An employer cannot garnish your wages for a mistake you made without receiving permission from the court. According to Nolo, a wage garnishment is when the court orders an employer to withhold a certain amount of your paycheck. The money is sent directly to the agency owed the debt. A wage garnishment remains active until the debt is satisfied, or the court modifies the order.
Simple Mistakes vs. Willful Negligence
Employers won't go through the garnishing process to punish a mistake, but that doesn't mean they can't do it through other means. It could be a minor fine. For example, if you lose a company-issued item like a badge, the cost of its replacement may come out of your next check. If your actions resulted in a loss to the employer, and the employer could prove you did something dishonest or grossly negligent, she could demand you pay back the company.
Written Consent to Deductions
Although a wage garnishment is forced and involuntary, you do have some say-so when it comes to deductions. Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, an employer may deduct for losses if you signed a document granting consent to the deductions prior to the loss. Generally, this type of agreement is signed at the start of employment. The amount can't bring your hourly rate below minimum wage.
Wage Garnishment Laws
Wage garnishment laws are regulated by the federal government, not individual states. If you owe the Internal Revenue Service, child support, federal student loans or any other government agency, your wages may be garnished. Since a wage garnishment is usually a last resort effort to settle a debt, you will receive notices from the agency you owe before it goes into effect. The employer's role is to see it comes out of your check.
Before garnishing wages, a creditor must sue you, win the lawsuit and receive the court order. The employer must notify you of the garnishment, begin withholding the allowed portion of your wages, and provide information on how to contest the garnishment if you disagree.
- Nolo: If Your Wages Are Garnished - Your Rights
- Scott Cole & Associates: Wage and Hour Law - Pay Deductions
- Ohio Employment Lawyers Association: Deductions From Pay
- Workplace Fairness: Deductions From Pay
- Department of Labor. "Garnishment." Accessed Feb. 13, 2020.
- Michigan Legal Help. "An Overview of Garnishment." Accessed Feb. 13, 2020.
- Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute. "Consumer Credit Protection Act of 1968 -15 U.S. Code § 1673.Restriction on Garnishment." Accessed Feb. 13, 2020.
- Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute. "Consumer Credit Protection Act of 1968 - 15 U.S. Code § 1672.Definitions." Accessed Feb. 13, 2020.
- Department of Labor. "Fact Sheet 30: The Federal Wage Garnishment Law, Consumer Credit Protection Act's Title III," Page 2. Accessed Feb. 13, 2020.
- United States Department of Labor. "Minimum Wage." Accessed Feb. 13, 2020.
- Department of Labor. "Fact Sheet 30: The Federal Wage Garnishment Law, Consumer Credit Protection Act's Title III," Page 3. Accessed Feb. 13, 2020.
- California Courts. "If You Do Not Pay Your Judgment." Accessed Feb. 13, 2020.
- Office of the U.S. Courts. "Discharge in Bankruptcy – Bankruptcy Basics." Accessed Feb. 13, 2020.
- Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute. "United States Bankruptcy Code - 11 U.S. Code § 523.Exceptions to Discharge." Accessed Feb. 13, 2020.
Jeannine Mancini, a Florida native, has been writing business and personal finance articles since 2003. Her articles have been published in the Florida Today and Orlando Sentinel. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Central Florida.