Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Page 1


Employer Can’t Make Deductions From Paycheck Despite Employee Signing Consent Form—C.A.


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The Court of Appeal for this district held yesterday that a man employed by the Bellflower Unified School District who signed a form consenting to the withholding from his salary of the costs of re-keying locks if he lost his keys, and did lose the keys, is entitled to receive the $1,200 deducted from his paycheck to cover charges by a locksmith.

The opinion, by Presiding Justice Roger Boren of Div. Two, reverses a decision by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elizabeth White. She found that the deduction was consistent with terms of a collective bargaining agreement, that plaintiff Karl Meeks had the option of declining to receive the keys but instead signed a form agreeing to pay re-keying costs if the keys were lost, and that Labor Code provisions cited by the labor commissioner in finding for Meeks did not apply to public entities.

The form Meeks signed reads:

“If you lose a district key, the district will deduct $25.00 from your payroll check. If a school needs to be re-keyed due to your loss, you may be charged the cost of re-keying the school as follows: Single Room up to $150.00; Elementary School up to $5,500.00; High School up to $15,000.00.”

The $1,200 deducted from Meeks’ pay was based on re-keying eight classrooms.

Boren said, in an unpublished opinion:

“The Wage Garnishment Law applies here. BUSD was not permitted to seize Meeks’s earned wages to repay itself for the cost it incurred in rekeying its classrooms. It does not matter that Meeks signed the Key Form. A deduction from an employee’s wages to recoup a claimed debt by the employer defeats public policy protecting wage earners and violates principles of due process.”

Boren disputed the school district’s insistence that Meeks had expressly authorized the deduction, as permitted by Labor Code §224. That section permits deductions “expressly authorized in writing by the employee to cover insurance premiums, hospital or medical dues, or other deductions not amounting to a rebate or deduction from the standard wage arrived at by collective bargaining or pursuant to wage agreement or statute, or when a deduction to cover health and welfare or pension plan contributions is expressly authorized by a collective bargaining or wage agreement.”

The presiding justice wrote:

“The Key Form states that BUSD ‘will deduct $25.00 from your payroll check’ if Meeks loses keys. The Key Form says nothing about deducting any more than $25 from a paycheck; rather, it says ‘you may be charged the cost of re-keying the school.’ (See fn. 2, ante.) The language in the Key Form appears to leave the option of charging an employee for lost keys to the discretion of BUSD, without specifying any repayment terms. The prospect of possibly being charged is not an express authorization to deduct $1,200 from a paycheck for lost keys.

“In any event, the Key Form has nothing to do with the type of pre-authorized medical insurance or pension deductions contemplated by Labor Code section 224, which are intended to benefit the employee, not the employer.”

The case is Bellflower Unified School District v. Meeks, B259780.

Marianne Reinhold, Carlos R. Perez, and Angela Serranzana of Reich, Adell & Cvitan represented Meeks. Eric J. Bathen and Jordan C. Meyer of the Law Offices of Eric Bathen acted for the school district.


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