Can an Employer Be Held Accountable for Not Garnishing Wages?

One means for collecting a civil judgment is to garnish the losing party’s wages. Garnishment involves withholding a certain amount of the person’s pay and forwarding it to a designated party for payment of the outstanding balance. Here is the million-dollar question: can a losing party’s employer be held accountable for not garnishing wages? In many states, yes.

Whether it is wage or bank account garnishment, the entity responsible for seizing the funds and fording them on is known as the garnishee. A garnishee has a legal responsibility to abide by the court’s order of garnishment. Compliance is not optional.

How Garnishment Works

The first thing to know about garnishment is that it is not allowed for collecting civil judgments in every state. Some states limit garnishment to collecting government fees and fines, collecting unpaid child support and maintenance payments, and settling tax debts. In the states where it is allowed to collect judgments, it can usually be leveraged against both wages and bank accounts.

In a wage garnishment scenario, a court would issue a garnishment order thereby directing the local sheriff to serve the order to the losing party’s employer. The employer would then be required to withhold a certain amount from each paycheck and forward it to whomever the court designates.

In a bank account scenario, the losing party’s bank becomes the garnishee. The sheriff would serve the same document to the bank, compelling that institution to seize a certain portion of the losing party’s open accounts and forward the money to the court’s designee.

Holding the Garnishee Liable

Some states that allow wage and bank account garnishment also have laws on the books for holding garnishees liable for noncompliance. Georgia is a good example. If an employer or financial institution fails to comply with a garnishment order, that party could be held liable for the entire sum owed to the creditor.

For example, let us say a judgment debtor owes $10,000. The creditor obtains an order of garnishment which is then served to the debtor’s employer. Should the employer fail to garnish the required amount of money and forward it to the court’s designee, the creditor could then go after the employer. A civil lawsuit could result in a monetary award for the entire amount owed, now payable by the employer.

No Incentive to Not Cooperate

It goes without saying that garnishees really have no incentive for not cooperating. If I were an employer, I would not want to be held liable for an employee’s financial mistakes. I did not create the debt; I would not be too keen on paying it. The same goes if I were a bank manager.

Making garnishees liable for failing to abide by a garnishment order is a wise move. It virtually guarantees compliance. Abiding by such an order means an employer or financial institution has nothing to lose and everything to gain. The other side of that coin is the judgment debtor. An employer or bank complying with an order of garnishment is bad news for him.

Consult With an Attorney

Judgment Collectors is a Salt Lake City, UT, collection agency that specializes in judgments. They say that, although garnishment is a possibility in most states, it’s not always the best course of action. Furthermore, creditors should not take matters into their own hands if a garnishee fails to comply. It is better to consult with an attorney in such a situation.

Garnishees can be held liable for failure to comply in most states. But that would be up to the court and the local sheriff to determine.

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