When Can an Employer Withhold Your Paycheck?

When you agree to work for a particular company, your employer must pay you the hourly, weekly or monthly rate you agreed to. However, you usually won't get your entire paycheck each pay period, as employers must deduct wages to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. Employers may deduct wages for other reasons; however, they may not deduct wages arbitrarily or without a court order. If an employer withholds wages for an illegitimate reason, contact an attorney.


Compliance With State and Federal Laws

Employers may withhold wages if required to do so by state or federal laws. For example, employers typically withhold a percentage of each paycheck to forward to the Internal Revenue Service and the state revenue department in compliance with taxation laws. If the employer gets a letter from the IRS locking in a withholding rate for the employee, the employer must follow the IRS' directive when withholding taxes.


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Employee Authorized Benefits

Some employers offer benefits that the employee can pay for via automatic payroll deduction. For example, if the employee elects to enroll in a health insurance plan, the employer may withhold a portion of the employee's paycheck to pay for health insurance benefits. Other common benefits that employees pay for by deducting amounts from their paychecks are contributions to retirement plans or profit sharing plans. Employers can also deduct wages if a collective bargaining agreement requires all employees to contribute to a particular plan.


Wage Garnishments

If an employee defaults on a debt, the creditor can sometimes get a writ of garnishment against the debtor following a lawsuit. The writ of garnishment requires the employer to withhold a portion of the employee's paycheck each pay period and forward it to the creditor until the employee repays the debt. State laws vary as to the maximum amount the court may order an employer to garnish for this purpose.


Child Support

Some states require employers to garnish employees wages to pay for child support after a divorce. Other states only impose this requirement if a non-custodial parent fails to meet her child support obligations. In either case, employers have the right to withhold wages to pay for child support if ordered to do so by a divorce court or child support enforcement agency.