PAY UP: CAN YOUR EMPLOYER WITHHOLD WAGES FOR WORKPLACE INCIDENTS?

Let’s say you work at a busy filling station. Hundreds of people a day stop by the station to get gas, food, beer, cigarettes, etc. In the bustle of business, one of your patrons filling up his car decides to drive off without paying, and you can’t catch him in time to prevent the theft, or at the very least, get his license plate number. Your employer gets angry with you, even though trying to stop a moving automobile from leaving is about as easy as catching lightning. As punishment the employer takes the cost of the driveoff out of your paycheck. Can they do that?

Or maybe you’ve got a long line of customers at the counter, waiting to pay for their items. Trying to move things along as quickly as possible, you accidentally sell a pack of cigarettes to a minor, who turns out to be an operative of the Tobacco Administration. Your employer gets slapped with a $100 fine. Your employer, upset with your mistake, makes you pay the fine. True, you should have been more careful about who you were selling cigarettes too, but can they make you pay the fine?

What about a construction worker, operating an expensive piece of equipment who accidentally breaks the equipment during use? Can the employer force the employee to pay for the cost of repair or replacement? Or maybe a clerk working for a retail store who accepts a check for payment, but the check turns out to be cold? Can the clerk’s paycheck be docked for the price of the item sold or the cost of the returned check?

The answer to these questions is a resounding NO. Kentucky law is very explicit in what employers can and cannot do when withholding wages. KRS 337.060 states:

[N]o employer shall deduct the following from the wages of employees:

(a) Fines;

(b) Cash shortages in a common money till, cash box or register used by two (2) or more persons;

(c) Breakage;

(d) Losses due to acceptance by an employee of checks which are subsequently dishonored if such employee is given discretion to accept or reject any check; or

Losses due to defective or faulty workmanship, lost or stolen property, damage to property, default of customer credit, or nonpayment for goods or services received by the customer if such losses are not attributable to employee’s willful or intentional disregard of employer’s interest.

Despite the dictates of KRS 337.060, many employers still choose to deduct losses from their employees paychecks. Unfortunately a number of these clear violations of law go unreported by employees, either because employers wrongfully inform them that they can legally take the money, or because employees may feel guilty that their actions resulted in a loss to the employer. Whatever the reason, an employer withholding wages from an employee for any of the above reasons remains illegal, and the resulting lost wages are recoverable from the employer. Furthermore, employees can recover liquidated damages equal to the amount of the unpaid wages, as well as attorney’s fees for bringing an action to recover the lost wages.

So if you find yourself in a position where your employer is forcing you to pay for a fine, or for theft, or even for breaking or damaging the employer’s equipment, you should immediately seek the advice of counsel to determine the legal options available to you. The actions being taken against you are likely illegal, and you’ll need help to recover what you are rightfully owed.

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