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Wage Garnishment Laws

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Where does the government stand on wage garnishment laws?

Wage Garnishment Laws

by Section 6(a)(1) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. This limit applies regardless of how many garnishment orders an employer receives. As of September 1, 1997, the federal minimum wage is $5.15 per hour.

In court orders for child support or alimony, Title III allows up to 50 percent of an employee's disposable earnings to be garnished if the employee is supporting a current spouse or child, and up to 60 percent if the employee is not doing so. An additional five percent may be garnished for support payments over 12 weeks in arrears. The restrictions noted in the preceding paragraph do not apply to such garnishments.

"Disposable earnings" is the amount of earnings left after legally required deductions (e.g., federal, state and local taxes, Social Security, unemployment insurance and state employee retirement systems) have been made. Deductions not required by law (e.g., union dues, health and life insurance, and charitable contributions) are not subtracted from gross earnings when the amount of disposable earnings for garnishment purposes is calculated.

Title III specifies that garnishment restrictions do not apply to bankruptcy court orders and debts due for federal and state taxes. Nor do they affect voluntary wage assignments, i.e., situations where workers voluntarily agree that their employers may turn over a specified amount of their earnings to a creditor or creditors.

Employee Rights
In most cases, Title III gives wage earners the right to receive at least partial compensation for the personal services they provide despite wage garnishment. This law also prohibits an employer from discharging an employee because of garnishment of wages for any one indebtedness. The Wage and Hour Division of the Employment Standards Administration accepts complaints of alleged Title III violations.

Compliance Assistance Available
The Wage and Hour Division administers and enforces Title III. More detailed information, including copies of explanatory brochures and regulatory and interpretative materials, may be obtained by contacting the local Wage and Hour offices (1-866-4USWAGE). Compliance assistance information is available from the Wage and Hour Division's Web site.

Violations of Title III may result in reinstatement of a discharged employee, payment of back wages, and restoration of improperly garnished amounts. Where violations cannot be resolved through informal means, the Department of Labor may initiate court action to restrain violators and remedy violations. Employers who willfully violate the discharge provisions of the law may be prosecuted criminally and fined up to $1,000, or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.

Relation to State, Local and Other Federal Laws
If a state wage garnishment law differs from Title III, the employer must observe the law resulting in the smaller garnishment, or prohibiting the discharge of an employee because his or her earnings have been subject to garnishment for more than one debt.



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