By now the whole world (and not just Game of Thrones fans) knows that the Lannisters pay their debts; but what if your employees don’t? What happens when your former employee won’t return his computer, smart phone, company car, or worse, when you catch him stealing your property or embezzling your money? Why can’t you just take it out of his final paycheck?
The answer is simple: wages are sacred.
Under section 61.018 of the Texas Payday Law, all deductions from wages (other than payroll taxes, court-ordered garnishments, and other deductions either required by law or specifically authorized by statute) must be both lawful and specifically authorized in writing by the employee.
Many employers forget to get written authorization. By the time you are well into the termination process, getting an employee’s written authorization to take their final wages is nearly impossible. You have better odds at defeating The Mountain, or maybe not.
So how can you protect yourself?
Easy, get written authorization when you hire them. A simple Wage Deduction Authorization Agreement – which can be signed along with your Employee Handbook — will allow you to deduct:
- amounts from wages for unreturned property;
- wage overpayments;
- unpaid health insurance premiums which were required to be paid while on leave;
- vacation days taken in advance; and
- a litany of other items that you probably don’t think of, until it is too late.
Even with a signed authorization from the employee, you should consult your attorney before you make any deductions. Some deductions are unlawful, such as those for debts arising from illegal gambling and contraband, or those that can violate other laws (limitations on deduction amounts for child support garnishments, IRS tax levies, or student loan wage attachments). Other deductions may be unlawful, particularly those that are not allowed for FLSA exempt employees, or those that take a non-exempt employee’s wages below the minimum wage. Knowing the difference is key to avoiding Jaime Lannister’s fate - with your hand cut off and unable to defend those who depend on you.
Therefore, before you think of meting out justice against your former employee – acting as Tywin Lannister and executioner – you should at least consider wise counsel.