Can an employer withhold from my paycheck any cash short form a register that3 other people plus the boss used at the same time?

I am a waitress at a small diner. There are 2 other waitresses generally on my shift. The other 2 waitresses and I, in addition to the boss are the only ones in the register on our shift. Lately our register has been coming up short. She told us tonight that if the register came up short again we would have to pay for it out of our checks. To me this would encourage theft because if $100 gets stolen and there are 3 waitresses, each has to pay back $33, the thief is making a $66 profit and not worry about getting fired. I do not know if somebody is stealing or if she is making mistakes when counting our drawer, or if the boss takes money out and forgets that she does. What I do know is I’m not stealing. Is it legal for her to take money out of our checks to cover what is short? She already deducts from our checks if we forget to charge for something (e.g. we forget to charge .25 for cheese on a salad).

Asked on July 18, 2010 under Employment Labor Law, Oklahoma


M.T.G., Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Your analysis of your bosses "solution" to the problem of the drawer coming up short is quite smart and a good argument to make against her doing what she intends should the drawer come up short again.  If your boss can not determine why the drawer is short - miscalculation in a bill or some other logical reason based upon human failure - then just attributing it to all of you is an unfair business practice.  I would consult with the Department of Labor in your state as to the issue and ask for guidance on the matter.  You could indeed file a complaint as well. But starting there will at least give you an idea and direction on what to do about the situation.  Good luck.

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Going forward--that is, after the employer announces such a policy--it may be possible for him to do this; employers have enormous discretion in setting work rules and policies, including making people make up for charges and shorts. (In terms of *how* to properly do it, the employer technically may need to structure it slightly differently than simply taking the money directly out of your paycheck, but that doesn't change the fact that a employer can require employees to make up for costs, including cash shorts, that they cause.)

You've identified practical problems--the encouragment of stealing; how to prove who is responsible; etc. And if you refused to allow the boss to simply take the money out, you might get involved in litigation with her, with--if she pushed the matter--you each trying to prove your case.

But again, those issues, while significant, are practicalities. An employer can make employees responsible, as long as the policy is clearly articulated, for shorts and costs.

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