An employer may not deduct from employee’s wages moneys lost due to ordinary losses, such as cash shortages, breakage or loss of equipment, etc.) in the absence of showing of dishonesty, willful acts or gross negligence. As the court noted, the law prevents the employer from using wages to shirt business losses to employees, or to make employees insurers of such losses. (Prachasaisoradej v. Ralphs Grocery Co., Inc.)
An employer who resorts to “self-help” in deducting wages of his employees for ordinary losses does so at his own risk. If the employee is found not to have engaged in a dishonest, willful or grossly negligent act, the employee will be entitled to recover the amount of wages withheld, plus any waiting time penalties due.
The above rule applies seems to apply to non-exempt employees only. There is no prohibition on deductions from the earnings of exempt (management level) employees, many of whom work on incentive plans entitling them to a share of profits. Their incentive plan computation of profits properly includes a full range of revenue and expense items, including cash and inventory shortages.
Further, the prohibition on deducting business losses from employees’ earnings only applies to “wages.” “Wages” includes sales commissions or bonuses based on the employee’s individual performance. The prohibition on employer deductions does not apply to payments under an “incentive plan” that is supplementary to regular wages and rewards a group of employees for their collective performance, and is based on the employer’s profits.