When can my employer dock my pay?

Produced by Lydia Edwards, Director of Legal Services Brazilian Immigrant Center, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Neighborhood Legal Services
Last Updated June 2015

 When your employer takes money out of your pay, it is a “deduction”. Some people call it “docking” your pay. Employers must give you a pay slip every time they pay you. The pay slip must list all the deductions from your pay. Your employer is only allowed to deduct certain things.

  1. Your employer must deduct some money, like taxes, and money a court has ordered, like child support.
  2. He can take some deductions that you agree to and that you want taken out, like an IRA or a health plan.

Deductions your employer must take out of your paycheck

  • State and federal taxes,
  • Social Security (FICA) contributions,
  • Court ordered wage garnishments or income assignments like child support.

Deductions you can ask for

  • Credit union payments,
  • Insurance premiums,
  • Lodging and Meals. There are specific rules about how much your employer can take out and when,1
  • Pension contributions,
  • Union dues or agency service fees,
  • Contributions to charities,
  • Vacation, health, and welfare fund contributions.

What else can my employer take out of my check?

The only deductions your employer can take from your pay are deductions he or she must take and deductions you have agreed to. Your employer must have your agreement in writing. Your employer cannot decide to take other deductions out of your pay for any other reason.2

Sometimes employers take money out of your pay to pay themselves back for cash shortages, or property damage.

But this is not legal.

cash shortages

If your employer believes you are the reason for a cash shortage, he or she must prove you committed a crime. If they want you to pay for the cash shortage, they must take you to court and prove you took the money.  Your employer cannot simply pay you less.   

property damages

Your employer may not deduct from your wages the cost of any property damage you caused.

He or she cannot dock you for

  • the cost of general wear and tear type damage to property,
  • damage you caused to his or her property, nor
  • damages you caused to someone else’s property.

If your employer feels that you intended to damage the property he or she may ask your permission to take the cost of the damage out of your pay, or she can take you to court. She can only take the cost of the damages out of your pay if you agree in writing. You do not have to agree.3

Business expenses

Your employer cannot dock the cost of tools, equipment, cleaning supplies, gas, insurance, or his other business expenses from your pay. All of these are “ordinary business expenses” your employer must pay.4 He is not allowed to make you pay for them.

What if I am late, or my employer overpaid me?

Sometimes your check may not be the full amount that you expect it to be. It is less than usual. It  seems like your employer is charging you for lateness or overpayments. But your employer only has to pay your for the work you do.

Lateness

Your employer only has to pay you for the time that you work. If you work normally 9:00 am-5:00 pm, or 40 hours a week the employer must pay you for all 40 hours.

If you come into work after 9:00 am your employer must only pay you for the time you actually worked. So, if you come in at 9:30, your employer only has to pay you for 7.5 hours that day.

Overpayments

Your employer may make a mistake and pay you too much.  Your employer only has to pay you for the time you worked.

If your employer overpays you she can take it out of another paycheck in the future. But she still has to pay you minimum wage in each check. So, she cannot subtract the overpayment from your paycheck if it will put your pay below minimum wage.

If I borrow money from my boss, can she pay herself back by taking it out of my paycheck?

No. If you borrow money from your boss, she has to get your written permission to take the money from your paycheck.

Can my employer make me pay for my uniform?

No. If your employer says you must wear a uniform he or she must pay for it. If the uniform must be dry-cleaned, or washed in some special way your employer must repay you for the cost of cleaning it.

If you can wash the uniform with your own clothes, and it does not require any special treatment, your employer does not have to repay you for the cost of washing it.5

What can I do if my employer docks my paycheck illegally?

If your employer docks your paycheck illegally, you can make a claim with the Office of the Attorney General. If you are not sure about any policy at your work, call the Attorney General's Fair Labor Division Hotline (617) 727-3465.

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

Ask a Law Librarian

If it's
Monday-Friday
between
9am and 4pm