Can employer take paid wages back (chargebacks and California non-forfeiture law)

Under California Labor Code section 221, an employer may not take back any wages from an employee after they are earned. The statute provides: “It shall be unlawful for any employer to collect or receive from an employee any part of wages theretofore paid by said employer to said employee.” The labor code section 200 defines wages broadly to include “all amounts for labor performed by employees of every description, whether the amount is fixed or ascertained by the standard of time, task, piece, commission basis, or other method of calculation. The statute illustrated California’s strong public policy favoring the protection of employee’s wages.

Some employers and especially retailers have the “chargeback” policy under which the employees’ incentive that is to be paid, is charged back if the consumer of the products/services returns the purchased product to the store. It is important to note that such a policy is only valid and legal if agreed upon by an employee in writing. If the worker does not expressly agree to the chargeback policy in writing, it will likely be found to be unlawful.