Is it legal for an employer to garnish wages for something they are at fault for?

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Is it legal for an employer to garnish wages for something they are at fault for?

An employee is paid $10 an hour until his position is eliminated and he is placed in a different position. He then signs a form that states his pay rate will be lowered to $5 hour in the next pay period. Then 3 months pass and he is still being paid the original rate; within this time period he informs management that it has not changed and there is no step taken to resolve it. After another 3 months his check is $0, so he calls HR. They tell him that he is to pay the differences in wages back to them and they will be garnishing it from his wages. For 2 months he is left with nothing.

Asked on November 18, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, Illinois

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

1) If an employee is overpaid for any reason--i.e. he or she is paid more than the amount to which he is entitled for the work done--the employer can recover that amount, even if the mistake had been the employer's; a mistake does not create a right to keep the overpayment.

2) However, the employer may NOT garnish the employee's wages unless the employee agrees to  it; otherwise, the employer's recourse would be to sue the employee in court to recover its money.

3) With very few exceptions, the main one of which is for tipped employees (e.g. waiters), an emplyee must be paid at least minimum wage, or $7.25 per hour. If you are not in a tipped, or possibly a commissioned  (e.g. sales) position, your employer may be violating minimum wage law if you are paid only $5 per hour.

You may wish to either contact your state department of labor about potential violations of wage laws, and/or consult with an employment law attorney to explore bringing a lawsuit.


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