Wage Garnishment / Earnings Withholding for Employers

Wage garnishment is a way to collect money an employee owes to someone else. When someone loses a civil court case and owes money to the winning side (called the “judgment creditor” or “creditor”), the court does not collect the money for the creditor. If the person who loses the case (the “debtor”) has a job and gets paid wages and he or she does not pay the creditor voluntarily, the creditor can file papers to have part of the employee’s wages taken (garnished or withheld) to pay the money that is owed. Wage garnishment is sometimes called “wage assignment,” “earnings assignment” or “earnings withholding.”

The information in this section applies to wage garnishments based on civil court judgments.
This section does NOT apply to:

  1. Wage garnishments for child support or spousal or partner support, like Earnings Withholding Order for Support (form WG-004) or Earnings Assignment Order for Spousal or Partner Support (form FL-435). To find out how to handle wage garnishments in child or spousal/partner support cases, read the instructions on the forms you received. For more information, click to learn more about: AND
  2. Wage garnishments for tax liability, like Earnings Withholding Order for Taxes (State Tax Liability) (form WG-022). Click for help with tax liability wage garnishments

An employer who receives an Earnings Withholding Order (form WG-002) or an Earnings Withholding Order for Elder or Dependent Adult Financial Abuse (form WG-030) is legally required to withhold part of the employee’s earnings. The order will identify:

  • the employee (judgment debtor) who owes the money
  • the person to whom the money is owed (judgment creditor)
  • the sheriff or marshal (levying officer) who is responsible for collecting the money from the employer, and
  • the amount of money that is owed

First, the sheriff or levying officer provides the employer with several documents:

  1. the original and one copy of the earnings withholding order;
  2. the Employer’s Return (form WG-005);
  3. the Employee Instructions (form WG-003);
  4. the Claim of Exemption (form WG-006); and
  5. the Financial Statement (form WG-007).

There are instructions for the employer on the second page of the earnings withholding order.

If you are an employer and you receive an earnings withholding order, you must:

  • Provide information to the employee (if he or she currently works for you) and the sheriff;
  • Withhold the correct amount of money from the employee’s earnings (if any); and
  • Pay the money (if any) to the sheriff.

These duties are described below. You must obey all written notices you receive from the sheriff.

What to Do When You First Receive an Earnings Withholding Order


  • Write down the date you received the order. This date is important.
  • If the employee named in the order works for you now, give the employee the following forms within 10 days of the date you received the order:
    • A copy of the Earnings Withholding Order (form WG-002 or WG-030)
    • Employee Instructions (form WG-003)
    • Claim of Exemption (form WG-006)
    • Financial Statement (form WG-007)
  • Fill out both copies of the Employer’s Return (form WG-005) and mail them to the sheriff within 15 days of the date you received the order.

When to Start Withholding Earnings


To figure out when to start withholding earnings (garnishing wages), count 10 calendar days from the date you received the order. If the employee’s pay period ends before the 10th day, do not withhold any earnings for that pay period. Start withholding from the first pay period that ends on or after that 10th day after you receive the earnings withholding order.

Keep withholding for all pay periods until you have withheld the amount due as stated in the order, plus any additional amount for costs and interest. The sheriff will let you know the additional amount the employee owes for costs and interest. Do not withhold more than the total of these amounts.

You could receive more than one order that affects the same employee’s earnings. If you do, click here for instructions on how to handle situations with more than one earnings withholding order. The Employer’s Return (form WG-005) also describes this situation. Read it carefully.

In some cases, an earnings withholding order is not effective when you receive it. This could happen because:

  • The employee does not work for you any more (or never did),
  • You are already withholding the maximum amount under another order with the same or higher priority, or
  • Another reason.

In this situation, do not hold on to the earnings withholding order. Return it to the sheriff with the Employer’s Return (form WG-005) filled out.

When to Stop Withholding Earnings


Stop withholding when:

  • The court tells you in writing to stop withholding;
    OR
  • The sheriff tells you in writing to stop withholding;
    OR
  • You have withheld the total amount due, as stated in the order, plus the additional amount for costs and interest.

You might have to stop withholding earnings before the total amount has been withheld if:

  • The employee stops working for you, either temporarily or permanently;
    OR
  • You receive another order of higher priority, such as a support order or a withholding order for taxes (explained in the Employer’s Return (form WG-005)).

If you stop withholding because the employee stops working for you or is out on leave, notify the sheriff who gave you the order, but do not return the order to the sheriff. The earnings withholding order is valid until 180 consecutive days have passed with no money withheld under that order from that employee’s earnings. If the employee returns to work and a pay period ends before 180 days have passed, the earnings withholding order is still valid and you must resume withholding earnings under that order.

If you stop withholding under an earnings withholding order because you receive an order of higher priority for the same employee, notify the sheriff but do not return the order. In these situations, the earnings withholding order ends after no money is withheld under that order for a continuous two-year period. If withholding under the higher priority order ends and it has not yet been two years since any money was withheld under the prior (lower priority) earnings withholding order, the prior earnings withholding order is still valid and you must resume withholding earnings under that order.

When an earnings withholding order ends, return it to the sheriff and explain in writing why you are returning it.

How Much to Withhold


State law limits the maximum amount of earnings that can be withheld from each paycheck.  These instructions explain the correct way to calculate the amount.

The amount is based on:

  • The employee’s disposable earnings, which are different from gross pay and often different from take-home pay, and
  • The applicable minimum wage.

Disposable Earnings
To withhold the correct amount of earnings, first calculate the employee’s disposable earnings.

Earnings are monies paid by an employer to an employee for work done by the employee. The money may be called wages, salary, commissions, bonuses, or some other name. Vacation pay and sick pay are included because they are paid by the employer to the employee. Tips are usually not included because they are not paid by the employer.

Disposable earnings are the monies paid to the employee after you take out the deductions required by law. To calculate disposable earnings, subtract the amounts federal, state, or local laws require you to deduct from the employee’s gross pay. Generally, these required deductions are (1) federal income tax, (2) Social Security, (3) Medicare, (4) state income tax, (5) other state and local taxes, and (6) any mandatory payments to public employee retirement systems. An employee’s disposable earnings will change when the employee’s pay rate changes or the amounts of required deductions change.

Applicable Minimum Wage
You also need to know the applicable minimum wage in the area where the employee works. This will be either the state minimum wage or a local minimum wage if the city or county where the employee works has its own higher minimum wage.  For example, the cities of Oakland, San Jose, and Los Angeles (among others) all have their own higher minimum wages, and the rates may change each year. You can find the local minimum wage on the city’s website. Be aware that the state minimum wage may also change each year.

Calculate How Much to Withhold
After you have figured out the employee’s disposable earnings and the applicable minimum wage, you can calculate how much to withhold from each paycheck. The maximum amount to withhold (if any) is the lesser of two amounts:

Amount 1: 25 percent of the employee’s disposable earnings for the week;
Or
Amount 2: 50 percent of the difference between the employee’s disposable earnings for that week and the applicable minimum wage for that week.

To calculate how much to withhold, you can follow steps 1-7, below, or use the Earnings Withholding Order Calculator. Alternatively, and ONLY if the state minimum wage is the applicable minimum wage, you can use the charts below to figure out how much to withhold.

Step 1: Calculate the applicable minimum wage for your pay period.

  • If you pay every day or every week, multiply the applicable hourly minimum wage by 40
  • If you pay every two weeks (biweekly), multiply the applicable hourly minimum wage by 80
  • If you pay twice a month (semimonthly), multiply the applicable hourly minimum wage by 8623
  • If you pay every month, multiply the applicable hourly minimum wage by 17313

Step 2: Subtract the applicable minimum wage for your pay period (the amount from Step 1) from the employee’s disposable earnings for that pay period.

Step 3: If the amount from Step 2 is zero or less than zero, do not withhold any money from the employee’s earnings. You are done with the calculation.

Step 4: If the amount from Step 2 is more than zero, multiply that amount by 50 percent (one half). This is Amount 2, above.

Step 5: Multiply the employee’s disposable earnings by 25 percent (one quarter). This is Amount 1, above.

Step 6: Compare the amount from Step 4 (Amount 2) and the amount from Step 5 (Amount 1). The lesser amount is the maximum you can withhold. If there is no order of higher priority, this is the amount to withhold.

Step 7: If the employee’s earnings are subject to another order of higher priority, subtract that amount from the Step 6 maximum withholding amount. If the difference is zero or less than zero, do not withhold any more money from the employee’s earnings. If the difference is more than zero, withhold that amount.

Example: If you pay every week, the employee’s disposable earnings for the week are $520.00, the applicable minimum wage is $11 per hour, and there is no other order of higher priority:

Step 1: For a weekly pay period, multiply $11 x 40 = $440.00
Step 2: Disposable earnings minus applicable minimum wage: $520 - $440 = $80.00
Step 3: The amount in Step 2 is more than zero.
Step 4: Multiply the amount in Step 2 by 50 percent (one half): 80 x 0.5 = $40.00
Step 5: Multiply the disposable earnings by 25 percent (one quarter): $520 x 0.25 = $130.00
Step 6: The amount from Step 4 ($40.00) is lower than the amount from Step 5 ($130.00). There is no order of higher priority, so the correct amount to withhold is $40.
Step 7: Not applicable.

Example: If you pay once a month, the employee’s disposable earnings for the pay period are $3600.00, the applicable minimum wage is $12 per hour, and there is a higher priority support order that requires you to withhold $400.00 per month from this employee’s earnings:

Step 1: For a monthly pay period, multiply $12 x by 17313 = $2080.00
Step 2: Disposable earnings minus applicable minimum wage: $3600 - $2080 = $1520.00
Step 3: The amount in Step 2 is more than zero.
Step 4: Multiply the amount in Step 2 by 50 percent (one half): $1520 x 0.5 = $760.00
Step 5: Multiply the disposable earnings by 25 percent (one quarter): $3600 x 0.25 = $900.00
Step 6: The amount from Step 4 ($760.00) is lower than the amount from Step 5 ($900.00), so $760.00 is the maximum withholding amount. There is an order of higher priority, so proceed to Step 7.
Step 7: The maximum withholding amount minus the higher priority order amount: $760 - $400 = $360.00. The correct amount to withhold, in addition to the higher priority order amount, is $360.00

If the State Minimum Wage Is the Applicable Minimum Wage
If the minimum wage where the employee works is the state minimum wage, you may use one of the charts below to determine the amount to withhold. To use the charts:

  • Decide which chart to use
  • Find your pay period in the top row.
  • In the column listed under your pay period, find the box that states the employee’s disposable earnings.
  • The amount shown below that is the amount to withhold.
  • Example: if the employee is paid twice a month and has disposable earnings of $2000.00, the correct amount to withhold is 25 percent of disposable earnings each payday, or $500.00.
  • Example:  if the employee is paid weekly and has disposable earnings of $520.00, the correct amount to withhold is 50 percent of the amount above $400.00, or $60.00.

Chart 1. Employers with 26 or more employees

The chart is based on the state minimum wage of $10.50 per hour that went into effect on January 1, 2017, for employers who employ 26 or more employees. It will change when the state minimum wage changes.

Maximum Withholding from Disposable Earnings by Pay Period Based on State Minimum Wage of $10.50 per Hour
(Do not use this chart if there is a higher local minimum wage in the city where the employee works.)

Daily or Weekly Every Two Weeks Twice a Month Monthly
$420.00 or less in a workweek:

NONE
$840.00 or less:

NONE
$910.00 or less:

NONE
$1,820.00 or less:

NONE
From $420.01 to $840.00:

50% of the amount
ABOVE $420.00
From $840.01 to $1,680.00:

50% of the amount
ABOVE $840.00
From $910.01 to $1,820.00:

50% of the amount
ABOVE $910.00
From $1,820.01 to $3,639.99:

50% of the amount
ABOVE $1,820.00
$840.01 or more:

25% of disposable earnings
$1,680.01 or more:

25% of disposable earnings
$1,1,820.01 or more:

25% of disposable earnings
$3,640.00 or more:

25% of disposable earnings

Chart 2. Employers with 25 or fewer employees

The chart is based on the state minimum wage of $10.00 per hour that went into effect on January 1, 2017, for employers who employ 25 or fewer employees. It will change when the state minimum wage changes.

Maximum Withholding from Disposable Earnings by Pay Period Based on State Minimum Wage of $10.00 per Hour
(Do not use this chart if there is a higher local minimum wage in the city where the employee works.)

Daily or Weekly Every Two Weeks Twice a Month Monthly
$400.00 or less in a workweek:

NONE
$800.00 or less:

NONE
$866.67 or less:

NONE
$1,733.33 or less:

NONE
From $400.01 to $800.00:

50% of the amount
ABOVE $400.00
From $800.01 to $1,600.00:

50% of the amount
ABOVE $800.00
From $866.68 to $1,733.34:

50% of the amount
ABOVE $866.67
From $1,733.34 to $3,466.66:

50% of the amount
ABOVE $1,733.33
$800.01 or more:

25% of disposable earnings
$1,600.01 or more:

25% of disposable earnings
$1,733.35 or more:

25% of disposable earnings
$3,466.67 or more:

25% of disposable earnings

If You Receive More Than One Order


You could receive more than one order affecting the earnings of the same employee. There are rules to help you figure out which order to comply with.

Same Type of Order
In general, if you receive two of the same type of withholding orders, such as two Earnings Withholding Orders (form WG-002) or two Earnings Withholding Orders for Elder or Dependent Adult Financial Abuse (form WG-030):

  1. Comply with the first earnings withholding order you receive.
  2. If you receive two earnings withholding orders on the same day, look at both orders, find the date of the judgment for each one, and comply with the order that has the earlier judgment date.
  3. If you receive two or more orders on the same day that have the same judgment date, you may choose which order you will comply with.
  4. If you are already complying with an order and you receive another one for the same employee, the order you received later is not effective unless it has a higher priority, as explained below.

Priority if Different Types of Orders
There are several different types of orders that affect an employee’s earnings. You must comply with the order of highest priority. In order from highest priority to lowest:

  1. An earnings assignment order for support (for example, form FL-435)
  2. Earnings Withholding Order for Support (form WG-004)
  3. Earnings Withholding Order for Taxes (form WG-022)
  4. Earnings Withholding Order for Elder or Dependent Adult Financial Abuse (form WG-030)
  5. Earnings Withholding Order (form WG-002)

If you are already complying with one type of earnings withholding order, and then you receive a different type of order that is higher on the priority list, you must comply with the higher priority order.

If you have to stop withholding earnings under one order because you receive a higher priority order, you must contact the sheriff who sent you the earlier order and tell him or her that you have received a higher priority order.

Example: You have been withholding earnings from an employee based on an Earnings Withholding Order (form WG-002). You then receive an Earnings Withholding Order for Elder or Dependent Adult Financial Abuse (form WG-030) for the same employee. You must comply with the Earnings Withholding Order for Elder or Dependent Adult Financial Abuse (form WG-030) because it has higher priority under the law. Notify the sheriff who gave you the earlier order.

Example: You have been withholding earnings from an employee based on an Earnings Withholding Order for Elder or Dependent Adult Financial Abuse (form WG-030).  You then receive another Earnings Withholding Order for Elder or Dependent Adult Financial Abuse (form WG-030) for the same employee. You must continue to comply with the first Earnings Withholding Order for Elder or Dependent Adult Financial Abuse (form WG-030) because you received it before another order of the same priority.

Withholding Under More Than One Order
You may need to withhold earnings under two different orders if the higher priority order does not require you to withhold the maximum amount of disposable earnings. See the section above titled Calculate How Much to Withhold, which explains how to calculate the maximum amount of disposable earnings that may be withheld from an employee’s disposable earnings per pay period.

If the higher priority order requires you to withhold less than the maximum amount of disposable earnings, then you must also withhold earnings under the lower priority order. The amount to withhold under the lower priority order is the difference between the maximum amount and the amount under the higher priority order.

The Earnings Withholding Order Calculator will factor in the amount (if any) being withheld under an order of higher priority.

What to Do with the Money


You must pay the money you withhold from the employee’s earnings to the sheriff by the 15th day of the month after each payday. If you want to make payments more often than once a month, you must make each payment within 10 days after each pay period ends.

Be sure each check you send to the sheriff includes the case number, the sheriff’s file number (if that number is different from the case number), and the employee’s name so that the payments are applied to the correct account.

You may deduct from the employee’s earnings the amount of one dollar and fifty cents ($1.50) for each payment you make under the earnings withholding order.

What if You Still Have Questions?


California wage garnishment law is contained in the Code of Civil Procedure beginning with section 706.010. Sections 706.022, 706.025, 706.050, and 706.104 explain the employer’s duties.

Federal wage garnishment law and federal rules provide the basic protections on which the California law is based. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division Website, or call 1-866-4-USWAGE (1-866-487-9243).

Important Warnings

  • It is illegal to fire an employee because of earnings withholding orders for the payment of only one judgment. This is true even if you receive several earnings withholding orders for the same employee, AS LONG AS those orders all relate to the same judgment.
  • It is illegal to postpone or advance the payment of earnings to an employee to avoid complying with an earnings withholding order. The employee’s pay period must not be changed to prevent the order from taking effect.
  • It is illegal not to pay the money withheld for the earnings withholding order to the sheriff. Your duty is to pay the money to the sheriff, who will pay the money according to the law.
  • If you violate any of these laws, you may have to pay money and criminal charges may be filed against you.

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