributions) - Training costs - Insurance (workers’ compensation) In other words, labor burden is the total cost of having an employee, beyond just their salary.

What is the difference between labor burden and labor overhead?

Labor burden specifically covers the costs related to employees' wages and benefits. This includes payroll taxes, health insurance, and other employee-related expenses. Labor overhead, on the other hand, encompasses all the costs of running the business. This includes things like: - Advertising - Equipment purchases - Utilities (electricity, water) To calculate labor overhead, consider all the general business expenses and divide by the number of employees to get an average cost per employee.

Does labor burden include overhead?

No, labor burden does not include overhead. Mixing the two can make it harder to plan for the future and understand the true profitability of each project. Overhead includes general business costs spread across all jobs, whereas labor burden is specific to each employee.

What is an example of a labor burden?

Labor burden includes mandatory costs like payroll taxes and optional benefits provided to employees. Examples are: 1. Payroll taxes (FICA, Medicare, Social Security) 2. Paid time off (PTO) 3. Health, dental, and vision insurance 4. Workers' compensation and liability insurance 5. Retirement contributions 6. Bonuses When estimating project costs, it's important to add these expenses on top of wages to get a fully burdened labor rate.

What is the difference between overhead and labor burden?

Overhead refers to fixed business costs necessary for daily operations, such as rent, utilities, and office supplies. These are costs to keep the business running, regardless of specific projects. Labor burden, however, is the comprehensive cost of employing your staff, including wages and all associated benefits. Without accounting for labor burden, the bottom line of your projects won't be accurate.

What is a typical labor burden rate?

There is no standard industry benchmark for labor burden as it varies greatly between businesses. However, it’s common for some trades to see labor burden rates of 40%-50%.

How do you calculate labor burden?

To calculate labor burden: 1. Add up all your annual employee-related costs (payroll taxes, insurance, benefits, etc.). 2. Divide this total by the number of employees. 3. Add this per-employee cost to their annual salary. This will give you the true labor burden for each employee.

Is labor burden part of overhead?

While labor burden contributes to understanding total overhead expenses, they are distinct concepts. Labor burden focuses on employee-specific costs, while overhead encompasses all general business expenses. Understanding these differences and correctly calculating labor burden helps ensure accurate project cost estimations and better financial planning for your business.
× WhatsApp Chat