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

UPDATED: Nov 18, 2011

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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


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 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.

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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