This is the question I asked myself when I was approached to write this column.  Okay, I don’t actually think in rhyme – most of the time.  But seriously, why are “Vanessa’s Views” better than anyone else’s here on the Employment Essentials blog team?  The easy answer is, “They’re not.”  What I do have going for me, though, is the prism through which I view the world around me.

I’ve heard that everything you ever needed to learn, you learned in kindergarten.  Well, I’ve learned it through motherhood.  I find a lot of parallels between employment law and raising my boys.  For example, I recently put them on the payroll here at home.  Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve noticed that the issue of wages is a really hot topic with my workforce of three.  My middle son in particular is committed to earning some dough (he actually walked in the door from school the other day and opened the dishwasher to see if it needed unloading).  To reward his initiative, I’ve ordered the current object of his obsession, and he’s working off the debt.  We keep track on a white board.

In West Virginia, wage advances can be a tricky proposition for employers.  While it seems only fair that employee advances can be deducted from their pay per a “handshake agreement,” the truth is far from it.  All employers who want to deduct an amount owed by an employee from that employee’s wages must have a very specific, written authorization.  Employers commonly have policies or practices that require employee payment for uniforms or for damage done to (or loss of) tools, equipment, or company vehicles.  Some employers may allow personal charges on a company credit card.  Others may advance wages to employees in times of financial crunch.  A simple signed I.O.U. or a handshake will not protect an employer when it seeks repayment for these types of debts.

The West Virginia Wage Payment and Collection Act prohibits employers from withholding wages without a proper authorization.  The West Virginia Division of Labor has helpfully provided the appropriate form and instructions at its website:  The form should be strictly followed because the penalties are stiff.  Any employer who fails to pay wages without the proper authorization must repay the amount withheld plus triple that amount as punishment for the violation.  If the employee gets a lawyer involved, the employer has to pay for that as well.

While I’m going to take my chances with my ten-year old (good thing I’m his attorney), you as an employer should not.  If you have any questions with regard to the propriety of a wage deduction, make the call to your counsel – in my view, it’s cheaper in the long run.

Vanessa Towarnicky's primary focus is in the area of labor and employment law. She has been involved in representing clients in various employment cases, including sexual harassment; deliberate intent; age, race, and disability discrimination; wrongful discharge; and various other employment-related torts. She is admitted to various state and federal courts as well as the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
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» Read the full biography of Vanessa L. Towarnicky at Steptoe & Johnson

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