Is docking my payment legal?
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Is docking my payment legal?
I work for a very small company; there are only 3 full-time employees and the owner. I’ve been there 16 years and the other 2 have been there 18 and 21 years. Recently, I needed to take spring break off because my kids were off from school and no one else could watch them. An employee with seniority usually takes this time off but hadn’t at the time I asked for it. He also hasn’t had to
contend with anyone else for the time because in the past my kids were taken care of during this
timeframe. I was told this time was reserved for the senior employee yet no policies have ever been in affect to this nature. It’s always been who asked for it first. To make a long story short, I told my boss that even though they said I could take it off, I was going to because had no other options.
My boss was on vacation during the pay period so my paycheck was normal and correct vacation days were deducted. He returned, sat me in the office and told me that he was going to dock my pay for those days and vacation days wouldn’t be returned to me because they were unauthorized days off. I am very upset because I followed our policies but evidently a rule which never had been discussed (i.e. certain days are only reserved for certain people) was implemented when convenient for the company. I am a salary employee. Is this legal? What recourse do I have?
Asked on April 17, 2019 under Employment Labor Law, Florida
SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney
Answered 2 years ago | Contributor
No, it is not legal to dock employee pay without employee consent or a court order (such as for wage garnishment). They would not have to pay you for any days you missed work (an employer does not have to pay salaried staff if they don't work at all some day[s]), unless you used paid time off, like vacation days, to cover the absence; if you did use vacation, as you indicate, however, they would need to pay you for those days and cannot take any money back from you.
If the absence was unauthorized or in violation of some rule or policy, even one of which you were not aware, they could terminate you unless you are protected by the terms of a written contract; in the absence of a contract, employment is "employment at will" and you may be terminated at any time, for any reason whatsoever. But while they could terminate you, or otherwise discipline you (e.g. reduce your salary going forward), they can't take away or dock pay for days already worked or for which you already used vacation days. So you do need to bear in mind that they could do worse to you than docking you pay; but docking your pay is itelf illegal.
(Note: they do not need to be fair, either: they may reserve certain days for certain staff but not others.)
If you choose to pursue getting your money back, you could sue the employer in small claims court, or contact the department of labor about filing a complaint.