Your employer probably takes some money out of your paycheck before you see a dime of your wages.

It’s often not only legal and required in some instances, it’s helpful for most of us. If it were up to you, would you really sock away a fixed share of your wages every week for your entire working life?

But some employers get creative and greedy with this ability to take deductions from paychecks.

Aside from a few specific deductions such as federal and state taxes, Social Security and Medicare, there’s a high likelihood that your employer is breaking the law if they’re deducting anything else from your paycheck.

Dining and dashingshould not reduce your pay

Whether it’s called “pay docking” or taking wage “setoffs,” it’s generally illegal to reduce your paycheck to pay your employer’s cost of doing business. Consider the following common examples.

  • Restaurant customers sometimes “dine and dash.” Their tab can’t be deducted from the waitstaff’s wages or tips.
  • Despite credit card readers at pumps, filling stations still see drive-off gas thefts. The cost of the tankful can’t come out of the cashier’s pay.
  • Sometimes customers don’t like their hairstyle and come back to the salon for a “redo.” There’s little chance the cut and products can be legally charged to the stylist’s pay.

FLSA sets the benchmark in Massachusetts

Many other local, state and federal laws control what your employer can and cannot do within the law. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) isn’t the only law that matters to your employment, but most states build on the 1938 law and its many amendments.

For example, the FLSA sets a federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour (for “nonexempt” workers), but the Massachusetts minimum wage is $12.00.

Because the FLSA is famously difficult to follow, a good relationship with an experienced employment law firm can be valuable in the long run.

But you should know that when it comes to docking your pay, the employer can’t just make stuff up as they go along.

In a major Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision, in other words, the justices found that state labor law “prohibits wage deductions associated with an employer’s unilateral determination of an employee’s fault and damages.”