DEAR CARRIE: I have been out of work for more than a year and receive workers’ compensation benefits. Since I belong to a union, I am entitled to a raise each year, as stated in our contract. But the union says that I cannot get that raise until I return to work. It is legal for the union to make me wait?
— Raising a Point
DEAR RAISING: Unfortunately, it is legal to make you wait because of the nature of workers’ comp payments, a lawyer said.
The benefit you receive is based on what you were earning at the time of your injury, said Brian M. Mittman, managing partner at Markhoff & Mittman, a White Plains-based firm whose focus includes workers’ comp. The firm also has an office in East Meadow.
If, for example, you were making $1,000 a week at the time of your injury, your workers’ comp weekly benefit would be 2/3 of that, or $667, he said.
“If in that time you got a raise to $1,200, it is not going to change your workers’ comp because the workers’ comp is based on the $1,000 you were making at the time of the accident,” Mittman said. “Once you go back on the payroll, you will be entitled to a raise.”
Just a note about workers’ comp payments: The weekly maximum payment is $844 for the current benefit year, which ends Thursday, according to the state Workers’ Compensation Board website. That maximum is expected to rise to $864, based on the usual formula of 2/3 of the latest New York State average weekly wage, which was $1,296 in 2015, according to the Labor Department website.
DEAR CARRIE: My 23-year-old son worked part time at a greenhouse. While on the job, he inadvertently dented a company vehicle he was asked to drive. Now, his employer wants to deduct $300 from his final paycheck to cover the damage. To me, this is completely illegal. What’s more, the damage should be covered by his employer’s insurance. Kindly advise whether the company can legally deduct money for damages. If not, how can my son get his money back if the company proceeds with its plan?
— Dent in Paycheck
DEAR DENT: It is blatantly illegal for the company to deduct payments from your son’s paycheck for damages. The company could violate at least three state and federal labor laws if it does so. For starters, state law says that companies cannot deduct the cost of damages from employees’ checks and cannot demand a separate payment. Secondly, except for taxes, a company cannot deduct from employees’ wages without the workers’ consent. Lastly, the company could face a minimum-wage violation if the deductions reduced your son’s hourly pay for the pay period to below minimum wage.
Here is what the state Labor Department’s website says about deductions from employees’ wages:
“Employers are only allowed to deduct certain items from an employee’s wages, such as taxes, insurance premiums, union dues, etc. They are not permitted to charge employees for breakages, cash shortages, fines or any other losses to the business.”
Even though your son no longer works for the greenhouse, it’s worth noting that unless he belonged to a union, the business could have fired him for the damage or for any reason at all. But the company can’t legally charge him for the damage.
If the business deducts the money from his check, he should send an email or letter telling the greenhouse that the deduction is illegal and ask for his money back. He should also send along a copy of this column. If that doesn’t work, he should complain to the New York State Labor Department at 516-794-8195 or 212-775-3880.
Go to bit.ly/liwageform to download a state wage-claim form.