Wage Garnishment Definition
Wage garnishment is when an employer must deduct money from a worker's wages for payment of the worker's debt, typically by court order. It's also referred to as garnishment of wages.
Wage Garnishment Law
Wage garnishment law at the Federal level falls under Title III of the Consumer Credit Protection Act of 1968 (CCPA). Title III and its rules and regulations protect a worker (garnishee) from discharge for wage garnishment on any one debt.
The Federal wage garnishment law does not, however, protect a worker from discharge for wage garnishments on two or more debts. But it protects a worker on the first debt, no matter how many times legal action is initiated to collect on that debt.
The Federal wage garnishment law also protects a worker by limiting the amount; except as noted below, wage garnishment may not exceed 25 percent of a worker's disposable earnings or the result of a calculation based on the minimum wage, whichever is less.
Disposable earnings are a worker's earnings per workweek or pay period after deductions required by law, such as local, state, Federal, Social Security and unemployment-insurance taxes.
For child support or alimony debt, wage garnishment may not exceed 50 percent of a worker's disposable earnings if the worker is already supporting another spouse or child, 60 percent if not. If the worker is behind in child support or alimony payments by over 12 weeks, then the Federal wage garnishment law permits an additional 5 percent as catch-up payments.
For certain bankruptcy court orders and Federal and state tax debts, Title III imposes no limit on the amount of wage garnishment from a worker's disposable earnings. However, it gives a worker the right to receive at least some compensation for his or her work.
Because Title III is a Federal wage garnishment law, it covers all states; however, states may have their own wage garnishment laws that grant the same or better worker protections than the Federal version.
Wage Garnishment Help
If you reasonably believe that your employer has violated Title III of the Consumer Credit Protection Act by illegally discharging you for wage garnishment or if the amount that your employer is deducting from your disposable earnings exceeds the applicable maximum amount, then you may file a complaint with a district office of the Wage and Hour Division (WHD), U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) or with an equivalent state labor department division.
Outside of those two matters, the WHD or a state equivalent does not have the authority to help you with wage garnishment; for example, neither can negotiate with your creditor to stop or reduce wage garnishment. But, an attorney can; consult an attorney if you need legal help beyond what the WHD or a state equivalent can do for you.
For more information for employers and workers, see the Wage Garnishment Employment Law Guide by the DOL or consult an attorney.