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Permissible and Impermissible Wage Deductions Under Federal Law

    Wage deductions can be a complex area of employment law, and it’s crucial for both employers and employees to understand what is permissible and impermissible under federal law. Violating wage deduction regulations can result in legal disputes and financial penalties. In this article, we will explore examples of permissible and impermissible wage deductions under federal law, providing insights from credible third-party legal sources.

    Permissible Wage Deductions

    1. Wage Garnishments

    Wage garnishments are court-ordered deductions from an employee’s wages to satisfy debts. These deductions are permissible under federal law, and employers must comply with the garnishment orders. Common examples include:

    • Child support payments
    • Alimony payments
    • Student loan repayments

    Federal law, specifically the Consumer Credit Protection Act, limits the amount that can be garnished from an employee’s paycheck, generally up to 25% of disposable income.

    Source: Consumer Credit Protection Act (15 U.S.C. § 1671)

    2. Tax Withholdings

    Federal and state income taxes must be withheld from employees’ wages. Employers are required to calculate and withhold the appropriate amount based on the employee’s filing status and exemptions claimed on their W-4 form.

    • Federal Income Tax
    • State Income Tax (where applicable)

    Failure to comply with tax withholding requirements can result in penalties for employers.

    Source: Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C. § 3402)

    3. Payroll Deductions for Employee Benefits

    Employers often offer various benefits, such as health insurance, retirement plans, and flexible spending accounts. These benefits typically involve permissible payroll deductions, where employees authorize deductions from their wages to fund these benefits.

    • Health Insurance Premiums
    • 401(k) Contributions
    • Health Savings Account (HSA) Contributions

    Employers must obtain proper authorization from employees before making these deductions.

    Source: Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)

    Impermissible Wage Deductions

    1. Minimum Wage Violations

    Federal law mandates a minimum wage, which employers must pay to their employees. Any deductions that bring an employee’s wage below the minimum wage rate are impermissible.

    • Example: An employer cannot deduct uniform or equipment costs if it results in an employee earning less than the minimum wage.

    Source: Fair Labor Standards Act (29 U.S.C. § 206)

    2. Unlawful Discrimination

    Deductions that discriminate against employees based on protected characteristics, such as race, gender, religion, or disability, are impermissible. This includes withholding wages as a form of retaliation or discrimination.

    • Example: An employer cannot deduct wages as a form of punishment for an employee’s religious practices.

    Source: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C. § 2000e)

    3. Misclassification of Employees

    Improperly classifying employees as independent contractors and making deductions that are allowed for independent contractors can lead to wage deduction violations.

    • Example: Deducting business expenses from a worker’s pay when the worker should be classified as an employee, not an independent contractor.

    Source: Fair Labor Standards Act (29 U.S.C. § 203(e)(1))

    4. Unauthorized Deductions

    Employers must obtain written authorization from employees before making wage deductions, except for legally required deductions. Unauthorized deductions, even with good intentions, are generally impermissible.

    • Example: An employer cannot deduct money from an employee’s paycheck to cover damages caused by the employee without their explicit consent.

    Source: Fair Labor Standards Act (29 C.F.R. § 541.602)

    5. Recoupment of Overpayments

    Employers may overpay employees for various reasons, such as clerical errors. Recouping these overpayments through wage deductions is subject to strict federal rules and may be impermissible in some cases.

    • Example: Attempting to recoup an overpayment too quickly, causing the employee financial hardship.

    Source: 29 C.F.R. § 531.37


    Understanding permissible and impermissible wage deductions under federal law is essential for both employers and employees. Violating these regulations can lead to costly legal disputes and penalties. It is crucial to consult with legal experts and refer to federal statutes and regulations to ensure compliance. By following the rules and principles outlined in this article, you can navigate wage deduction issues with confidence, knowing you are upholding federal labor standards.

    Disclaimer: This article provides general information and should not be considered legal advice. For specific legal questions or concerns, consult with an attorney or legal expert in employment law.

    Sources: Legal information is based on the United States Code (U.S.C.) and the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) as of the knowledge cutoff date in January 2022.