Your employer can’t withhold your paycheck, but there are certain circumstances in which your employer can legally withhold earnings.
As employment lawyers, we often get questions about the wage and hour laws that protect their right to compensation for their labor. A common concern we hear from people centers on an employer who threatens—or already has—to withhold a worker’s paycheck because of a personal grievance, performance issue, or another reason like these.
Employers don’t have this much latitude when it comes to withholding pay, and it certainly can’t be done as a means of punishment. Rather, any deductions an employer can make are those you agree to or are mandated by law.
Employers may legally deduct an employee’s pay when the employee authorizes the employer to do so.
The most common example of this is an employee’s share of the cost of an employer-provided health insurance plan. Some employers also offer amenities such as meals or on-site housing for their employees at an additional cost. The cost for these amenities may be deducted from the employee’s paycheck as long as the employee agrees to this arrangement in writing.
Employers may not make deductions for the following:
- Work materials
- Tools of the trade
- Other business-related expenses
If you are concerned about any deductions your employer makes from your paycheck, consult with an employment lawyer for guidance.
Income Tax Withholding & Wage Garnishment
Two other instances in which an employer can withhold earnings include withholdings for income tax purposes and wage garnishment.
Both California and the federal government require employers to withhold earnings from each paycheck for income tax, Social Security tax, state disability, and other legislated deductions. Wage garnishment, on the other hand, occurs when an employer must pay a portion of an employee’s earnings to a creditor of the employee after the creditor receives a court order requiring wage garnishment.
Withholding a Paycheck Isn’t a Legal Punishment
If your employer withheld your paycheck as a punishment, you may have an employment law claim. Employers may only deduct pay from your earnings for certain tax-related purposes, when an employee authorizes them to do so, or if there is a court order requiring wage garnishment. Absent of these circumstances, it’s unlikely that your employer’s actions are justifiable.
Always consult with an employment lawyer who can provide insight on your specific situation. Only an experienced legal professional can assess your claim and help you determine the next steps to take. You can always reach out to K2 Employment Law to learn more about how our attorneys can help you.
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