Can an employer demand immediate payment for a shortage from an employee?

My 16 year old son has a part-time job at an icecream shop. Last night he worked at the drive-thru window and at the end of his shift he was told his cash register was 16 short. His manager demanded that he immediately pay 16 out-of-pocket to cover the loss. Is this legal?

Asked on September 2, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Pennsylvania

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

It's always legal to *ask* for payments of amounts you believe others owe you due to wrongdoing or negligence (unreasonable carelessness), such as a cash drawer shortage, if the employer feels the employee forgot to collect money, let someone driver off without paying, gave free product to a friend, etc.
If your son refused to pay, the employer could *not* legally take the money from his paycheck--if they did, he could in theory file a labor department complaint against them or sue for the money, though obviously, that may not be worthwhile for $16.
What they could due is fire him on the spot (or suspend, demote, reduce hours or shifts, etc.) unless, as is highly unlikely, he had an enforceable written employment contract preventing them from doing that. Without a contract, he is an employee at will and may be terminated or otherwise disciplined at any time, for any reason whatsoever, including believing (even without proof) that he lost $16.00.


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