Section 193 of the New York Labor Law prohibits employers from making deductions from an employee’s wages, except for certain deductions made for the benefit of the employee which are authorized by the employee in writing in advance, such as deductions for employee contributions to employee benefit plans. It also prohibits separate transactions between the employee and employer which would amount to the same thing as a prohibited deduction. In a surprising and disappointing change of direction, the New York State Department of Labor (“NYSDOL”) now takes the position that deductions from an employee’s wages for money owed to the employer (e.g., a loan, or overpayment of wages) are prohibited by Section 193 even with the employee’s written consent, because they are not similar to the types of permissible deductions enumerated in Section 193.

In addition, while it is permissible for an employer to ask an employee to pay the money back, if the employer threatens the employee with discipline for failure to pay back the money, NYSDOL will consider that conduct to be a prohibited separate transaction under Section 193. In fact, NYSDOL states that in making such a request the employer must clearly communicate that the employee’s refusal will not result in discipline or retaliatory action. NYSDOL believes that a legal proceeding to collect the money is the employer’s only legal recourse if the employee voluntarily fails to repay.