Is it legal to hold your staff personally accountable for mistakes they make on the job?

If you run a small company (or even a large one) and one of your staff makes a mistake and accidentally transfers $100 from a company account to the wrong recipient, is it legal to deduct $100 from that staff member’s wages until they recover the money? It strikes me that this isn’t legal, but I’m not sure, especially with small companies. I’m talking about UK law but if you know about US or other types of law I’d be interested in that too.

PS. This is hypothetical, by the way, so don’t worry about giving me legal advice!

I’ve always wondered that as well.
Our situation is slightly different since my employees don’t handle much cash, but there is still the issue of time. For example, a few months ago, a customer came in to pick up an order and the employee gave the customer someone else’s order when we asked him about his answer was “Oh, I was wondering why Jim’s name was on that other order, and Bob’s name was on Jim’s order” or something along those lines. Basically he knew he was giving the wrong thing to the wrong person…we made him straighten it all out on his break.
Accidents happen, but I shouldn’t have to pay to fix something because an employee is stupid or doesn’t feel like doing something the way I asked for it to be done.

Based on the many posts I have read on a U.S. based legal forum I frequent, it is never legal to deduct money from an employees paycheck without the employee’s permission.

That’s right - I think most if not all North American jurisdictions restrict the power of employers to deduct from the employee’s paycheque, as a matter of labour standards - it’s normally restricted to deductions required or authorized by law.

However, that’s just a question of remedy - it doesn’t go to the substantive issue, of whether the employer could hold the employee liable, for example by suing the employee in court. The outcome to that question would depend largely on the nature of the employee’s work duties, the degree of supervision that the employer had, the nature of the mistake, and so on.

But can’t the employer can temporarily reduce the hourly wage or salary (forced pay cut) to get the same effect?

I got an oil change once, and they mixed up my bill with the previous customer who got a few hundred dollars’ worth of work done on his car. The customer apparently never questioned why his bill was so small, but it all fell into place when I arrived. The staff was kinda mad at the clerk who caused this, and they tried to phone the previous customer. I just wonder how it got resoved, if at all! I wonder if they took it out of the clerk’s pay.

California Labor Law.
From the FAQ’s/Deductions page.

I only quoted part of the page, read on.

Might not necessarily be legal, but it may well be done, since few people will attempt legal recourse.

Just like Walmart has been repeatedly sued and repeatedly lost cases over forcing people to work off the clock, yet continues to do it.

That’s just another way of doing it, and would likely also be contrary to labour standards, particularly if the employee is only earning minimum wage.

As always, not intended as legal advice, but to comment on a legal issue of public interest. If you need legal advice on this issue, you should talk to a lawyer in your jurisdiction about it.

In the waitressing world, they consider someone skipping out on the check to be the waitress’ fault and, typically, expect her to cover for it.

I thought bout this while reading runner pat’s quote. Sound illegal, at least in CA.

I’d not be surprised if it were illegal, but it sure happens a lot all the same.

In a hotel I service they have a sign that basically states that if the clerks fail to secure payment for a walk-in customer, they are personally responsible for the rate of the room. I do not know, of course, whether this has ever been successfully implemented on a hapless clerk.

The employeer can do this, but not retroactively. And the employee would have to be notified that their pay rate was being changed. But it could not be dropped below the mim. Also if their is any contract, or letter of of an job offer that could be a problem. Or if the employeeer has a policy saying that position xyz gets paid at a set rate.

and I would also think that the employeer would be putting itsel in a bad position.

Yes, but there are so many ways to manipulate this.

Let’s say you pay a “bonus” every month or every quarter for zero mistakes. You make mistake, you don’t get the bonus. Almost the same result – it’s just not an exact dollar-for-dollar recovery of the mistake.

Money is fungible. Compensation can be gamed. Likewise, employers can assess penalty “fines” with financial creativity.

Personally, I think if you did hold employees legally accountable for their mistakes, you aren’t likely to have employees for very long.

I’m not sure I understand this logic Snnipe 70E. I was hired away from a previous job for $20,000 more than I was making in April 2008, with an offer letter promising the specified salary. In May 2009, despite a great year of winning proposals, I was forced to take a $30,000 pay cut or else I would be terminated. Needless to say, I took it, immediately started looking for new work, and found a new position about four months later making back most of that money. I’m in California, which is an ‘at will’ state, and while I think my old company treated me completely unfairly on the vague basis of ‘economic downturn’ which has not affected my industry in the slightest, I have no doubt it was legal.

My understanding is that any job in California can jerk around their employees for any reason they feel like short of something blatantly discriminatory, because of the ‘at will’ status. Though off topic, I’ve always wondered if a California company could legally entice an employee at a competitor to join them, then legally retract or restructure the job offer immediately after they joined. Let’s assume for the moment this was done because of a reasonable circumstance - company lost big contract and was downsizing, etc.

Nitpick: Unless it’s a garnishment. You don’t need the employee’s permission to garnish wages, just a court’s.

I had to attend a HIPAA training seminar and sign a document acknowledging my personal responsibility. I can be sued or even criminally charged for a HIPAA violation that occurs at my job.

HIPAA is a law to protect personal medical information. Typical of our government, it’s been turned into a nightmare. Your best friend gets run over. You call the hospital and ask, is Bill Smith there? They can’t tell you.

In my case, I provide computer support for a personnel office. We handle benefits administration. I can’t even leave my desk to take a piss without putting any open documents in my desk drawer and locking it. I’m the one that can be sued if a visitor sees any of this information. Heaven forbid, you find out a coworker has Family Medical insurance coverage. :rolleyes: It’s not my employer’s ass on the line. It’s mine.

But can an employer get around that by requiring some sort of blanket permission from the employees? Would a contract or a signed memo or something saying, “I agree that any mistakes on the job will be deducted from my pay” cover an employer legally?

I don’t know if it was legal but my first job was as a cashier at a convenience store/gas station and we were personally responsible for gas drive-offs, any shortages in our register at the end of the night as well as any theft that was proven to have taken place on our shift.

As an example: Two underage but large boys walked in one night, picked up two cases of beer, smiled and waved at me then walked out. I was a smallish 16 year old- what was I going to do to stop them? At the time it was legal for me to sell the beer (ring it up) but not legal for me to buy beer as I was underage too. That didn’t stop my employer from deducting the retail price of the two cases of beer from that week’s paycheck. (They had “proof” because I did report it to the police and followed all procedures that I was supposed to.)

My sister was a waitress at a cheap diner where people frequently gathered after a night of drinking. She had many nights where large parties skipped on their bill, and she was expected to pay for it. (She quickly learned to decline late shifts and eventually found another job due to this loss of income.)

When anyone complained of such policies they were told “you agreed to it when you started working here”.