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Can an employer take repair costs from my wages?

QUESTION: As part of my job as a sales person for the last five years, I drive a company vehicle. It recently stalled in the middle of the street and when it was taken in to be fixed, the employer had to spend $1,500.00. They said that I had failed to notice that the engine light was on and should have stopped driving as soon as I saw it. Now they are telling me that they are deducting it in three installments from my next three months commission cheques. Can they do this?
 
ANSWER:  No. First of all, no deductions whatsoever can be made from your wages, and commissions are wages, without your written consent to the amount being deducted.
 
In your situation, however, your written consent would not make this legal. The Employment Standards Act prohibits an employer from making deductions from wages for faulty workmanship regardless of whether or not they get the employee to sign a consent. Whether or not the light was on and whether or not you noticed it is irrelevant. If you’d run the can into a tree or backed it into the boss’s Mercedes, it’s still faulty workmanship. No deduction from your wages can be made under any circumstances.
 
The answer is simple but the reality can be complex. Now you have a choice to make. You could firmly but professional note to the employer that such a deduction is illegal and hope that ends the issue. If they insist on deducting the money you could file a complaint with the Ministry of Labour and they will order the money to be returned. On the other hand, you have to work there. Whether the employer is right or wrong, you have to think about whether, for $1,500.00, you want to get into a catfight with your employer.
 
While the Employment Standards Act prohibits the employer from taking reprisal action against you as a result of filing a complaint or enforcing your rights, you may never be able to prove it. This may be about the bonus that you might have gotten but don’t get, or the raise or company trip that you could never prove would have happened in the first place.
 
Of course, if you find a new job in the near future and file your complaint within six months of the deductions being made, who cares if the employer is mad at you?  
 
I often run into a similar situation with employees that deal with cash merchandise. I have heard of employers trying to hold shop clerks responsible for clothing stolen by others on their shift or cash shortages in the register.
 
Again, even if the employee signs a consent, it is illegal to make deductions for cash shortages or lost property in a situation where any person other than the employee had access to the cash or property.
 
Clearly, lots of people have access to the clothes in a clothing store. If more than one person is using the cash register or even has access to it, whether or not they used it during a shift, deductions cannot be made.
Ed Canning
Ed Canning
P: 905.572.5809
ecanning@rossmcbride.com