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Friday, July 15, 2011

Fire An Employee Because of a Child Support (or Other) Garnishment? Go Directly to Jail


            Every once in awhile someone comes to me having been fired right after a court issues a garnishment order against them for child support (or another debt). This is a violation of both federal and many state’s laws.

            Consumer Credit Protection Act: This law limits the amounts that can be garnished and sets out the procedures for garnishing wages for any debt. Many employers think this is a pain in the neck, so they forget that the law also prohibits employers for firing an employee if they’re garnished for a single debt. If you get a second garnishment, the law doesn’t protect you, so try to avoid multiple garnishments if you can.

            Penalties: If your employer fires you after one garnishment, you can get a court order requiring them to reinstate your job, plus back pay. The Department of Labor can sue for you. Employers who willfully violate the law against retaliation can be prosecuted criminally and fined up to $1,000, or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.

            State laws: If the states provide for a lesser amount to be garnished, or provide protection for garnishment of more than one debt, the state laws apply. That means employers need to be aware of the protections their state applies to employees. Some states provide protections against discharge for a child support garnishment, regardless of whether or not there were prior garnishments for other debts. Here’s a list of some state laws’ limits on the amount that can be garnished, with phone numbers for agencies so you can check about the anti-retaliation provisions.

            Yes, dealing with an employee’s wage garnishment is a pain. But if you fire them just because you don’t like being inconvenienced, you can end up going to jail over it (and still have them back as an employee). If you were fired right after a garnishment, contact a lawyer in your state to find out about your rights.

7 comments:

  1. have to admit this is one topic of law that i am philosophically at odds with. never could see any logic in forcing an employer to be a collection agency for the government especially when it is at the employer's expense.

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  2. I was the person who posted the original question on the AAM blog regarding salaried employees. I really enjoyed your post and found it very informative. Can you clarify the one question in the comments regarding "snow days"?

    http://www.askamanager.org/2011/07/salaried-employees-and-missed-days-when-do-they-have-to-be-paid.html#comment-20208

    My interpretation of your post was that an exempt salaried employee must be paid their full salary on a day the office is closed; however, others felt you indicated that PTO could be used by the employer for those days.

    Thanks again for the great post.

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  3. Hey Bob, I just answered it. Yes, they can make you use PTO for snow days. Not fair, but true.

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  4. So to make sure I understand if I get paid $500 ($100 a day for easy math) a week as an exempt salaried employee and the office is closed 1 day due to a snow day as long as I still receive $500 ($400 in salary and $100 from my PTO) on my pay check for that period all is good?

    Does that same principal apply to jury duty? I understand your post that I can't be docked a days pay for jury duty...but can they require me to use PTO for that day? For example if I have 1 day of jury duty and they pay me $400 for the 4 days I worked and 1 day from my PTO account all is good?

    What happens in both of those cases if I no longer have any PTO left for the year? Do I still get my regular salary ($500)?

    Thank you for the clarification.

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  5. Bob, jury duty depends on your state law, but in both cases it is likely they can make you use your PTO. If you have nothing left, in most cases they can probably dock you (or terminate you) for taking any full days. Sad but true.

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  6. Donna,

    With regard to the garnishment issue, I have an employee who has had wages garnisheed three times now.

    Can I terminate her without fear of recourse?

    Thanks

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  7. Hi Ad. No, I wouldn't say that. I'd suggest talking to an employer-side lawyer in your state. Do you really want to fire someone just because she's having financial difficulties?

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