How to Handle a Wage Garnishment for an Employee?

How to Handle a Wage Garnishment for an Employee?

Last updated: April 2012

The following question was submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "Q&A: The Law," runs in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Illinois Edition) and the Champaign News Gazette.

Question:

What do I do with a wage garnishment? I sometimes get them for my employees. How do I handle the paperwork?

Answer:

Do two things: return the finished “interrogatories;” and calculate how much to withhold. Filling out the form is not hard, but calculating the garnishment can be tricky.

We are talking about garnishments for a debt owed to a “regular” creditor. For example —a consumer loan, a hospital bill, or a credit card. We are not talking about garnishments for child support, or for a debt owed to the government. For example —student loans or recovery of government benefits overpayments. Those garnishments are different.

A “regular” garnishment can only happen after the creditor gets a judgment against the debtor in a court case. That means a judge has decided that the debtor owes money. Pre-judgment, it is just a claim that the debtor owes something. Post-judgment, it is an established fact that they do.

Post-judgment, then, a collection case stops being about how much the debtor owes and becomes about how the debtor will pay. Those are two different things.

If a debtor does not pay a judgment against them, and works, the creditor can try a wage garnishment. This drags the debtor’s employer into the collection case, to divert money from the debtor/employee to the creditor.

A wage garnishment provides that an employer owe a debtor; the debtor owe a creditor, and then makes the employer pay the creditor directly.

A wage garnishment starts with a “wage deduction summons.” The creditor serve the employer, along with “interrogatories”—questions about the debtor’s employment and income. The interrogatories are on the back of the summons, or on a separate document.

The summons requires the employer to fill out and return the interrogatories by a deadline. If the employer does not, they can become liable for the judgment entered against the debtor. To avoid that headache, employers must be sure to return the finished interrogatories, by the deadline.

The interrogatories ask basic questions about the debtor and their income. The first is whether the debtor works for the employer. If they do not, they check the “No,” sign, and send the form back. That is it.

If the debtor does work, the employer must answer the rest of the interrogatories, about pay periods, hourly wage, gross pay, and required deductions from gross pay.

The interrogatories explain how to calculate the amount the employer withholds for garnishment. Next week’s column will cover that calculation.

After the information about employment, income, and the garnishment amount is complete on the interrogatories. The employer signs, and sends a copy to the Circuit Clerk that issued the summons. Give or send a copy of the completed interrogatories to the employee/debtor, and to the creditor.

Finally, if there are garnished wages, the employer must deduct that amount from each paycheck, and hold it. They will get an order from a judge, based on the answers to the interrogatories that say what to do with that money.

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