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Charging Employees for Broken Equipment Maine

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  • Charging Employees for Broken Equipment Maine

    Can my employer threaten to fire any employee who doesn't "chip in" to fix a piece of equipment (in this case, part of an air conditioning unit that provides a/c for the whole restaurant) because he is under the assumption that an employee (employer doesn't know which one) somehow contributed (employer doesn't know how) to the fact that the unit needs to be repaired. The employer does not have proof of who or how it was broken.

    I couldn't find anything in the threads about this specifically. I know that wages can be garnished to pay for something an employee definitely broke, as long as the garnish doesn't bring them below minimum wage. My employer hasn't gone so far as to imply that he will garnish wages but he has said "anyone who doesn't contribute cash to fix the a/c will be fired". I'm assuming there's something illegal about that.

    Some additional info: there are only 8 employees and it's going to cost between $700-800 to fix the unit, so I'm going on a little more than just principle. Also, most employees here make minimum wage, or just barely above, so "chipping in" $100 would put a serious dent in their pay.

    Thanks to anyone who can help

  • #2
    RE Charging Employees for broken equipment

    Hmm Well, I'll take a whack at your inquiry. In right to work states, you can be fired for virtually any reason. There are some protected situations but even those can be difficult to prove in many cases. But Maine is not a right to work state. My experience in non-right-to-work states is this: you could still be fired if you have violated policy, etc. This boss sounds like someone who would simply start to play games and find all kinds of little things, real or imagined, to write you up on and eventually fire you for. My personal advice would be this: evaluate the risk that this boss, who appears from your description to be of questionable integrity, will actually immediately or in the not too distant future actually fire you and/or your co-workers on this or some other trumped up charges. Bide yourself some time and find another job when you can. Life is too short to put up with that! I personally would not agree to the pay back but you need to assess the risk for yourself.

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    • #3
      Let's get our terminology straight, shall we?

      In a right to work state, you do not have to join a union to get work. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the reasons you can and cannot be fired.

      What you mean is that in an employment at will state, you can be fired for any reason that does not specifically violate the law (and you can quit for any reason).
      Every state in the US, except Montana, is an employment at will state, and Montana recognizes the at-will doctrine in some situations.

      I'm sorry I didn't see this earlier. Very few states allow an employee to be charged for breakages, shortages and errors. While I don't have a site specific to Maine, Maine has rather more protections for employees than most states, so I think it quite unlikely that this would be permitted under wage and hour laws of Maine. You'll want to contact the Maine DOL when and if you are charged or a deduction taken.
      The above answer, whatever it is, assumes that no legally binding and enforceable contract or CBA says otherwise. If it does, then the terms of the contract or CBA apply.

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      • #4
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/At-will

        This is the federal rules on wage deductions:
        http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs16.pdf

        This is what I could find on Maine wage deductions:
        An employer may not withhold or deduct wages from an employees wages for:

        cash shortages,
        inventory shortages,
        dishonored checks,
        dishonored credit cards,
        damages to the employer’s property in any form or
        any merchandise purchased by a customer.
        An employer cannot deduct or withhold any portion of an employee’s wages except for:

        the payment of a loan, debt or advance made to the person,
        for the payment of any merchandise voluntarily purchased by the employee from the employer,
        for sick or accident benefits, or life or group insurance premiums, excluding compensation insurance, that an employee has agreed to pay, or
        rent, light or water expense of a company-owned house or building.
        Maine Stat. 26:629
        Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. Leo Buscaglia

        Live in peace with animals. Animals bring love to our hearts and warmth to our souls.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by jessica.a View Post
          Can my employer threaten to fire any employee who doesn't "chip in" to fix a piece of equipment
          I envision a different scenario, in which an employer hands an employee a paycheck, offers to cash it on the spot, and takes a "chip in" back from the employee. There is no reduction in pay, minimum wage laws are complied with, and no messy deductions to spoil the picture-- I've seen this done more times than I can remember.

          In that case, unless Maine has some specific provisions which I didn't see, the OP would have to decide whether this was a hill on which she wishes to die. Of course, if 6 or 8 employees banded together to call the employer's bluff (it's called collective bargaining), firing everyone may be tantamount to business suicide.

          This guy sounds like a real piece of work. If you're getting min wage or thereabouts, there has to be another job just like it down the street, where the employer doesn't expect employees to maintain the physical plant.

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          • #6
            I agree that an employer "could" do that. It's just like if they can't deduct from wages, an employer "can" still sue an employee(s) in small claims court for money they believe is owed them. They may or may not win.
            Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. Leo Buscaglia

            Live in peace with animals. Animals bring love to our hearts and warmth to our souls.

            Comment

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