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January 04, 2011
Questions from Our Readers: How Much Can Be Garnished?

When employers receive orders to garnish a worker’s pay, they can find the paperwork puzzling. And, they wonder how much is too much to withhold when there’s a second garnishment from someone’s paycheck. Here’s a sampling of recent queries on this topic. As you will see, garnishment laws vary from state to state. Where state law conflicts with federal law, employers must choose the more employee-friendly option.

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Q: We have an employee with a child support garnishment order of $141 per week. He was also more than 12 weeks in arrears. Now we’ve received an order to cover him and his children in our healthcare plan, which will bring his take-home pay down to $150.81 a week. Isn’t that below the poverty level?

A: Since you are in New Jersey, child support takes priority over all other kinds of garnishments, no matter when they are received. And, the maximum amount for child support that can be garnished is 50 percent of disposable income—that is, gross income minus taxes—if the employee is already supporting a spouse or child, 60 percent if not.

However, when the employee is 12 or more weeks in arrears with support, those amounts rise to 55 percent and 65 percent, respectively. You must also obey the order to cover the employee and his children in your healthcare plan, at his expense. The state judiciary has published child support guidelines for judges, to ensure that the parent paying support has enough remaining income to live and retains the incentive to continue working. It’s possible that the court did not accurately estimate your employee’s earnings, so we would suggest that you contact your attorney and ask to have the garnishment orders reviewed for accuracy.

Q: We operate in New Jersey, but we have received a child support garnishment order from Pennsylvania. Must we honor it since it comes from out of state?

A: Yes, you are obliged to do so. New Jersey has adopted the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, under which state employers must treat family support garnishment orders issued by another state as though they had originated in New Jersey.

Q: Four years ago, we received a wage garnishment order from New York State Higher Education services for a school loan for one of our employees. Now we’ve received a second garnishment order, this one from North Carolina, for another school loan for the same employee. What do we do?

A: According to North Carolina law, for debts not related to child support, 75 percent of an employee’s disposable earnings, or 30 times the federal minimum wage—whichever is less—is exempt from garnishment. If the employee is supporting a family, wages due for labor performed during the 60 days prior to the garnishment are 100 percent exempt. Support garnishments have priority over other kinds of debts. The rule for garnishments for other kinds of debts is first-come, first-served. Since handling more than one garnishment can be complicated, we recommend you contact your attorney for advice.

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Top 100 FLSA Overtime Q&As
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