can your employer hold your check for a piece of equipment that another employee damaged under your watch?

I’m in construction, I’m a Forman on the job. I brought my own crew, except for
an operator. The company hired someone and sent him to my job site to run a piece
of heavy equipment. While he was there he put a scratch on it. They fired my
whole crew. Eventually giving them their paychecks. It has been 7 days and they
still won’t give me my paycheck. Their trying to make me pay half on the damages.
Can they take this out of my paycheck, and if I tell them no they cant take the
money out how long can they hold my check. I’m on salary and they will owe me 2
checks as of 06/03/2016.

Asked on June 2, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Tennessee

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

No, they legally may not withhold your paycheck, even for equipment damage: if they don't pay you, you could (if you were an employee, not an independent contractor) contact the state department of labor to file a wage-and-hour complaint, and/or sue (e.g. in small claims court) for the money. If you were an independent contractor, your only option would be to sue.
(Employers may only withhold pay 1) as required by law, such as court-ordered wage garnishment or tax withholding; or 2) with employee consent, such as for health insurance premiums, or if the employee voluntarily agrees to repay something.)
What they can do is fire you, if they feel you were at fault or cost them money (or, if you don't have a contract protecting your job, if they simply feel like firing you); and they could sue you for the cost of the damage. However, if they sue you, they will only win if they can prove in court, by a "proponderance of the evidence" (i.e. that it is "more likely than not") that you were at fault in some way in causing the damage.


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