Can an employer withhold an employee’s first 2 paychecks in case of any damage caused to equipment?

My husband is salaried and paid every Saturday. He was told by employer after he started 3 months ago that his first 2 paychecks would be held in case he damaged any of their equipment. He does not use any of their equipment; in fact he has to provide his own laptop and cell phone, as well as all office supplies because the company is too cheap to provide this to any employee (including soap and toilet paper for the bathroom). In addition, Corporate HR has failed repeatedly in processing his W-4 correctly. He has asked multiple times via email that this be corrected to married/4 dependents and they tell him it has been corrected but each paycheck it is still incorrect. Can we ask that they pay us for their mistake?

Asked on May 16, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Texas


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

No, an employer may NOT withhold an employee's check for any reason without his or her consent (or unless required by law--such as if a portion of checks is withheld for court-ordered wage garnishment), so unless your husband agreed to this, it is illegal. Your husband could file a wage a complaint with the state department of labor over this, and/or sue in small claims court for the money to which he is entitled.
No, while they should fix the withholding to follow your instructions, you can't make them "pay . . . for their mistake," because their mistake doesn't actually cost you anything. The total amount you pay in taxes during the year is the same regardless of how much withholding you have, and therefore the total net (after taxes) pay you have is the same regardless of withholding. All the withholding (i.e. number of dependents) does is affect the timing of the money, not the amount--do you get more money now, then pay more in taxes later? Or get less now, but pay less end-year taxes or even get a refund (or a larger refund). 

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