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A Garnishment Primer for Washington Employers

Posted on April 7, 2017 by Carol Hill

It is important for Washington employers to understand what to do when they receive a notice that an employee’s wages or salary are being garnished. The judgment and garnishment are not the employer’s problem, and there is nothing that an employer can or should do to help their employee. Failure to handle the garnishment properly can have serious consequences for employers, as discussed more below.

Here is how a wage garnishment works. The employee gets notice of the garnishment, and if they have some basis for challenging it, that is up to them. The employee can avail themselves of procedures set forth in the garnishment statute to do that. As an employer, you must be very careful if an employee tells you a garnishment is problematic or invalid. An employer who fails to answer a garnishment can expect serious legal consequences:

  • If the garnishee fails to answer the writ within the time prescribed in the writ, after the time to answer the writ has expired and after required returns or affidavits have been filed . . . it shall be lawful for the court to render judgment by default against such garnishee . . . for the full amount claimed by the plaintiff against the defendant . . . for the full amount of the plaintiff’s unpaid judgment against the defendant with all accruing interest and costs.

RCW 6.27.200. What this provision says is that an employer who fails to respond to a garnishment may itself become liable for the full amount of judgment against its employee. Remember, garnishments are court orders and there are consequences for failing to respond. If you get notice that you have not properly responded to a garnishment or that a judgment has been entered against your company for failing to respond to a garnishment, contact an attorney to discuss remedial action.

In responding to a wage garnishment, there are some things an employer should know. First, a wage garnishment served is a lien on the employee’s earnings for 60 days after the day of service. That means that for a period of 60 days, every paycheck issued to your employee needs to have the amount determined by the “First Answer” withheld. The First Answer is due 20 days after the service of the garnishment paperwork. The First Answer form was created by the garnishment statute, and a copy must be served with the garnishment. It is important to read the answer form carefully, and complete the form as thoroughly as possible. After completing the First Answer, the employer must send a copy of the form to: 1) the Clerk of the Court where the garnishment was issued; 2) the attorney for the judgment creditor who is collecting the debt; and 3) your employee. During the entire 60-day effective period of the garnishment, the employer must withhold the amount due to the judgment creditor from its employee’s paycheck.

After 60 days, the judgment creditor’s attorney will serve a “Second Answer.” In response to the Second Answer, the employer must tell the judgment creditor how much was actually withheld during the 60-day period during which the garnishment was effective. Based upon the employer’s response to the Second Answer, the judgment creditor will move for a “Judgment on Answer” that will require the employer to pay the amounts withheld from its employee to the judgment creditor. This is a court order which is enforceable against the employer, so an employer’s failure to withhold and pay over the correct amount will result in the employer having to pay the employee’s judgment out of pocket.

Keep in mind that the garnishment process outlined above is simply a basic description of the process in ideal conditions. There are issues that will arise when an employer faces an employee with multiple garnishments, including garnishments that may have priority over the employee’s wages. The attorneys at Lasher Holzapfel Sperry & Ebberson are experienced in the nuances of garnishment practice, and can help you navigate these difficult questions.