What Can My Employer Lawfully Deduct from My Pay?


California’s employees enjoy some of the most robust legal protections in the United States, and this is no less true when it comes to payroll deductions. Some states align closely to federal law on this matter, which allows employers to make certain deductions from employees’ paychecks as long as their net pay doesn’t fall beneath what they would have earned with a minimum wage.

California is much more restrained in that most types of deductions from employees’ pay seen in other states – like those for uniforms or tools required to perform work – are illegal. That, however, is not to say that the practice of payroll deductions itself is illegal in California – it is only highly regulated to limit the extent an employer can reduce your take-home pay.

California Labor Code section 224 provides that employers are allowed to make lawful deductions from your paycheck under the following circumstances:

  • The deductions are authorized or required by federal and/or state law
  • The deductions are expressly authorized in writing by the employee to cover insurance premiums, hospital or medical dues
  • The deductions cover health and welfare or contributions to a pension plan expressly authorized by a collective bargaining or wage agreement
  • Other deductions that don’t amount to a rebate or deduction from a standard wage provided by a collective bargaining or wage agreement, or law

Common Types of Legal Deductions from Your Paycheck

Whether you earn a wage or a salary, your employer probably cuts you a check on a regular basis. It doesn’t hurt now and then to review the section that covers deductions and withholdings to make sure everything is in order. That said, let’s go over some common types of legal deductions from your paycheck that an employer may make.


The most commonly applied deductions from employees’ paychecks, across the board, are those for taxes. Your employer will set aside earnings to account for standard federal income tax withholding as well as taxes for Social Security and Medicare (FICA taxes), but in California employees’ pay must also be withheld for state income taxes and disability insurance.

Voluntary Payroll Deductions

Further deductions can be made to account for reasons an employee voluntarily opted into and did so by expressively authorizing the deductions in writing.

Common voluntary payroll deductions include the following:

  • Health insurance premiums
  • Life insurance premiums
  • 401(k) and IRA contributions
  • Union dues and union fringe benefits

Meals & Lodging

While deductions for meals and lodging would fall under voluntary payroll deductions, they bear some explanation. An employer is not within their rights to deduct pay for onsite meals and lodging without regard for whether or not an employee used these benefits.

What can be deducted from an employee’s paycheck are employee-authorized deductions to account for the cost of specific balances accrued in a company cafeteria. Some employers provide meals as a complimentary service to their workforce, but it is not illegal for companies to charge for cafeteria items and deduct the specific cost of what an employee used from their paycheck.

Likewise, if an employee uses employer-provided lodging, they may only have their pay reduced for the time they spent using such lodging and nothing more.

No matter what, your employer is responsible for keeping track of the voluntary expenses you accrue for meals and lodging. If the employer fails to do so, any deductions that cannot be explicitly explained may be illegal.

Wage Garnishment

If you are subject to a wage garnishment from a creditor or the IRS, your employer is legally obligated to forward a portion of your net earnings directly to whomever you owe a debt. There is no negotiating this deduction with your employer, only your creditor who must have a legal judgement to seek wage garnishment or the IRS, which doesn’t need such a judgement.

Under no circumstances can your employer fire or otherwise retaliate against you for wage garnishment.

Do You Believe Illegal Deductions Were Made from Your Paycheck?

If you believe your employer made illegal deductions from your paycheck or unlawfully withheld pay, reach out to Polaris Law Group for a free consultation. We’ll go over your pay stubs to help you identify inappropriately reduced pay and pursue legal action for fair and just compensation

Our firm has more than 25 years of experience clients throughout California get what they deserve in lawsuits involving wage and hour claims. If we can validate your claim and believe you have a case, we are prepared to file a case on your behalf within a few days of your consultation. We also work on a contingency fee basis, which means we will only ask you for payment when we achieve a recovery for you.

If you need to hold an employer accountable for an employment law matter such as illegal paycheck deductions, contact Polaris Law Group online or by calling (888) 796-4010 for help.