Rights, Policies Wage Deduction for Work Uniforms, Tools, Cash Register Shortages

  1. This article discusses whether your employer is entitled to take money from your paycheck for work related tools, work uniforms or cash register shortages.

    Work Uniforms, Tools and Cash Register Deductions

    There are employers who will try to deduct money from employee paychecks for the cost of items that are necessary for a job, such as tools or work uniforms. Other items that employers may also seek to deduct from employee paychecks may include cash register shortages (when the employee is a cashier) and items which may have been broken by the employee.

    While some employers will try to deduct these items from employee paychecks, it is general illegal for the employer to do so. In some states where employers are allowed to take some of these deductions, there are specific rules which must be followed. The following are common rules present in state and federal law to which employers must adhere regarding deductions from employee paychecks

    Uniform Costs

    According to federal law, an employer may deduct the cost of the supply and maintenance of uniforms from the paychecks of employees so long as this deduction does not cause the employee’s pay to drop under the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Accordingly, an employer cannot deduct the cost of a uniform from an employee’s paycheck if that employee is only being paid the minimum wage since the effective wage paid to the employee would then be below federal minimum wage guidelines.

    State law may differ and some prohibit employers from deducting anything at all for uniforms if the uniform has a company name or logo on the uniform and will be of limited, if any value to the employee. Some states do not allow employers to deduct the cost of uniforms at all, regardless of whether a name or logo appears. In summary, the only law preventing an employer from ultimately passing off the cost of a uniform to employees is the floor set of the federal minimum wage.

    Costs of Work Equipment or Work Tools

    The same federal law which applies to uniforms also applies to work tools or equipment. Employers can only deduct the cost of work equipment or tools from employee wages provided that employee pay does not go below the federal minimum wage. State law regarding work tools and equipment also resembles that of work uniforms. Some states may only allow employers to deduct the cost of work tools from employee paychecks provided that the net effect is that employee wages do not drop them below the federal minimum wage. Other states may require that employers provide all job related tools and employees cannot be charged for them.

    Work Meals and Lodging

    According to federal law, employers are allowed to deduct the cost of meals and lodging from employee wages if they are provided even if this means that the net effect on employee wages are that they will be dropped below the federal minimum wage. Many fast food restaurants charge the restaurant employees for meals that they eat during a shift, even though the employee may be paid the minimum wage.

    In order to deduct the cost of meals and lodging from employee wages, the meals and lodging must be provided as a matter of course to all employees. The amount that can be deducted must also be a reasonable cost and not for the full selling price to general consumers.

    Most states allow the deduction of meals and lodging from employee wages but some states have restrictions in place, such as obtaining written permission from the employee that this amount can be deducted or a limited amount may be deducted from the employee’s paycheck.

    Cash Register Shortages and Deductions for Breakages

    There are rules which apply to the deduction for losses from the paycheck of an employee who breaks something on the job or works as a cashier whose end of day cash in the register falls below the amount that should have been collected. Federal law allows employers to deduct money from an employee’s paycheck for accidental breakages of merchandise or for cash register shortages only if the deduction would not cause the employee to earn less than the minimum wage.

    Some state laws require employers obtain explicit written permission from the employee before they can deduct money for breakages or cash register shortages. Other states may only allow the employer to deduct these charges if the employee willingly accepts responsibility for them. In the state of California employers are only allowed to deduct breakages and cash register shortages from employee wages if the employee’s misconduct was intentional or negligent and the employer has reasonable proof. The state of California takes the position that losses are merely part and parcel of running a business and that they should not be passed on to the employee but borne by the employer.

    State Law May Determine Employee Wage Deductions

    While the federal minimum wage is used to ultimately determine the floor to which an employee may make deductions, it is extremely important to determine the state law that applies to your job. It will set additional guidelines that will help answer the question as to whether wage deductions your employer make take from your paycheck are in accordance with the law. State law information can be easily obtained from any experienced labor and employment law attorney or from your state labor department.

    Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler
    Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of TheLaw.com, A. Research Scholar at Columbia Business School and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at Zedge.net and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.


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