EDMOND — EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly series written by attorneys at Lester, Loving and Davies law firm in Edmond.
Q: Some employees of my small business purchase products from our business and have accounts with us. May we deduct the payments due on their accounts from their paychecks? If we fire an employee who owes us money, may we deduct what he owes from his last paycheck?
A: The law has very specific legal requirements that must be met in conducting these types of transactions with employees.
In Oklahoma, an employer must have specific written authorization from an employee before making deductions from the employee’s wages for anything other than deductions required by law or court order.
Therefore, to deduct for the employee’s portion of insurance premiums, payments for uniforms, loans or payments on accounts, the employer must have a written payroll deduction agreement signed by the employee. The employer must have this payroll deduction agreement before the check is due to the employee. The employer cannot withhold the check until getting the signed agreement, nor obtain the agreement afterward.
The best way to protect your business is thus any time you allow an employee to have an account with the business, include in the account papers specific authorization, signed by the employee, to deduct monies owed on the account from the employee’s paycheck. It is advisable to consult legal counsel when drafting such agreements.
The law requires most employers to pay employees at least twice each calendar month, on regular paydays designated in advance by the employer. When an employee ceases to work for an employer, regardless of the reason, the employer must pay the employee the wages due by the next regular payday.
At that time, the employer may withhold money for certain items such as the value of the employer’s money or property retained by the employee upon termination and deductions allowed by law or written agreement. However, in our opinion, the employer still must have a signed agreement from the employee to withhold amounts owed on an account.
Under specific conditions, an employer also may withhold any wages over which there is a bona fide disagreement, such as where there is a dispute over whether hours were actually worked. But an employer must be careful in deducting wages from an employee’s paycheck. If too much is withheld or it is withheld for an improper reason, the employer may be required to pay damages in addition to the wages due.
The safest route is to have a written agreement before making deductions, and to consult a lawyer about any concern over the amount of wages owed.