Can my daughter’s employer garnish her paycheck for a cash register shortage?

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Can my daughter’s employer garnish her paycheck for a cash register shortage?

My daughter had a cash register shortage of $80, 3 weeks ago. Her employer forgave her the $80 because she came into work when they had no one else. The employer stated that if it happened again, she would take the money out of her paycheck. Last week there was another shortage in the draw of $70. There was another girl who was also using the same cash register. My daughter’s employer took $150 out her paycheck this week. She took the $80 from 3 weeks ago and then the full $70 from this week even though she wasn’t the only one using the cash register. Is this legal? 

Asked on December 22, 2010 under Employment Labor Law, Massachusetts

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

In theory, an employer cannot hold an employee accountable for missing money.  However, as a practical matter theymay just want to allow such a deduction.  The reason is that most employment relationships are what is known as "at will".  This means that basically you can work for an employer or not, your choice.  In turn, your employer can hire or fire you for any reason whatsoever (or no reason at all).  It can also increase or decrease your hours or your salary, as well as impose any requirements as it sees fit.  And this would include repayment of any missing monies.  Therefore, her boss could fire her for the mistake.  So while legally your daughter has the right to not pay, she may just want to allow this reimbursement for the misplaced money and keep her job.

Note:  An employer cannot just take the money out of an employee's paycheck (at least not without permission) unless the terms of employment say that it can.  For example, if there was a stated company policy or an employment/union contract that provided for this.  Also, once such a policy is stated, then money can be deducted in the future. 


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