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Final Paychecks – When Are They Due? (2017)

PaycheckA question I hear a lot is: “I just left my job, when is my employer supposed to pay me my last paycheck?” The answer is: it depends.

If you were fired or laid off

If the employer ended your employment — fired you, laid you off, eliminated your position, etc. — they must have your final paycheck ready for you on your last day of work.

If you quit – without notice

If you ended your employment — you resigned or you quit — without notice, then the employer must have the check ready for you within 72 hours AFTER your last day of work.

If you quit – with notice

But if you quit AND if you gave at least 3 days advance notice to your employer of when your last day of work will be, then the employer must have your final paycheck ready for you on your last day.

Some additional things to keep in mind about final paychecks

  1. The final paycheck must include pay for all hours you have worked, including any overtime and double time. It must also include payment of any unused vacation hours or PTO. Note, you are NOT entitled to be paid for any unused paid sick hours unless the employer’s policies or agreements with you say otherwise.
  2. The employer cannot make you wait until the next payday to give you your last check.
  3. The employer cannot attach any strings to your last check. For instance, the employer cannot hold back your check unless you agree to sign a bunch of papers, or unless you first turn in your keys and uniform, or unless you pay back the loan they gave you, or unless you pay for the damage you did to the company vehicle, or unless you first talk to the company’s lawyers, etc.
  4. If you ask the employer to mail the last paycheck to you at your home address, the employer must comply. They cannot force you to come to the office to come pick up your final check if you do not want to.

If your employer fails to give you your final paycheck on time

If your employer does not comply with the above, then they are the hook to pay you a penalty for each day they don’t pay you all of your final wages, up to a maximum of 30 days of your average daily pay. See California Labor Code Section 201 and Section 203. For most people, that ends up being 1.5 months of pay! The employer does have certain legal defenses to these penalties, but they are narrow and can be difficult to establish.

Above all, keep in mind, your final paycheck has special status under the law. If your employer has not given you your last paycheck on time, consider filing a labor board complaint. Also, consider talking things over with a lawyer as there could be more penalties that apply to your situation.

6 Comments

  1. Abby on November 14, 2017 at 11:16 am

    If the employer’s headquarters are out of state and a check is overnighted for your last day of employment but the shipment is delayed through no fault of the employer, is that still considered delinquent or does that meet the good faith effort of trying to pay on the last day of employment?

    • Eugene Lee on November 14, 2017 at 5:57 pm

      I don’t think there would be a waiting time penalty if, like you said, it was not the fault of the employer.

  2. Linda a concern employee on November 13, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    If I have accumulated sick time on the books and I am asked to resign, can a company keep my sick time I have accumulated over the years if I do not resign? The company I work for will ask employees to resign, if they get fired they will lose all there sick time. Is this legal?

    • Eugene Lee on November 13, 2017 at 11:48 pm

      Accrued but unused sick days are NOT paid out at the end of employment like vacation or PTO. You do need to check your company policies to make sure your employer doesn’t combine paid sick days with vacation days or PTO. If they do, then paid sick days may need to be paid out after all. Whether you resign or are terminated does not affect your right to be paid for unpaid vacation or PTO, only the timing of when you must be paid (on your last day of work, or 72 hours later). An employer could CHOOSE to pay out unused paid sick days at the end of employment, but they aren’t legally required to do so. In that case, if they have a policy that takes it back if you resign, I suppose that would not be a violation. But I would have to review your employer’s policies to be sure.

  3. Jonathan on November 8, 2017 at 10:27 am

    Does this also “depend” on whether the company is privately-owned or a government entity?

    • Eugene Lee on November 8, 2017 at 10:35 am

      Jonathan, that is a very good point. Last check penalties do not apply to so-called public entities (i.e., government entities ) like the US Postal Service. Government entities enjoy many special immunities and protections. There is a specific California Labor Code section that addresses this: Section 220(b)

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