United States: WHD Provides Long-Awaited Garnishment Guidance On The Meaning Of "Earnings" Under The CCPA

Last Updated: January 24 2017
Article by Martin C. Brook

A rare and interesting thing in the world of federal garnishment law has just occurred: the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) updated its published position concerning the meaning of "earnings" pursuant to the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA). This is important because the Department of Labor has issued very little regulation interpreting the CCPA and none define what the CCPA means by "earnings." And, while there are several opinion letters from the years directly after the CCPA was adopted, only one such letter has been issued since 1972. Keep in mind that the federal decision concerning what is or is not CCPA-earnings (such as disability payments, tips and lump sum bonus payments, which are addressed herein) is critical because if the funds are not CCPA-protected earnings then states decide whether to garnish those funds and how much, if any, of those funds to protect from garnishment.     

Fact Sheet No. 30

The WHD attempted to provide clarity as the meaning of "earnings" with its update to Fact Sheet No. 30: The Federal Wage Garnishment Law, Consumer Credit Protection Act's Title III. The updates became effective in November of 2016. 

The WHD mostly reformatted this document. In assembling preexisting information into a new section entitled, "Definition of Earnings," the WHD added two new statements of its position. First, the fact sheet now states that "[e]arnings may include payments received in lump sums." This position differs little from the longstanding position taken in other WHD internal documents. But, the new statement about lump sum payments being CCPA earnings may matter not because it is contradicted by the last administrative WHD opinion letter. That 2005 letter followed the Supreme Court opinion in Koskoszka v. Belford, 417 U.S. 642 (1974), writing that payment must be periodic to be earnings covered by the CCPA. The Koskoszka decision is criticized and distinguished by most but not all subsequent federal and state decisions defining CCPA earnings.

Unfortunately, the revised fact sheet does little to resolve how lump sum payments are to be garnished. And, don't forget that any mistake in withholding can lead to employer liability to either the garnishing judgment creditor (if the employer under withholds) or the employee (if the employer over withholds). What is an employer to do? First, be knowledgeable of state garnishment laws and how each state garnishes compensation paid in lump sums. Second, keep in mind that in the area of child support income withholding orders, some states regularly issue orders requiring employers to deduct 100 percent of lump sum bonus compensation to pay child support  arrears. Expect that approach to continue into the future. Therefore, employers will have to follow or timely challenge those orders.

Second, the WHD added a comment asserting that any portion of tips taken as a tip credit is a CCPA protected earning but that tips received in excess of the tip credit are not earnings at all. Previously, the WHD's position was that tips are never earnings because they are not compensation from the employer but instead a gratuity from the customer. Court cases are few and far between, however, most followed the WHD position that employers are not responsible to somehow determine and garnish tips. For all practical purposes, employers should consider tip credit amounts when calculating garnishments, but only when state law provides that tips are subject to garnishment. Plus, how, or if, garnishments reach tips received in excess of the tip credit is left wholly unresolved and will undoubtedly be addressed by states in the future.

Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2016-3

Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2016-3 was issued on November 30, 2016. The five-page bulletin concludes that payments from employer-provided disability plans are CCPA earnings. The WHD noted that the CCPA does not define "compensation," so the WHD relies upon the definition in Black's Law Dictionary that provides that "compensation" includes all remuneration for services rendered, including benefits.

The WHD noted consistent and conflicting case law on the subject. For example, in United States v. Ashcraft, 732 F.3d 860 (8th Cir. 2013), the court ruled that disability payments were CCPA-covered earnings. The court in United States v. France, 782 F.3d 820 (7th Cir. 2015) disagreed, however, this decision was vacated by the Supreme Court of the United States when, according to the bulletin, the parties agreed to a settlement that the disability payments were CCPA earnings.

When assessing a course of action to take, an employer may want to consider self-insured disability payments subject to a creditor garnishment (when so provided by the applicable state garnishment laws), but only up to the CCPA cap. However, if the disability payments are insured, the judgment plaintiff's garnishment would have to be directed to the insurance company.

Chapter 16 of the WHD Field Operations Handbook

The WHD's Field Operations Handbook (FOH) was updated on January 3, 2017, to reflect the position on tips expressed in the fact sheet and the position on disability payments expressed in the bulletin. Interestingly, the FOH was not updated to include a statement that earnings may include payments received in lump sums. This omission will likely have very little practical implication.

Legal Force

Lastly, employers may want to note that the degree of legal force, if any, behind these documents is marginal at best. Manuals, fact sheets, and field assistance bulletins lack the binding force of law or a valid regulation. They will likely receive only limited deference but could have a varying degree of persuasive effect.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.