The Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I)’s Wage and Hour team recently confirmed in an informal email that employers aren’t obligated to return garnished wages to employees when the withholding took place before the governor’s garnishment moratorium on April 14, 2020. L&I can’t say conclusively what you should do with that money, but suggested it may be most defensible to simply hold it until the moratorium ends (11:59 p.m. on May 14, 2020, unless extended) and then send it to the creditor after receiving the Order to Pay.
We previously reported that the state of Washington hadn’t yet provided a clear answer on what to do with wages withheld and set aside under a writ of garnishment prior to April 14, 2020, when Governor Inslee’s temporary moratorium on consumer debt garnishments took effect. The order is intended to provide economic relief for workers financially impacted by the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Ordinarily, you’d set aside money withheld during the 60-day garnishment period and then send it to the creditor once you receive the Judgment on Answer and Order to Pay.
Tips for Employers: L&I’s email syncs with Vigilant’s advice to contact whoever issued the writ of garnishment and ask for written instructions. And if a judge, court clerk, or commissioner issued the garnishment (instead of the creditor’s attorney), also let the creditor know that you're seeking written guidance. Remember, for any payroll between now and May 14, 2020, don’t withhold wages under writs of garnishment for consumer debts.