Employers, Be Sure You Know the Four Steps to Employee Garnishment

Mar 11, 2014

Related Practice: Employment

Garnishment is one tool that creditors may use to collect money.  As an employer in Washington state, you may encounter a writ of garnishment to collect on an employee’s obligation.  Be aware that you may face liability if you fail to process the writ with appropriate care so you should treat it with all the seriousness of a lawsuit.  Here are four basic steps to processing a writ of garnishment on an employee’s earnings, known as a continuing lien on wages.

1.  Receive the Writ

Note the date and time that you received the writ.  With the exception of child support orders, a writ will take priority over other writs based on when you receive it.  Take reasonable efforts to start withholding wages on the date of receipt.  A continuing lien on wages has a 60-day window, and the date of receipt is Day 0 of this 60-day period.

Examine the writ itself to determine the court that issued it (e.g. King County Superior Court) and the date the writ was signed.  If the writ comes from a superior court, it must be signed by the clerk of the court.  If it comes from a district court, it may be signed by the creditor’s attorney.  The writ will indicate the amount that the employee owes and the contact information for the creditor, the employee and the court.  The writ should be enclosed with the first answer form.

2.  First Answer

Follow the directions in the first answer form.  In Section 1, identify whether the employee’s wages are already being garnished.  Next, explain the employment status of the employee as of the date the writ was issued (date it was signed), whether the employee has a financial account with you and whether you possess any personal property of the employee.

In Section 2, calculate the amount of income you expect to withhold from the employee.  Follow the directions in this section.  Double-check any figures provided by the creditor’s attorney, if any figures are provided.  Clarify any ambiguities in your answers in an attached statement.  In Section 3, sign the answer form under penalty of perjury.

Mail the completed answer form to the court, creditor and employee using the addresses provided. 

3.  Second Answer

By the end of the 60-day window, you can expect to receive a second answer form.  Use the second answer form to tell the creditor what amounts you deducted from the employee’s earnings.  In filling out the form, calculate the exempt and non-exempt earnings in the same manner as in the first answer form, but indicate the actual amounts withheld as non-exempt earnings.  Show your calculations on an attached sheet, and verify that the attachment has the names of the parties, the court and the case number.  As a small consolation, deduct a $10 processing fee if there are adequate non-exempt earnings to satisfy the fee.

Mail the second answer form to the same addresses as the first.  Once mailed, wait for further instructions.

4.  Judgment and Order

Once the creditor receives the second answer form, it will request a court order directing you to turn over the non-exempt earnings in your possession.  The order will be titled something similar to “Judgment on Answer and Order to Pay” (OTP).  Once you have the OTP (which you may receive by fax or mail), follow the directions on where to send the funds: a superior court writ will require you to send funds to the court clerk, but a district court writ may direct you to send the funds to the creditor.

These are the basic steps to handling a writ on your employee’s wages.  More complicated issues may arise when a party disagrees with your answer forms, when multiple writs arrive for the same employee or when the employee declares bankruptcy.  These steps are not a substitute for legal advice.  To fully address your particular situation, please contact an attorney.