When an employee is notified of a wage garnishment, their first response is often shame and avoidance. Garnishments can come from many sources, from child support and judgments to long overdue debts from college loans. For many employees, these are things that have simply piled up over time due to negative life circumstances or poor financial management.
As an employer, it’s your legal responsibility to respond to a garnishment letter in a timely manner, withholding the garnished funds and sending them to the approved party. This is the easy part. The difficult part is communicating this garnishment to the employee in a way that reflects respect for the employee’s status, at the same time as protecting the company from any possible repercussions.
With stories of workplace violence in the news every week, it’s no wonder that many HR and payroll departments get nervous about this event.
First of all, remember that a garnishment is not generally a surprise to the employee. The employee has likely received multiple notices that this debt is due, or has been in the court getting an order from a judge. However, the employee is already feeling multiple emotions about the pending garnishment. These emotions can erupt if the notification is not done in a private and respectful way.
Delivering the Message of Garnishment to the Employee
Once you have received the garnishment request letter from the court or another government agency, you will want to take the following steps.
- Make a copy of the garnishment letter – one copy goes to the employee, one copy goes to payroll and one copy is kept in the confidential employee file.
- Pull up the employee’s current wages, calculate what the garnishment is per pay period, and document what the new take home wage will be.
- Schedule a one-on-one meeting with the employee in a private office.
- Explain to the employee that you’ve received a garnishment letter; provide a copy. Allow the employee to voice his or her concerns. Explain your organization must comply with the law.
- Provide the employee with what the new take home salary will be, and provide a copy of the document with these figures.
- Explain that under the Credit Consumer Act, the employee’s job is safe and no negative action will be taken.
- Refer the employee to your Employee Assistance Program or a preferred vendor for financial counseling and emotional support.
Delivering the message of a garnishment doesn’t have to be a stressful situation. But expect that the employee may react in a somewhat negative or neutral way. Have another HR officer or a supervisor in the general area to help you should the employee become angry or threatening in any way.
Remember to let the employee talk about any issues that may be causing financial stress, and offer support of a qualified EAP counselor or financial counseling services whenever possible. When an employee understands you have empathy for their circumstances, they are more likely to respond in a positive way and take steps to improve their situation.