Q. An employee who recently quit hasn’t returned a company-owned laptop computer worth over $1,000. Can we withhold the value of the computer from the employee’s last paycheck?
A. Under the Texas Payday Law, you may not withhold wages unless you have either a court order or a written authorization from the employee to deduct money for a legal purpose. If you rely on an employee’s written authorization to deduct wages, it must specifically state the lawful purpose for which the employee has authorized the deduction.
The authorization must also provide the employee with a reasonable expectation of the amount to be deducted and must clearly indicate that the money will be deducted from the employee’s wages.
An employer’s handbook or written policy (accompanied by the employee’s signed acknowledgment) can replace a separate written authorization to deduct wages. But the handbook must still give the employee a reasonable expectation of the amount to be withheld and must clearly indicate that the amount is being deducted from wages.
Note: Even if you have a proper authorization, and if the employee is nonexempt, be sure that the deductions don’t reduce the person’s wages paid below the minimum wage for hours worked.