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.
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