Can My Boss Dock My Pay For Mistakes?

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AOL Jobs readers have lots of questions about employers who dock pay for mistakes or accidents. Here are two of them:

Hello, I work in Las Vegas, NV, and I'm trying to find out if my employer can make me pay out of pocket for a food mistake. I'm a food server and they're saying they have every right to make us pay. I understand if they have to reprimand us but making us pay for the mistake is not right! I've looked everywhere online and tried to look on the Nevada Labor board website and I can't find anything. I just see message boards some say yes and some saying no. I hope you can clear this up for me. For any reason if it is illegal what they are doing, how would one go about getting this resolved? Hope you can help.

And:

I have been with my employer almost 5 years. My employer has implemented a new policy that "fines" us if we make errors or if a piece of equipment is damaged, where we are assessed the cost of repair/replacement. We aren't told what was wrong or what we supposedly did and the money is simply deducted from our checks without explanation. It apparently is assumed that any such equipment problems is our fault, not simply a wear or software issue.
It appears to me that we are being taken advantage of, but I called the Dept. of Labor's local Wage & Hour office, since Alabama has no Wage & Hour division, and was told the employer could pretty much do as he pleased so long as he didn't pay below minimum wage.


Any suggestions?You might be surprised to hear that your employer may well be allowed to deduct from your wages for equipment damages, damaged product or cash shortages. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers may not make any deductions from your pay for cash shortages, accidents, damage to equipment or even theft only if those deductions bring your wages below minimum wage. That's the sole restriction that applies to all employers nationwide. After that, it depends on your state law.

Nevada law says that the employer can't dock your pay for shortages or damage to equipment or products unless you agree to have the specific money withheld, in writing. They don't allow a blanket authorization form made in advance of the shortage or damage. Many states have similar laws requiring your consent for any pay docking. Of course, nothing in the law says they can't fire you for refusing to agree.

Alabama has no wage/hour laws, so they follow the federal law. For a list of state agency websites, check out this handy chart.

If the employer is insured, they can't make you pay and then recover double from the insurance company. That would be insurance fraud, and probably fraud on you as well. Plus, if the employer gets it wrong and takes you below minimum wage, you can sue for double the amount owed, plus fees and costs, so employers who dock you for mistakes are engaging in risky business.

If your employer demands you sign a paper agreeing to pay for damaged equipment or other items, read carefully. If they want you to admit you stole or did something illegal, never sign. It's better to lose your job than go to jail. Otherwise, you have to decide if keeping your job is worth the amount of money you're agreeing to repay.


If you need legal advice, it's best to talk to an employment lawyer in your state, but if you have general legal issues you want me to discuss publicly here, whether about discrimination, working conditions, employment contracts, medical leave, or other employment law issues, you can ask me at AOL Jobs.

Please note: Anything you write to me may be featured in one of my columns. I won't be able to respond individually to questions.
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