Garnishments 101: A short refresher
Payroll garnishments — “continuing earnings garnishments” — are court-ordered procedures that require an employer to withhold certain amounts from an employee’s paycheck and send those amounts directly to a third-person individual or entity to whom the employee owes a debt. When a continuing earnings garnishment is received, the employer must garnish wages due for a period of six months or until that debt is repaid, whichever is first. Below are some best practices for handling these types of garnishments.
Employer requirements and best practices
First, an employer should designate an appropriate individual to receive and promptly respond to all garnishments, preferably an HR professional.
Then, once a garnishment is received, employers must promptly follow the instructions appearing on the garnishment forms. As a general rule, employers must:
- Answer the garnishment summons:
- Fully complete all required fields of the Answer
- File the completed Answer with the court clerk in the county where the matter is filed
- File an Answer even if the employee is already being garnished, i.e., even if there is already a prior garnishment in effect for that individual
- File an Answer even if the individual is no longer employed with the employer
- Provide the individual being garnished with the Notice of Garnishment & Exemptions and Application for Hearing. (These forms are available on oscn.net and should be provided with the garnishment summons).
- This Notice should be provided to the individual being garnished each pay period in which the garnishment is in effect.
- If there is a prior garnishment:
- The employer must answer immediately and disclose the prior garnishment. It is not required to answer again until the “new” garnishment becomes effective.
- The employer must begin to garnish wages in accordance with the “new” garnishment summons upon the conclusion of the prior garnishment.
- The “new” garnishment shall then be effective for its full period of time, i.e., 180 days or until the debt is fully satisfied, whichever is first.
- If there is no prior garnishment, the employer must timely file the “Continuing Garnishee’s Answer/Affidavit” and corresponding “Calculation for Continuing Garnishment of Earnings” for each pay period that is subject to the garnishment.
Employers should keep a record, or a proof of delivery, for every Answer filed and sent to the creditor’s attorney, for every Notice provided to the individual, for every payment delivered to the creditor’s attorney, etc. If the employer receives a court order, motion, or any other official legal filing, the employer should immediately consult legal counsel.
Employer non-compliance can be costly
Failure to comply with the garnishment laws can cause serious liability. An employer may be held liable for the entirety of the individual’s underlying debt owed to the creditor seeking the garnishment, in addition to attorney fees and costs. It is important to take these obligations seriously and act promptly.
For questions or assistance with complying with continuing earnings garnishments, please contact your McAfee & Taft Labor & Employment Group attorney.