Text Size:   A+ A- A   •   Text Only
Site Image

​A creditor who holds a judgment against an individual has the option of garnishing (taking) wages owed to that person by an employer in order to satisfy the debt. To do so, creditors typically obtain an order from the court requiring the employer to withhold a certain amount of money from the employee’s paycheck and send it directly to the creditor. Different garnishment rules apply to different types of debt, however, and there are legal limits on how much of an employee’s wages may be garnished. Employers who fail to appropriately withhold amounts subject to garnishment may be liable to the creditor for those amounts plus additional costs.​

Q. Does Oregon law require an employer to respond to a garnishment of wages received from an employee’s creditor? 

A. Yes. When a creditor or “garnishor” issues a proper order or “writ” of garnishment and delivers the document to the employer or anyone “apparently in charge” of the office, the employer, also known as the “garnishee,” must prepare a response within seven calendar days. If the seventh day falls on a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday, the deadline is extended to the next day. The garnishee need not respond if the writ is not delivered within 60 days of its date of issuance, if the required items are not delivered with the writ (response form, instructions, and wage exemption calculation form), if the garnishment has been released or if any other law or court order directs that no response be made. Even if a response is not required, the garnishee may wish to send a letter to the court administrator and/or the garnishor explaining the basis for not responding in order to avoid the possibility of being ordered to appear and explain the failure or refusal to respond. 
The employer must process the garnishment, first examining the writ to determine if it is properly issued, then completing the wage exemption calculation form provided. The writ must have been issued by a court administrator, a licensed Oregon attorney or a child support administrator with the Department of Justice or the District Attorney’s office. 
The employer is required to withhold wages of the employee, or “debtor,” for a period of 90 days from receipt of the writ, unless earlier satisfied or released, and must pay the withheld amounts to the garnishor every time wages are paid to the employee, with the final payment made when the garnishee next pays wages to the employee after the writ expires. ORS 18.735. If the garnishee fails to deliver payment, underreports property of the employee held by the garnishee or fails to respond to the writ, the employer may be liable to the garnishor for the amounts that were required to be withheld plus the creditor’s costs. ORS 18.775. 

Q. What do we do if we receive multiple garnishments for the same employee?  Which garnishment takes precedence?  

A. ORS 18.627 requires employers to respond to garnishments in the order received, or “first in time, first in right.”  If the first writ does not garnish all available non-exempt wages, then the employer must process the second writ (and then the third, etc.) concurrently to capture any remaining wages up to the prescribed limit. 

In addition to child support orders, state and federal tax levies may also take priority over other garnishments. Employers are urged to consult with counsel in determining the priority of child support orders and tax liens. 

Q. Does the law set a limit on the amount of wages subject to garnishment? 

A. Yes. The maximum is generally 25% of the employee’s disposable earnings (net after taxes), provided the employee is left with at least $254 per week after the garnishment. For other pay period timeframes, scroll to ORS 18.385 from here.

NOTE: Garnishments are subject to the priority of orders of a bankruptcy court or garnishments for items like child support and taxes. The limits listed just above are applied only after the employer withholds amounts for any priority garnishments.  
Q. Can an employer fire an employee because his or her wages are garnished? 

A. No. It is an unlawful employment practice to terminate an employee because of a garnishment or a support order. ORS 18.385(9); ORS 25.424(6)(a). 
Q. Can an employer charge the employee for the bookkeeping required in administering garnishments? 

A. Yes. ORS 18.736 authorizes employers to charge a processing fee of $2 for each week or portion thereof during which garnishment payments were made to the garnishor. The fee may not be charged to the employee until after the last garnishment is made, and it may not be charged if to do so would take the employee below the garnishment limits of ORS 18.385. 
Q. Where can an employer turn for help in responding to a garnishment? 

A. Because of the complexities involved in processing garnishments and the potential for garnishee liability, employers may choose to enlist the help of a professional payroll service or contact an employment attorney who is knowledgeable in the area of garnishments. 
For assistance in responding to wage withholding orders for family support, contact the Child Support Division at the Oregon Department of Justice.

August 2019

Nothing on this website is intended as legal advice.  Any responses to specific questions are based on the facts as we understand them, and not intended to apply to any other situations.  This communication is not an agency order.  If you need legal advice, please consult an attorney.  We attempt to update the information on this website as soon as practicable following changes or developments in the laws and rules affecting Oregon employers, but we make no warranties or representations, express or implied, about whether the information provided is current.  We urge you to check the applicable statutes and administrative rules yourself and to consult with legal counsel prior to taking action that may invoke employee rights or employer responsibilities or omitting to act when required by law to act.