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BusinessColumnistsCarrie Mason-Draffen

Employer can’t deduct workers’ wages for register shortages

Employers are not permitted to charge employees for

Employers are not permitted to charge employees for breakages, cash shortages, fines or any other losses to the business. But workers can be fired for shortages. Photo Credit: Getty Images / iStockphoto / Kanawa_Studio

DEAR CARRIE: Is it legal for an employer to deduct from the wages of bartenders and cashiers when their tills come up short? — Pay Away

DEAR PAY: No it isn’t. And state labor law is clear on that.

“Employers are only allowed to deduct certain items from an employee’s wages, such as taxes, insurance premiums, union dues, etc.,” says the state Labor Department’s website. “They are not permitted to charge employees for breakages, cash shortages, fines or any other losses to the business.”

The general rule in labor law is that, except for taxes, an employer cannot deduct money from the pay of employees without their written consent.

That said, if you aren’t covered by a union or employment contract, the company could fire you for the shortages. That’s because New York is an employment-at-will state, which means that employees not covered by contracts can be fired at any time and for any reason.

Still, the company cannot legally take money from your check to cover the shortfalls or demand a separate payment.

Not only could your company face a violation for deducting your pay illegally, it could also face a minimum wage violation if the deductions drop your wages for the week below $10 an hour, the current hourly minimum wage on Long Island.

You should call the state Labor Department for more guidance at 516-794-8195. If you work in New York City call 212-775-3880.

DEAR CARRIE: I have a question about a worker who is out on a workers compensation claim. He worked as a seasonal employee and will be out about six months. If he is not able to come back to work before the new season starts, can the employer fill the position right away, and is the employer obligated to hire that employee again? — Employer’s Rights

DEAR EMPLOYER’S: For answers, I turned to an attorney who primarily represents employers, Christine Malafi, a partner at Campolo, Middleton & McCormick in Ronkonkoma.

Based on the facts you presented, she said the employer wouldn’t have to hold the job open.

“An employer does not have keep a position vacant because a seasonal worker is out on a workers’ compensation claim, and the employer can hire someone else to fill the position for the season,” Malafi said.

But the timing can be tricky.

“It is important to remember, however, that an employer cannot fire an employee, seasonal or not, for filing a workers’ compensation claim,” Malafi said. “An employer subjects itself to discrimination claims if it fires an employee for filing a workers’ compensation claim.”

DEAR CARRIE: I am a social worker employed for four days a week at a non-profit school. I was informed that I had to work an extra day and that I would be paid for the time. When I received my paycheck, I saw that I was paid just $50 for the day, and it was labeled “staff development.” My daily rate is much higher than that. Is this legal? — Dollars Short

DEAR DOLLARS: It probably is because you are most likely an exempt worker, meaning that your employer doesn’t have to pay you for extra hours. And if the school decides to pay for the added time, it can determine what to pay you.

Workers such as yourself fall into the category of “professionals.” Their jobs require advanced knowledge and the exercise of discretion, state and federal law say.

So by paying you even as little as $50 for the extra day, the school gave you more than the laws require. But it sounds like your employer could have better prepared you for what to expect.

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