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Q. An employee has not returned our calls or come to work at our hotel for over a week. She has a set of office keys and owes money for laundry. Can I hold her check until she returns the keys or pays for her laundry? Alternatively, can I deduct the cost of replacing the keys and laundry from her last paycheck? —I.C., Maryland

A. Most states have laws that require prompt delivery of a former employee's last paycheck. And the federal Fair Labor Standards Act makes it illegal to take deductions for such reasons as discipline and damage to the employer's property if it reduces the pay below the minimum wage. States may have other restrictions.

Under Maryland law, an employer must pay all earned wages on time regardless of whether the employee has turned in keys, failed to pay for services provided, quit without notice or failed to provide any other document the employer requires. Maryland also prohibits wage deductions without: a court order; a state labor commission order allowing the deduction to offset or “pay for” something of value the employee has received; some government law or regulation that approves the deduction; or express written employee authorization.

Maryland does not consider office keys valuable to employees, but the laundry services may be deductible. The cost of laundering a uniform ordinarily can't be passed on to the employee. If you dock the cost of replacing the office keys, be prepared to show that your company actually incurred that cost.

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