Dear Advice Guy,
In the State of Washington, is it legal to charge staff for their mistakes?
– Khaled Attia, GM, Goldberg’s Famous Deli, Bellevue, Washington
Charging employees for mistakes like inputting wrong orders into the POS, register shortages, breakage, or dine-and-dash guests is a widespread practice. You are right to specify your state when asking the question as laws do vary from absolutely forbidding deductions for employee mistakes (California, Colorado, New Jersey, Montana, Vermont are a few), to allowed as long as it doesn’t take employees below the minimum wage (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, and South Dakota, for example), to some gray areas in between where the practice is allowed under very specific circumstances and/or with the written consent of the employee (Iowa, Kentucky, South Carolina, Wyoming and others).
Our friends at Avvo created a helpful state-by-state table to answer your question. They write, for Washington, “Deductions for mistakes can only be made from [an employee’s] final paycheck, and cannot be "saved up" from previous pay periods. Employers generally need [employee’s] oral or written agreement to make a deduction.
Since this is a commonly asked question on a controversial topic, as always, it is best to check with your local restaurant association and attorney and clearly spell out your vetted policy in the employee handbook to avoid any confusion.
More on charging employees for mistakes here.