Can an employer garnish the wages of an employee who was working when a restaurant was robbed?

My brother-in-law was a manager at a restaurant when it was held up at gunpoint. Now, the restaurant owners are trying to say that he is responsible for the stolen money. They are telling him that they are going to garnish his wages to recoup the money. He had NOTHING to do with the robbery, has a great reputation as a manager and is just lost about what to do. Is this legal? What should he do?

thx.

1 answer  |  asked Nov 8, 2009 6:18 PM [EST]  |  applies to Texas

Answers (1)

Thad Harkins
Under Texas Labor Code Section 61.018, an employer can only garnish wages if they have a written agreement signed by the employee to do so. If they present him with one, and he refuses, they can fire him, but he should be able to get unemployment benefits, if it's any consolation. Many restaurants have employees sign a pay deduction form as part of their cash-management policies (mainly for when $$$ is short in a till, or any unauthorized expenses), so he may have already signed one.

If he is fired for refusing to sign one, or if he allows it and then wants to challenge it as improper while still employed, there may be a claim (though difficult) that the garnishment or proposed garnishment is illegal, as the statutory section requires that any garnishment by agreement must be for a "lawful" purpose. This claim is weaker if the employer has evidence he mismanaged his position (for example, by leaving a safe open or a door unlocked, or leaving too much money in a till during shifts, contrary to a written cash management/security policy). If he does want to challenge their action, he should consult a local employment attorney, who may find a "creative" application of this narrow statutory language to assert a legal claim - that the garnishment, or termination for refusing to sign an agreement to allow it, is contrary to the language of the statute, as making an employee pay a debt they do not owe is not for a "lawful purpose." I know of no case where this has ever been asserted, but it's worth at least seeing if any attorney would review it, if there is no specific cash control policy he's violated, but the robbery was merely an unforseeable act.

Look for an attorney to consult with in your area by going to the pulldown "LAWYERS" bar on this site, and type in TEXAS, or go to www.nela.org or www.telaonline.com. There are several fine lawyers throughout the state on these links.

posted by Thad Harkins  |  Nov 9, 2009 6:51 PM [EST]

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