Payroll Deductions: Mandatory vs. Involuntary

There are a number of different payroll deductions that can be deducted from an employee’s paycheck each pay period. These range from FICA taxes, contributions to a retirement or 401(k) plan, child support payments, insurance premiums, and uniform deductions. Some of these payroll deductions are mandatory… meaning that an employer is legally obligated to withhold this money from an employee’s payroll check based on Federal and State laws. Other deductions are voluntary… meaning that these are optional and an employee must agree to have these deductions withheld from their paycheck. Most voluntary payroll deductions are withheld to pay for certain employee related benefits that an employer offers like health insurance and short term disability plans. Employers can also offer and pay for various certifications and tests that may be career related, and request reimbursement via a payroll deduction if the employee quits prematurely. These instances would require a written authorization before the deduction can be made. When employers require employees to pay or reimburse the employer for items that benefit or convenience the employer (uniforms, tools), the deduction cannot reduce the employee’s earnings below minimum wage or overtime compensation. However, these deductions can be prorated over a period of paydays.

Mandatory Payroll Tax Deductions

Some mandatory payroll tax deductions that employers are required by law to withhold from an employee’s paycheck include:

  • Federal income tax withholding
  • Social Security & Medicare taxes – also known as FICA taxes
  • State income tax withholding
  • Local tax withholdings such as city or county taxes, state disability or unemployment insurance
  • Court ordered child support payments

Voluntary Payroll Deductions

Voluntary payroll deductions cannot be withheld from an employee’s payroll check unless that employee authorizes the deduction. Examples of voluntary payroll deductions include:

  • Retirement or 401(k) plan contributions
  • Health insurance premiums for medical, dental and vision plans
  • Life insurance premiums
  • Contributions to a flexible spending account or pre-tax health savings plan
  • Short term disability plans
  • Uniform and/or tools
  • Tuition and /or Certification deductions
  • Donations for interoffice charity
  • Interoffice purchases (old computers, TV’s, office equipment)

In every voluntary deduction, a written authorization is REQUIRED prior to the deduction. Name, date, and for what reason the deduction is being taken are standard. A signature from the employee is required, as well as the dollar amount being deducted. A few other specific line items that can be included in the authorization can be: the dollar amount per [payroll period] for [X] payroll periods (if there are multiples), the name of the person or charity money is being donated to, and sizes or quantity in regards to uniform/tools.

In addition, employers cannot hold final paychecks until equipment/tools are returned after termination. On a federal level, the FLSA mandates that wages are due on the next regular payday for the covered pay period, and several states that have clear provisions when an employee must receive payment upon termination. Neither of these allows for any exceptions related to unreturned equipment, therefore pay cannot be withheld past these requirements. You can payroll deduct if you have an authorization, or an employer might consider invoicing the employee for cost of the equipment, or pursue the matter by taking the former employee to small claims court to receive a legal judgment against that person for the cost of the item.