Washington employers must temporarily stop withholding worker wages under writs of garnishment, according to a proclamation issued by Governor Jay Inslee to ease financial hardships for workers during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. This includes writs you currently hold and any new writs you receive starting April 14 and continuing through May 14, 2020. The proclamation temporarily suspends the collection of judgments for consumer debts and the accrual of post-judgment interest on those debts. The order was effective immediately when it was issued on April 14, 2020.
As a reminder, a writ of garnishment attaches a debtor's property or money that's in your control. The debtor is your employee or an independent contractor. The “property” in your control means any earnings (including wages, salary, commission, bonuses, etc.) or nonwage property (such as expense reimbursements or payments to an independent contractor) that you hold.
Tips: The proclamation applies only to collection of consumer debts, so it affects only writs of garnishment. Continue withholding as before for any child support orders, state or federal garnishments or tax levies, or administrative wage garnishments. If you currently hold or receive a new consumer writ of garnishment, take these steps: (1) Don't withhold wages from any paycheck issued from April 14 through May 14; (2) Release to the worker any funds you've withheld from wages paid on or after April 14 but haven't yet sent to the creditor; and (3) Notify both the creditor and worker that you're required to temporarily suspend further withholding under the writ of garnishment. Here's sample language:
“We regret to inform you that [company name] is currently unable to comply with the writ of garnishment for [name of worker] that we received on [date]. We are complying with Proclamation 20-49 issued by Washington Governor Jay Inslee on April 14, 2020. The proclamation suspends state laws that permit collection of consumer debt judgments, including wage garnishments, through May 14, 2020. If you need further information, please contact us at [address].”
There's no guidance under the proclamation for how employers should adjust payroll processes to comply. Attorneys in Washington disagree about what should be done with money already withheld from an existing garnishment before April 14. The order neither invalidates existing writs nor extends their expiration dates beyond what is stated on each writ. Instead, it simply freezes all collection activity for one month. Therefore, if and when the moratorium is lifted, you should resume processing the writ as before. If it remains valid on that date, resume withholding until the writ expires. If it has expired by then, return the writ to the creditor, noting that the writ has expired. Watch for Vigilant updates as developments unfold.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: April 23, 2020
In the three steps for a recommended response, we clarified that the governor's order affects paychecks issued from April 14 through May 14, 2020. The final paragraph was reorganized and a statement was added that attorneys disagree about what employers should do with wages withheld before April 14.