Can my employer deduct money from my wages?Tuesday, June 15th, 2010
(UK relevant – Pre-tax deductions, statutory deductions, voluntary regular deductions, deduction in retail employment, one-off deductions, exempt deductions, how to make a complaint)
There is no easy answer to this question. You are advised to read this article in full before deciding whether you think a particular deduction from your wages is lawful or not.
The employment legislation (Employment Rights Act 1996, sections 13-16) sets out rules for the “protection of wages”. These statutory provisions apply to “workers”, defined as employees and anyone else who works under a contract, other than a person who is self-employed. The rules also, therefore, apply to agency staff, trainees, apprentices, fixed-term workers and contract workers. As a result, this article refers to “workers” rather than just “employees”.
The legislation prevents your employer from making deductions from your wages other than in certain defined circumstances. There are three specific situations where lawful deductions may be made. These are:
- where the law requires deductions to be made, e.g. income tax, National Insurance contributions, attachment of earnings orders, student loan deductions,
- where your employment contract makes specific provision for a deduction, and
- where you and your employer have agreed in writing to the deduction before the situation arises that would require the deduction to be made.
You will note that these situations all have two things in common:
- you know in advance that a deduction may be made in certain circumstances, and
- authority for the deduction and the circumstances under which it may be made are set out in writing.
Information about each of the different kinds of deductions is provided below. And, at the end, suggestions are made about what you can do if you think your employer has acted unlawfully or unreasonably.
The first deductions that your employer may make from your gross pay – assuming you have previously authorised the deductions in writing – are one or more of the following:
- pension contributions, if you are a member of an occupational pension scheme
- charity contributions, under an approved payroll giving scheme
- purchases of partnership shares, under a Share Incentive Plan.
Then, your employer must calculate the income tax and National Insurance contributions (NICs) that are due on your earnings for the pay period. These deductions are permitted because they are required by law.
From what is left of your earnings after tax and NICs have been deducted, your employer must, if relevant to you, make the following deductions that are also required by law:
- an amount that is due under an attachment of earnings order (court order), and an administrative charge for making the deduction
- a student loan deduction.
Voluntary regular deductions
Any further voluntary deductions may be regular, i.e. deducted every time you are paid, or one-off. In either case, to be lawful, any such deductions must be authorised by a provision of your employment contract or by a document that you have signed in advance.
Common examples of regular deductions are:
- trade union deductions
- contributions to a personal pension scheme
- social club membership fees
- hospital fund contributions
- loan repayments, including advances of wages
- payments towards the purchase of clothing or equipment
- stock or till shortages
- payment for private use of a company car or van
- contributions towards a benefit, e.g. private medical insurance, meals.
Under separate trade union legislation, it is unlawful for an employer to make a deduction of an amount that would be a contribution to a trade union’s political fund if the member has instructed the employer in writing not to make the deduction.
Deductions in retail employment
There are special rules that apply to deductions for stock deficiencies and till shortages in retail employment. The rules do not prohibit such deductions where there is provision in the employment contract for them to be made. Rather, the rules regulate the arrangement, requiring proper notice to be given of the amounts to be deducted and limiting the amount of the deductions.
One-off deductions may be voluntary or compulsory and are often linked to termination of employment. Again, they are only lawful if they are defined in your employment contract or if you have given your signed agreement to them. Examples are:
- a charge for damaging company property, e.g. damage to a company car that was caused by your neglect
- a charge for non-return of company property, e.g. clothing or tools, on termination of employment
- failure to work your contractual period of notice, e.g. a week’s pay deducted from your termination payments
- recovery of an advance of expenses
- recovery of holiday pay that has been paid in excess of your entitlement, e.g. you were entitled to two week’s paid holiday up to the date of leaving but you have actually taken three week’s paid holiday. See the FAQ – Can my employer deduct holiday pay from my final wages?
But note that deductions that are punitive in nature are only likely to be lawful if the amount of the penalty is a reasonable reflection of the actual loss to your employer. For example, if you should have given four week’s notice to leave your job and you only gave two week’s notice, and your employer deducted two weeks’ pay from your termination pay, that may not be lawful if the employer’s mmonetary loss caused by you leaving early was less than two week’s pay.
Your employer is also considered to have made a deduction from your wages if you are paid less than you are entitled to be paid under your contract. However, such a deduction would not be treated as unlawful if the underpayment was due only to an error made by the employer in calculating your gross pay.
The employment legislation also defines a number of kinds of deductions that fall outside of the statutory restrictions on deductions. In other words, your employer may make any of the following deductions without authorisation under your employment contract or without your written permission in advance:
- your employer has made an overpayment of wages or business expenses to you, for any reason, and wishes to recover the overpayment
- your employer is entitled to deduct a sum of money from your wages under the provision of disciplinary proceedings that operate under a statutory provision, e.g. in the fire service or police force
- your employer is required under a statutory provision to deduct monies due to a public authority, e.g. a Council Tax Attachment of Earnings Order
- you have authorised your employer in writing to deduct amounts from your wages to be paid to a third party, where the third party instructs the employer how much to deduct
- you have been involved in a strike or other industrial action and your employer decides not to pay you because of your involvement
- you have authorised your employer in writing to deduct money from your wages that is due to your employer under an order of a court or tribunal.
There are other issues involved if your employer wishes to recover an overpayment of wages or expenses. See the FAQ – Can my employer recover an overpayment of wages from my next/future wages?
Making a complaint
Before making a complaint, check carefully whether or not your employer is entitled to make the deduction that you are concerned about. In particular, you should look to see if there is a provision in your terms and conditions of employment that allows your employer to make the deduction. Such a provision might appear in:
- the “written statement of employment particulars” (commonly but inaccurately known as your “contract”) that you should have been given shortly after starting your job,
- a staff handbook, or
- a collective agreement made between your employer and a trade union.
If there is a specific written contractual provision that allows your employer to make the deduction, the deduction is lawful.
If you still believe that a deduction was unlawful, unless it is one of the exempt deductions listed above, you are entitled to make a complaint to an employment tribunal. Before making a complaint, you should endeavour to resolve the problem by following the stages of the your employer’s grievance procedure, including making an appeal if your employer does not accept your grievance. If you have not followed the relevant stages of the grievance procedure, the employment tribunal may take that into consideration when determining the amount of any award.
A complaint to an employment tribunal must be made within three months of the date that the deduction was made or within three months of the last of a series of deductions, unless it was not reasonably practicable for it to be made within that period of time. You do not have to have worked for the employer for a minimum period of time, and you do not have to be under a certain age. An employment tribunal may not award more than the amount of the deduction(s), although future changes in the legislation will allow tribunals to award compensation for any financial loss you may have incurred as a result of the unlawful deduction.
If you are aggrieved about a deduction that is one of the exempt deductions listed above, you cannot make a complaint to an employment tribunal. A tribunal will refuse to hear any case that is brought for one of the exempt deductions, even if your complaint is not against the fact of the deduction but, for example, against the manner in which the deduction was handled.
Your only recourse in the case of an exempt deduction is to sue your employer in the civil courts, e.g. the small claims court. You should take proper advice before taking such action, e.g. by visiting your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB). Information about the advice services offered by CAB are available at http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk.