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  • Who is responsible for damages Massachusetts

    I work in a shop that often need to make deliveries. We have numerous box trucks in our fleet. My company handbook states:

    "An operator of a Company truck that strikes the overhead of an underpass or superstructure shall bear full responsibility to (company name here) for all out-of-pocket costs incurred for repair to the vehicle."

    Now for the other facts:

    -All drivers are listed under the company's general vehicle insurance for regular accidents

    -According to the owner/boss, the boxes of a truck are too expensive to insure and therefore if anyone gets in an accident resulting in damage of the box due to an underpass/low tree/etc. it is their problem

    -No drivers (or any employees for that matter) have signed the company handbook or any other employment agreement.

    -No agreement is signed when you become a driver. All that is required is a copy of our driver's liscense, a copy of our driving record, and a medical exam proving we are not on drugs and can see/hear/etc.

    So the question(s):

    Is it legal to force an employee to pay damages of company property in this case?

    He states he would take it out of ones paycheck should they refuse to pay. (minimum wage laws aside) is it legal for him to take ANY wages earned without pre-written authorization?

    Thank you for any light you might be able to shed on this matter.

  • #2
    I would say that it is within the rights of the employer to look to the employee to reimburse the company for damages.

    Many companies self insure.

    I don't know how legal garnishment is, but the actual request for repayment is legal.
    Not everything that makes you mad, sad or uncomfortable is legally actionable.

    I am not now nor ever was an attorney.

    Any statements I make are based purely upon my personal experiences and research which may or may not be accurate in a court of law.

    Comment


    • #3
      Generally speaking the employer would need written authorization to withhold from his pay check and the deduction could not take the employee below minimum wage. If he's considered "exempt" under FLSA then no deduction can be made from his pay (DOL Opinion Letter FLSA2006-7). Any reimbursements to the company would have to be out of pocket. If the company/employee cannot reach an agreement on repayment, the employer has the option of making a civil complaint against the employee.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by robb71
        Generally speaking the employer would need written authorization to withhold from his pay check and the deduction could not take the employee below minimum wage. If he's considered "exempt" under FLSA then no deduction can be made from his pay (DOL Opinion Letter FLSA2006-7). Any reimbursements to the company would have to be out of pocket. If the company/employee cannot reach an agreement on repayment, the employer has the option of making a civil complaint against the employee.
        I agree.

        The demand for damages is legal... but garnishment is a pretty protected action.

        So, to sum up... you owe your employer for the repairs. How you pay back the company is still on the table.
        Not everything that makes you mad, sad or uncomfortable is legally actionable.

        I am not now nor ever was an attorney.

        Any statements I make are based purely upon my personal experiences and research which may or may not be accurate in a court of law.

        Comment


        • #5
          Let's clear up a couple of things here.

          Generally speaking, the FLSA does not address "deductions" as in from NET pay, with very few exceptions. When the FLSA speaks of "deductions", in the majority of contexts, it is actually referring to "deductions" from salary/wages (GROSS pay), or, to use a better term "wage reductions". It is not a violation, in and of itself, to make a deduction from the NET pay of an employee IF state law is adhered to (if applicable) and if the amount does not reduce the employee's salary to less than the statutory minimum for exempt employees ($455/week in most states) or the hourly minimum wage (for nonexempt employees).

          Secondly, a "garnishment" is an order by a legal authority, normally a court, served on the employer ordering said employer to deduct from their employee's wages to satisfy a judgement granted by the court to a third-party debtor. In my nearly 30 years in payroll, I've never heard of ANY company "garnishing" their own employee's wages.
          Last edited by Pattymd; 08-04-2006, 03:35 AM.
          I don't respond to Private Messages unless the moderator specifically refers you to me for that purpose. Thank you.

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          • #6
            OK, I stand (well, I sit) corrected. I was just researching another issue and found something on one of my APA publications regarding a Q&A with federal DOL officials. The question specifically had to do with salary advances, overpayment recoveries, and deductions for equipment. The DOL investigator stated:
            With respect to exempt employees, you cannot make the deduction at all, because they're supposed to receive their salary free and clear. For example, if a boss loans an exempt employee a laptop and has the employee sign an agreement that says "If you break it, you bought it", the employee doesn't have to pay any attention to that.
            Now, a lot of posters here tend to think all we HR professionals are "on the employer's side". Well, the law is the law. In this case, I think this particular interpretation is just silly. In my opinion, there are plenty of reasons why an exempt employee should be held just as responsible for being negligent with company property as should nonexempt employees. But, I don't make the rules.

            I think I'll go throw my old, slow, black and white printer out the window now.
            I don't respond to Private Messages unless the moderator specifically refers you to me for that purpose. Thank you.

            Comment


            • #7
              Agreed. These are typically referred to as deductions, and not garnishments.

              The MA DOS issued an opinion letter in April 2003 adressing seven deduction requests and denied them all (MW-2003-003), including "breakages such as … damage to employer’s goods", IF they cause the wages to fall below minimum wage rates.

              The Federal guidelines on deductions from wages can be found at 29 CFR sections 778.304-778.307

              Interestingly, there may be an unexpected benefit. By making an improper deduction, the company may have jeopardized the overtime exemption entirely. Now, all the employees would be non-exempt employees, entitled to overtime pay.

              The DOL, in a March 10, 2006 opinion dealing with whether an employer could require exempt employees to work more than 40 hours per week, also dealt with the issue of deductions allowed by FLSA (http://www.dol.gov/esa/whd/opinion/F...0_07_FLSA.pdf).

              29 CFR 541.602(a) requires regular pay "which amount is not subject to reduction because of variations in the quality or quantity of the work performed."

              Requiring reimbursement for damages is a very tricky problem for emlpoyers.

              Phil
              This post is by Philip Gordon, a Massachusetts employment attorney (www.gordonllp.com).

              This post is NOT legal advice. It is for general/educational information purposes only. You should not rely on this post if you are making decisions, and it does not create an attorney-client relationship. This post may be considered "advertising" under the MA professional rules for attorneys.

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