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That’s My Stapler: The Issues with Deducting Amounts from an Employee’s Paycheck

In the movie “Office Space,” the company has an employee, Milton, who has an unnatural obsession with the company’s red stapler.  In the movie (spoiler alert) Milton eventually burns the whole building down, but what if, instead of causing millions of dollars’ worth of damage and destruction, Milton just took the stapler home with him.  Could the company deduct the cost of that precious red stapler from his paycheck?

In general, an employer is required by law to make certain deductions from an employee’s paycheck.  Deductions required by law include Social Security taxes, federal and local income taxes, occupation privilege taxes, and court-ordered garnishments or other deductions.  If an employer wants to make any additional deductions, say for the cost of a stapler, it should be careful because such a situation presents several issues.  In this regard, when deducting any amounts from an employee’s paycheck beyond those required by law, an employer must look to its policies, the employee’s classification (exempt or non-exempt), and whether it can actually quantify the amount it believes it must be repaid.  Accordingly, Milton’s employer could not have merely decided that the cost of the stapler was $500 and withheld his entire paycheck for the following week.

The moral of the story is: before making any deductions to an employee’s paycheck, an employer must conduct an analysis to determine the best course of action.  Also, if you have a Milton at your office, just let him keep the stapler.


For assistance with paycheck deduction issues or any other labor and employment law matter, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Labor and Employment Department.