Wage garnishment occurs when an employer is required to withhold the earnings of an individual for the payment of a debt in accordance with a court order or other legal or equitable procedure (e.g., Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or state tax collection). Title III prohibits an employer from discharging an employee because his or her earnings have been subject to garnishment for any one debt, regardless of the number of levies made or proceedings brought to collect it. Title III does not, however, protect an employee from discharge if the employee's earnings have been subject to garnishment for a second or subsequent debt.
Title III also protects employees by limiting the amount of earnings that may be garnished in any workweek or pay period to the lesser of 25 percent of disposable earnings or the amount by which disposable earnings are greater than 30 times the federal minimum hourly wage prescribed by Section 6(a) (1) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. This limit applies regardless of how many garnishment orders an employer receives. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009.
Title III permits a greater amount of an employee wages to be garnished for child support, bankruptcy, or federal or state tax payments. Title III allows up to 50 percent of an employee's disposable earnings to be garnished for child support if the employee is supporting a current spouse or child, who is not the subject of the support order, and up to 60 percent if the employee is not doing so. An additional five percent may be garnished for support payments over 12 weeks in arrears.
An employee "disposable earnings" is the amount of earnings left after legally required deductions (e.g., federal, state and local taxes; Social Security; unemployment insurance; and state employee retirement systems) have been made. Deductions not required by law (e.g., union dues, health and life insurance, and charitable contributions)
Title III restrictions on the amount of wages that can be garnished do not apply to certain bankruptcy court orders and debts due for federal and state taxes. Nor do they affect voluntary wage assignments, i.e., situations where workers voluntarily agree that their employers may turn over a specified amount of their earnings to a creditor or creditors. Title III will in most cases give wage earners the right to receive at least partial compensation for the personal services they provide despite wage garnishment. This law also prohibits an employer from discharging an employee because of the garnishment of wages for any single indebtedness. The Wage and Hour Division accepts complaints of alleged Title III violations.
Violations of Title III may result in the reinstatement of a discharged employee, payment of back wages, and restoration of improperly garnished amounts. Where violations cannot be resolved through informal means, the Department of Labor may initiate court action to restrain violators and remedy violations. Employers who willfully violate the discharge provisions of the law may be prosecuted criminally and fined up to $1,000, or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.
If a state wage garnishment law differs from Title III, the employer must observe the law resulting in the smaller garnishment, or prohibiting the discharge of an employee because his or her earnings have been subject to garnishment for more than one debt. See the state by state garnishment laws at http://www.badcreditmd.com/
If you receive federal benefits and have an unpaid debt, a creditor or the debt collector it hires may get a court order to try to take money from your bank account to pay the debt. What's important to know is that federal benefits ordinarily are exempt from garnishment. That means you should be able to protect your federal funds from being taken by your creditors, although you might have to go to court to do so.