Is it legal for an employer to change my status from non-exempt to exempt without my knowledge?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Is it legal for an employer to change my status from non-exempt to exempt without my knowledge?

When I started with the company, I submitted a W4 and did not write exempt in the box. When I received my W2, I noticed the employer didn’t take any federal taxes and now the IRS says I owe them money. The employer is refusing to give me a straight answer as to why my status was changed and since I’m unemployed, I clearly cant afford to pay the IRS. I believe the employer should be responsible since they altered the information I submitted to them without my knowledge.

Asked on February 9, 2018 under Employment Labor Law, Florida


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

While they should not have changed your status without your permission, you cannot force them to pay the taxes, because they are *your* taxes. If they were not taken out earlier, then you received the money and should still have it to pay: that is, the total income taxes you pay each year are the same whether they are taken out of each check or paid in a lump sum at tax time. The failure to withhold therefore only changes the timing of when you pay and does not affect how much you pay--as stated, if the money was not taken out earlier, you received it and so should have the money for taxes (and if you spent it rather than putting aside money for taxes, that is not the employer's responsibility). Since your total tax liability did not change and you pay the same total amount in taxes, you did not suffer any loss for which you could receive compensation.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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