Q. We allow employees to use their company-issued cell phones for personal purposes up to a certain number of minutes every month. A recently discharged employee exceeded her monthly allotment. Can we recoup the cost of these extra minutes by withholding the amount from her last check? —P.P., South Carolina
A. Deductions from wages are generally prohibited, except in a few limited circumstances. In most states, deductions are allowed to offset something of value the employee receives such as personal loans or, in this case, personal calls from the employer's telephone.
State rules on wage deductions vary greatly, so it's best for employers to check with their local counsel before making any deductions.
In all cases, it's best to notify employees in writing and in advance that they will be responsible for any charges incurred by the company if they exceed their personal telephone-time allotment. Whenever possible, obtain express written consent to such a deduction when the phone is issued.