Employers: How to Handle a Writ of Garnishment on One of Your Employees– Posted by Jason E. Wax
A writ of garnishment is a legal device used by creditors to collect on judgments. When a writ of garnishment is served on an employer in Washington state, the purpose of the writ is to allow the judgment creditor to collect on an obligation owed by an employee to that creditor. In effect, the writ constitutes a continuing lien on that employee’s earnings, and as the employer, it is your legal responsibility to calculate the exempt and non-exempt portions of that employee’s earnings, and to withhold and pay over the non-exempt portion as required by law. An employer that fails to properly process a writ of garnishment may face liability to the judgment creditor, so it is important that you handle and respond to the writ with due care.
Here are the basic steps you should take when you receive a writ of garnishment directed at one of your employees.
First, it is critical that the staff who handle incoming mail receive basic training that will allow them to identify a writ of garnishment upon receipt. As soon as your business receives a writ, you should make a record of the exact date and time that it was received. A writ constitutes a 60-day lien on an employee’s earnings, and that period begins on the day you receive the writ. Employers should make a reasonable effort to start withholding the employee’s wages right away.
Second, you should examine the writ and accompanying documents. The writ should state the amount that the employee owes and provide contact information for the judgment creditor’s attorney, in case you need to contact them during the garnishment process. A first answer” form should also be enclosed with the writ.
The first answer form will include instructions telling you how to fill it out. In Section 1, you will provide certain background information to the judgment creditor, including whether the employee’s wages are currently being garnished by another creditor, and the employee’s employment status (e.g., if they no longer work for you, state that here).
In Section 2, you need to complete certain calculations showing the amount of income you expect to withhold from the employee. If you’re uncertain about the calculations, you should prepare and submit an additional statement to the judgment creditor explaining how you performed your calculations.
Once you have completed the first answer form, you must mail it to the court, the creditor’s attorney, and the employee who is being garnished. The garnishment paperwork you received from the judgment creditor should include all of the necessary addresses.
The third step in the process begins when you receive a “second answer” form from the judgment creditor. This should arrive near the end of the 60-day garnishment period. The main difference between the first and second answers is that the general purpose of the first answer is to tell the creditor how much the employer expects to withhold under the garnishment, while the purpose of the second answer is to state how much the employer actually deducted from the employee’s earnings. Make sure to show your calculations so that it is clear how you arrived at the amount withheld. As with the first answer, you are required to mail the second answer form to the court, the creditor’s attorney, and the employee who is being garnished.
The final step in this process involves the creditor reviewing your second answer and then asking the court to enter an order requiring you to send the withheld earnings either to the court clerk or directly to the creditor. You will receive instructions telling you how and where to send the payment, and it is important that you follow those instructions carefully. Once you have sent the payment as directed, your involvement in the garnishment process should be complete, however, be aware that, in most cases, one 60-day garnishment cycle will not generate sufficient funds to satisfy the creditor’s judgment against your employee. It is likely you will receive another writ of garnishment in the mail soon, and you will have to start the process all over again, following the same steps outlined above.
This is just an outline of the basic steps an employer should take in responding to a writ of garnishment directed at one of its employees. There are many complications that may arise, including an intervening bankruptcy filing by the employee, or the receipt of two more competing writs of garnishment. If you’re an employer in Washington state and you’re unsure about how to deal with a garnishment related issue, the creditor’s rights and commercial litigation attorneys at Lasher Holzapfel Sperry & Ebberson have the experience and knowledge to help you craft an appropriate response that limits your liability.