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Employers may find themselves in situations where deducting employees’ pay becomes a necessary measure. However, it’s crucial for employers to understand the legal and ethical considerations surrounding pay deductions to maintain a healthy employer-employee relationship. In this blog, we’ll explore the reasons behind pay deductions, the legal framework in Australia, and best practices for implementing deductions responsibly.

Types of deductions

The Fair Work Act 2009 is the primary legislation outlining the rights and responsibilities of both employers and employees. When it comes to pay deductions, it’s important to adhere to the following key principles:

Authorized Deductions: Employers can only deduct amounts from an employee’s pay if it’s authorized by law, an industrial instrument (such as an award or enterprise agreement), or with the employee’s written consent. Common authorized deductions include tax withholdings, voluntary superannuation contributions, and salary sacrifice arrangements.

Unlawful Deductions: Employers must be cautious about making unlawful deductions, such as deducting money for faulty work, cash shortages, or damage to company property. Employers also cannot ask for a deduction that would benefit the employer such as charging more when an employer buys a good or service from the employer. Even with an employees agreement in writing these deductions can be unlawful

Notification and Record-Keeping: Employers are required to provide clear and detailed payslips to employees, outlining all deductions made. Where an employer and employee agree to deduct an employees pay the records must include details regarding the amount of the deduction, the reason for the deduction, whether it is a one off or ongoing, and where the deducted money goes. It’s essential to maintain accurate records of these transactions for compliance and transparency.

Common Reasons for Pay Deductions:

Tax Withholdings: Employers are obligated to withhold income tax from employees’ wages and remit it to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). This deduction is standard and lawful.

Voluntary Superannuation Contributions: Employers must contribute a percentage of an employee’s earnings to their superannuation fund. Employees can also choose to voluntarily contribute to their superannuation fund. Both are acceptable deductions.

Salary Sacrifice Arrangements: Salary sacrifice arrangements can be made for items such as additional superannuation contributions, laptops, cars, or other work-related benefits. Any salary sacrifices must be agreed in writing between both parties.

Recovery of Overpayments: If an employer accidentally overpays an employee, they can deduct the overpaid amount from future wages, provided the employee is notified and agrees in writing.

Common unlawful deductions

Cash Shortages: Deducting money from an employee’s pay to cover cash shortages is generally considered an unauthorized deduction unless the employee has given explicit written consent. The Hospitality Award is an exception to this however, though that is only in the case of an employee deliberately and wilfully causing the shortage.

Deducting pay when notice of termination is not given: It is commonly thought that employees who fail to give notice when terminating their employment or fail to work the required period by the notice forfeit their entitlements to payment for the notice period. This is not true, under most Modern Awards the most that can be deducted from an employees pay when failing to provide notice or work the required period is 1 weeks’ worth of wages and that is only if the employee is 18 or older.

Other Examples include accidental damage to company property, uniform costs and costs associated with training an employee.

Best Practices for Responsible Pay Deductions:

Communication is Key: Employers should maintain open lines of communication with employees regarding any proposed pay deductions. Clearly explain the reasons behind the deduction, ensuring employees understand the purpose and legality.

Written Consent: Whenever possible, obtain written consent from employees before making deductions. This not only ensures compliance with the law but also serves as documentation in case disputes arise.

Timely and Accurate Records: Keep meticulous records of all pay transactions, including deductions, and provide employees with accurate and detailed payslips. This contributes to transparency and compliance.

While deducting employees’ pay in Australia is a legitimate and sometimes necessary practice, it must be carried out in strict adherence to the legal framework. Employers should prioritize transparent communication, obtain written consent where required, and maintain accurate records to foster a positive and compliant work environment. Finding the right balance between financial responsibility and employee satisfaction is key to navigating the complexities of pay deductions in Australia.

Need help?

Give us a call on 1300 108 488 or email to arrange your free first consultation to see how we can help with advice and support on this or any other HR matter


Ridgeline Human Resources Pty Ltd
ABN : 24 091 644 094

6 Ellesmere Ave, Croydon Victoria 3136

1300 108 488