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Employers can't fire over garnishments.

Byline: ON THE JOB by Bureau of Labor and Industries For The Register-Guard

Question: Is it legal for my employer to fire me because I have "too many garnishments" that are a pain to process? And is it legal for the next employer to ask me in a job interview if I've ever had my wages garnished?

Answer: Oregon law makes it illegal for an employer to fire you, refuse to hire you or in any other manner discriminate or retaliate against you because your wages have been garnished. ORS 25.424(3).

In addition, ORS 23.186(9) prohibits employers from terminating an employee because he or she has had wages garnished.

You have the right to file a complaint with the Bureau of Labor and Industries if you believe that you've been the subject of this kind of discrimination or retaliation.

Merely asking about prior garnishments in a job interview isn't out-and-out illegal under the law, but it would be strong evidence of an unlawful employment practice, because it suggests the employer is using the information gained in making its hiring decision.

Wise employers stick to interview questions that are job-related and designed to elicit information about the applicant's experience and ability to perform essential job functions.

Question: We're a nonprofit organization, and our primary source of funding is a secondhand store that we operate. The workers who help staff the store are expected to end the shift with their tills balanced to the penny. But at the end of the shift, some employee banks are consistently $5 to $10 short. Are we allowed to dock their pay for these shortages?

Answer: No. You may discipline and even terminate employees for such things as till shortages, loss of items, cash-handling violations and property damage. But it is never legal to deduct amounts from their paychecks in these cases.

ORS 652.610(3) provides very limited circumstances in which deductions may be made from an employee's wages.

For example, the law authorizes deductions from an employee's pay when it is legally required, such as for taxes or money to satisfy a garnishment or child support order.

The law also allows a deduction when it is for the employee's benefit (such as contributing to a 401(k) program or purchasing personal items at a discount). However, the employee must sign a written authorization allowing this kind of deduction, and the deduction also must be recorded in the employer's books.

There are a few other situations where the law allows paycheck deductions, but till shortages is not one of them. You are better off training and even disciplining your employees for these infractions, and leaving their paychecks alone.

Question: State law mandates that the teachers in our school get a certain number of training hours in order to maintain their certificates. My district is helping existing employees gain this education, but we have limited funding. Since this training is mandated by law, is it possible to require nonexempt employees to attend these sessions on their own time without pay?

Answer: Yes. Although employers are generally required to compensate employees for on-the-job training, one exception (OAR 839-020-0044[7]) is that you needn't pay an employee who spends time in training outside regular working hours, when that training is required by law.

For more information on these and other workplace laws, check out the BOLI Web site,
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Apr 3, 2005
Previous Article:Lowe's warehouse expected to employ at least 400.

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