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I'm not sure if it matters whether the employer is a private individual or a company and whether the parameters are then different, but assume that the employee is not doing a very good job, snoozing on the job, taking personal phone calls, late into work, etc.

When does an employer become entitled to dock an employee's salary?

2 Answers 2

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The employee has to be paid for all hours worked, with a rather generous definition of "worked". Coming late to work would be a reason not to be paid. Doing a bad job isn't. Snoozing and taking too many personal phone calls would be an example of doing a very bad job, and could get you laid off for it, but as long as you are at your place of work and ready to take instructions what to do, you still need to get paid.

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    The snoozing on the job or making private phone calls may be sufficient to start some disciplinary action (details are complicated) which in turn may lead to a termination of the work contract (details are complicated).
    – quarague
    Jun 10 at 12:25
  • @quarague - in the UK Civil Service I had a colleague who was always falling asleep at his desk or in meetings. Colleagues and immediate-level management turned a blind eye but it got noticed at a high enough level that action started. A senior manager said 'You have two choices: the disciplinary route or the medical route'. He declined the medical option because, he told me, a narcolepsy diagnosis would stop him getting a driving licence. This from a guy with tunnel vision and catastrophically severe myopia. I don't know the outcome, but he's still working there. Jun 11 at 13:50
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The relevant legislation is the Employment Act 1996, but in plainer language ACAS describe that they can make deductions for the following reasons:

  • the employee's contract specifically allows the deduction
  • it was agreed in writing beforehand
  • they overpaid the employee by mistake
  • it’s required by law, for example Income Tax or a court order
  • the employee missed work because you were on strike or taking industrial action

The first two provide pretty wide latitude into what they can make deductions for so long as it's in the contract/a written agreement

The employer can't make deductions that would result in your wage dropping below minimum wage except in the following circumstances:

  • tax or National Insurance
  • something the employee has done which their contract says they’re liable for, such as damage to a vehicle through reckless driving
  • repayment of a loan or advance wages
  • an overpayment made to the employee made by mistake
  • buying shares, other securities or share options in the business
  • accommodation provided to the employee – find out more about accommodation deductions on GOV.UK
  • something the employee uses – for example union subscriptions or pension contributions

I'm not sure if it matters whether the employer is a private individual or a company

Nope - for these purposes an employer is an employer

To look at your specific examples:

but assume that the employee is not doing a very good job

No.. incompetence can get you sacked or fired - but it can't get your wages docked. At least not unless there was some performance-related-pay element to your wages already in the contract. But that would be difficult, it would have to be quantifiable. There's a reason why such structures typically have a base salary with performance-related elements paid as bonuses, because it's easier to simply not pay extra if thresholds aren't met than it is to deduct from a base wage.

snoozing on the job

Again not unless that was specified in advance - and that would be an oddly specific thing to include. Most likely they'd just get fired, in the majority of employment scenarios taking unauthorized sleeps on the job is going into Gross Negligence territory if there's a pattern.

taking personal phone calls

Taking personal calls is something that's more likely to be covered by a contract or company policy - but again it's more likely to lead to disciplinary action or sacking than wages being docked. You'd have to get into measuring how much time was lost in order to dock the appropriate amount etc.

late into work

You'd think this would be a slam dunk - you're late and therefore not meeting your contractual obligations. But in reality the same requirements as above apply - there needs to be explicit agreement in advance of the deduction in either your contract or other written consent for an employer to dock wages. It's probably more common than the other examples for such a provision to exist, but it still needs to be there.

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    In They can't make deductions that would result in your wage dropping below minimum wage except... "they" must mean the employer; in the 2nd bullet underneath,..something they've done which their contract says they’re liable for, "they" only makes sense as the employ*ee (also bullets 6&7; "you" in bullet 4 must refer to the employer)
    – Chris H
    Jun 10 at 20:02
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    Could you make the use of "you" and "they" consistent here? From context, I get the impression that sometimes "you" is the employer and "they" is the employee, and sometimes it's the other way around.
    – Mark
    Jun 10 at 21:30
  • If you're paid by the hour and you're an hour late for work, you wouldn't be paid for that hour, would you (unless you stay an hour late to make up for it)? I guess that would fall into the "allowed by the contract" condition.
    – Barmar
    Jun 11 at 13:38
  • @Mark edited to make it clearer who is who. Jun 13 at 8:16
  • @Barmar you're correct - although the distinction there is that they aren't deducting wages from you, you just aren't being paid for time you haven't worked. Basically this is the difference between being paid hourly and being salaried. A "deduction" in the hourly case would be e.g. docking half an hour's pay for being 10 minutes late. Jun 13 at 8:19

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