California Labor Law: Final Paychecks

Did your employer terminate you and not give you a paycheck? In California, employers must give you your final paycheck, including unpaid or unused vacation time, at the time of discharge. There is no exception to this rule. If an employer does not give you your final paycheck upon termination, a waiting time penalty begins to accrue.

Additionally, if you gave your employer at least 72 hours advance notice that you will be quitting, your employer must give you your final paycheck, including unpaid or unused vacation time, as you are walking out the door on your last day. There is no exception to this rule.

The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) states:

An employee who is discharged must be paid all of his or her wages, including accrued vacation, immediately at the time of termination.

Some employers often come up with some lame excuse for not issuing you a paycheck, like the person handling payroll is out sick, but this is unacceptable according to California law. Don’t be shy about informing your (ex) employer that you are familiar with California labor codes; after all, you won’t be seeing them again, and they can’t retaliate against you. Inform them that if you don’t receive your paycheck immediately that you will be filing a wage claim, to include penalties. You will most likely receive your check right away, and you might even enjoy watching them scurry about in order to get you out the door as soon as possible.

photo courtesy of orphanjones, Flickr
photo courtesy of orphanjones, Flickr

Vacation Time:

First of all, it is extremely important to always make copies of company policies for your reference as proof of an employer’s vacation policies. It is not required, by law, that an employer provide an employee with a paid vacation; however, it is required that an employer follow its policies pertaining to paid vacation time and accrual.

If an employer offers vacation time to its employees, in the state of California it is considered as earned wages. DLSE states:

There is no legal requirement in California that an employer provide its employees with either paid or unpaid vacation time. However, if an employer does have an established policy, practice, or agreement to provide paid vacation, then certain restrictions are placed on the employer as to how it fulfills its obligation to provide vacation pay. Under California law, earned vacation time is considered wages, and vacation time is earned, or vests, as labor is performed.

Additionally, on this page you will see that an employer is unable to inform you that you must “use it or lose it”. This means that it is unlawful for an employer to take away your vacation time for any reason at all. For example, some employers might try to get you to believe that if you don’t use your vacation time by a certain date that it won’t roll over. This isn’t true.

What Are The Penalties?

DLSE will apply a penalty, up to 30 days, equal to your daily rate of pay for each day your money is withheld. The clock starts ticking as soon as your employer informs you that it doesn’t have your final paycheck ready. Make sure you inform your employer that you are aware of this—I can’t count the number of times I have told a friend or a coworker about this and the employer will Fed-Ex a check ASAP—DLSE states (second-to-last paragraph):

An employer who willfully fails to pay any wages due a terminated employee (discharge or quit) in the prescribed time frame may be assessed a waiting time penalty. The waiting time penalty is an amount equal to the employee's daily rate of pay for each day the wages remain unpaid, up to a maximum of thirty (30) calendar days.

Final paycheck laws and the penalties do not apply to any type of disputed wages.

Filing a Claim: DLSE or an Employment Attorney?

If your ex-employer fails to comply with California labor laws pertaining to your final paycheck, you may want to file a claim with DLSE. The link is here for a claim form. Depending on how long your employer withheld your final paycheck and vacation time, it may be worth your while.

However, if your employer violated multiple labor laws or codes during your employment, like failing to pay overtime on a regular basis, taking away your vacation time as a “use it or lose it” policy that is unlawful, not allowing you to take breaks or lunches, or if you feel you were fired illegally due to sexual harassment or discrimination, you may want to look into finding an attorney that specializes in employment law instead of filing a claim with DLSE. DLSE only enforces employer compliance with laws and only assigns a penalty up to 30 days. Employment attorneys seek damages and additional penalties, fines, and interest accruals that are allowed under California labor laws that DLSE will not obtain for you.

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Comments 34 comments

4 years ago

Can they use the excuse you are suspended pending a final paycheck (and no guarantee when that paycheck 'may' come??

Deni Edwards profile image

Deni Edwards 4 years ago from california Author

If you are suspended from work rather than fired, then I believe that your paycheck must be issued on the scheduled pay day--absolutely not longer than that.

Michele 4 years ago

What happens if they just take you off the schedule completely and if you ask if your fired they don't give you a straight answer and they just ignore you till you quite is that right?

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Deni Edwards 4 years ago from california Author

What you need to do is file for unemployment regardless of whether or not they have told you that you are fired. Don't quit your job--just file for unemployment since they haven't put you on the schedule. Do it ASAP.

zac 4 years ago

My employer didn't give me my final check on my last day after I worked through my 2 week notice... should I file a claim? It's been over a week and haven't herded from my employer.

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Deni Edwards 4 years ago from california Author

I would recommend giving your former employer a call to remind them that you need your paycheck. If you get the run-around, then, yes, you should file a claim.

Bob 4 years ago

A week after giving my employer a two week notice, I was asked to sign a letter allowing them to deduct an amount advanced to me from my final paycheck. I signed the letter, but later realized that it states that my final paycheck would be a week after my final day. Does this wave my right to filing a claim? I live and work in California, but my company HR offices and executive offices are located in different states.

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Deni Edwards 4 years ago from california Author

It doesn't matter that you company's executive offices are located in another state. Your employer must follow California law, regardless of whether they had you sign some form that they thought allowed them to break the law.

I would call them up and tell them you want your paycheck or that you will be filing a claim. If they mention the form you signed, make sure to tell them that you don't think the state will be very happy about their attempt to circumvent the law.

corinne 4 years ago

Here's my situation.

I put in my 2 week notice, worked through the 2 weeks. On my last day I was not given my check. It's been over a week. Still no check. I contacted my manager about 3 days ago and she said it was coming in the mail. I received my paycheck stub in the mail from the previous pay period. I mentioned I haven't received my paycheck and she didn't respond. What should I do? File a claim? Also I was wondering how long the claim process takes after submitting the claim?

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Deni Edwards 4 years ago from california Author

I don't know how long the process takes since I've never had to file a claim. I do know that when I've had friends with this problem (and there have been dozens throughout the years), and I've told them to call their employer to inform them that they will be filing a claim, the final paycheck appears very suddenly via FedEx. None of them have ever had to file a claim because just the threat seems to work.

I would suggest calling back your employer ASAP and to relay this information to her. If you receive another response of silence, there is a link above, in the last paragraph, that takes you to the complaint form.

Leanne 4 years ago

I had a similar situation! Today(8/11) they showed me a new time sheet and they just take me off the schedule completely and when I asked about it they told me that I am being layoff, and the new schedule is starting on 8/13. The problem is I'm just a part-time cashier and I had no written contract with the company. Another problem is I got a month late paychecks since I worked in this company and I am pretty sure they won't pay my money on my last day of work which is tomorrow(8/12), should I filling a claim?

Deni Edwards profile image

Deni Edwards 4 years ago from california Author

It doesn't matter if you are a part-time employee, temporary employee or full-time employee--California law is applicable, and most employees in the state of California do not have contracts with their employer--employment is at-will in California, meaning the relationship can end by either party at any time.

I would suggest making it clear to your employer that you are aware your final paycheck is due on your last day of employment. If you get the run-around, inform them you will be filing a claim. Again, most employers will have the paycheck immediately after realizing this, because they don't want to pay any fines or penalties.

And then if you don't get your paycheck, follow up your threat by filing a claim. Also, you should be filing for unemployment, too.

Chelsea 4 years ago

I was unexpectedly terminated 8/20 and did not receive my paycheck that day because my former employer did not know she would be letting me go. I did not and still haven't received my money via mail or direct deposit and I filed a claim for wait time penalties. But on 8/23 I received my pay stub for $0 and $159 deducted from my check for damages she accused me of which is unlawful for her to do. And even with the deduction, she still owes me $41 and I have not received that.

I want to know what the penalty for her is for making illegal deductions from my pay.

Chelsea 4 years ago

Im sorry, I was terminated on 8/13, not the 20th

Deni Edwards profile image

Deni Edwards 4 years ago from california Author

I would file another claim against your employer for the money that she deducted from your paycheck. You might even put in a phone call and let her know of your intentions to see if that will correct the problem.

Deni Edwards profile image

Deni Edwards 4 years ago from california Author

No, I don't know for sure, but if your claim is approved, your employer may have to pay fines and penalties for what was withheld.

chefmom 4 years ago

I have a contract employee that became unstable, came in on his day off and started acting irrationally. I told him I was not able to keep him on going forward. He demanded a check on the spot (I don't have an office in our small cafe and could not get him his check until that evening when I could get to the computer and get it done. That is when I realized the social security number he provided did not contain the correct number of digits. I texted him and finally got what he says is his correct social # but it is now 9:30 at night and I can't get his check to him by tomorrow as he is demanding. I will send it out tomorrow but he will not receive it tomorrow. As volatile as he is I don't want him coming to our shop to pick up his final check and potentially causing problems. I find it hard to believe the law doesn't make some allowance for employers like me who make a good faith effort to get their employees or contract employees their final paychecks under difficult circumstances. I didn't know I was going to let him go until he became difficult, how am I supposed to materialize a check on the spot? According to the law you quoted for everyday his check is "withheld" I have to pay him a fine of a days wages? How is this rational?

Deni Edwards profile image

Deni Edwards 4 years ago from california Author

It's rational, and it's the law in the state of California. Not having the time to draw up a final check for an employee isn't an excuse that will waive any fees and/or fines if your ex-employee does decide to file a claim. The employee should have received his paycheck the day he was terminated.

As far as feeling threatened and that's why you are mailing his check, if he files a claim, you can fight it, and a hearing might be scheduled, in which case you could explain why you mailed it rather than giving it to him--his irrational behavior. Whether or not you had a reasonable excuse to withhold his pay would be decided--and that would be the exception part of the law, but, again, there is no excuse for not giving the employee his paycheck when he was fired.

You may want to Fed-Ex him the check so he receives it the same day, and at the same time prevent him from coming into the store. It also sounds like he knows the law in California, which is to give an employee his final paycheck the day he is terminated.

My advice is to Fed-Ex the check.

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Cwtaylor67 4 years ago

In CA, your employer must pay your final paycheck and all unused vacation on the day you are fired -- if you quit, you must be paid within 3 days. And, you can sue them if you complain and they terminate as a result. (@LawsAtWork)

shancfull 4 years ago

I quit my job 6 weeks ago to take a job with anothre company. I gave two weeks notice. On my last day, the HR manager told me that I would have to pay back some relocation expenses from the previous year when they moved me from another state (per the relocation agreement that they only paid part of). Since then, I haven't received my final paycheck, or the letter about what relocation expenses I need to pay back. At first, I thought they were holding my paycheck pending re-payment of the moving expenses. Can they do this without telling me? How long can they drag this out?

Deni Edwards profile image

Deni Edwards 4 years ago from california Author

They can't drag it out. At this point in time, since it has been six weeks, I would file a claim if I were you. You are entitled to fines and fees on top of your paycheck.

michaelM777 4 years ago

Do CA Indian casinos have to pay your final paycheck and vacation time the day you are fired ? All they preach is sovereign immunity to every law of the land. Is this even possible ?

Deni Edwards profile image

Deni Edwards 4 years ago from california Author

That's a great question that I don't know the answer to--I do know that if an Indian casino makes $500,000.00 or more per year, that almost all of the federal laws, relating to employment, does apply--there are some exceptions. Employment laws in California are more friendly towards employees than the federal laws, and one of those laws is, of course, final paychecks given to employees the day they are laid off or fired opposed to the next scheduled payday.

You may contact California directly via e-mail and ask this question:

deb 4 years ago

my situation:

I live in Orange County, CA. I have 20 yrs exp in this industry. I was hired on 5/2012, base Salary + comm. from a company that is based in Orlando, fl to handle all of West Coast (a new territory for this company) w/my exp. I brought in my contacts that I have built great buisness/personal relationship with. 3-4 months i sold approx 300,000 lbs in material for this company. They want the invoices paid by customer 1st, so the pay the comm. quarterly, being i started in May, i should of received a check for the 3rd, I never recvd it, I questioned, the said only 4 invoices have been paid, but i made no commision due to the paid commission structure. The decided Friday 11/9/2012 they no longer needed me for the West Coast. Since they are in FL. i did not receive a check till late Sat (fedex) for just the week i worked in Nov. I have left several message with the owner of the company & employees of the company to call me, he will not answer my emails or my calls. I asked him to pay me all of the commission from the Orders I have sold. I got today an email from one of the girls saying that according to Qt3(4 invoices paid) pay structure commission they owe me no money. So what about all the lbs of material i sold, would they be required to give me my commission pay ASAP? even if the invoices yet have been paid. Which they are all good paying customer, but have net 3o or 60 terms. Customers have all there material on their floor already....

I know now they used me to get in the doors of West Coast for the 7 months.

What to do?

Deni Edwards profile image

Deni Edwards 4 years ago from california Author

If you are owed money, you need to either file a claim with California's Division of Labor Standards for find an attorney. Depending upon how much money you are owed--if it is a large sum and it has been withheld for a long time--you might want to find an attorney.

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tigerek 4 years ago

Here's my situation, i was hired on for a company for management, a week later on friday jan 4th, someone appears at the office doing my work. At the end of the day, the owner tells me he might not need me to come in the following monday. i asked one of the employees about the strangers status and they tell me he was the old manager and he just got out of jail. i got a text message on monday from the jail bird saying not to come in and the owner would call me later. I awaited his calls till thursday,but he never attempted to call me. I decided to call the owner. The owner said he doesn't need me anymore(considering he hired his old friend back) and said he has my final paycheck. i asked if i can pick it up, and he started making the accountant is sick excuses, but here's my question, is there a way to find out my exact termination date? the owner is really rude and doesn't answer my calls. Could he have terminated me before i text him to call me that day. Could I count the days mon-Thursday as part of the claim?

Deni Edwards profile image

Deni Edwards 4 years ago from california Author

That's a good question and one that the labor office would determine if you are planning to file a claim. If you aren't planning on filing a claim, then it really doesn't matter. But if you are, then include this information on your wage claim; however, I might guess that the termination date would be when you were actually told your services were no longer needed.

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bmcderm67 4 years ago

I was discharged in June 2012. The company instituted a vacation cap in December 2011. I had my 329 hours when the cap was instituted. Upon discharge in June, I was only paid vacation hours to the cap of 210. I am still owed 119 hours. I filed a claim with the labor commissioner, but I am told my hearing won't be scheduled until April. I'm tired and want to move on. Do I have something to pursue or am I wasting time?

Deni Edwards profile image

Deni Edwards 4 years ago from california Author

That's entirely your decision.

karlos 3 years ago

I was discharged on 4/24/13 Over the phone , they told me that my check was at the Corporate office , to go pick it up there (Which was an 2 hours away .I was given no option to pick it up at my office . I kept calling my employer and no one would get back to me . So on 5/1/13 I I finally got ahold of someone at the corporate office and i asked for my final paycheck. They told me that they mailed it to the wrong address . So I didn't receive my final check in the mail until 5/6/13 . I filled a claim with the California labor board , for waiting time penalties . Now they are trying to say that I am lying about my paycheck to the Labor Board . That I wasn't fired until 5/1/13 and that I don't deserve waiting time penalties . The check date says issues 5/1 which is the day that I called and the day that i gave my new address. What do I do ?

"This place is crooked" I know for a fact that I was released from them on 4/24/13

Deni Edwards profile image

Deni Edwards 3 years ago from california Author

Since you filed a claim, you'll have to wait and see.

Tomas 2 years ago

Had an employee leave the company due to being sick, I contacted the individual multiple times to come pick there check but no luck it has been 3.5 months and still no response. Am I trouble if I still have there final check?

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Deni Edwards 2 years ago from california Author

Why don't you try mailing it?

Adrianna 4 weeks ago

I gave my two weeks notice, final statement, and new mailing address which happened to have the wrong apartment number and my final day of work was 12/26/16. I had received my previous check on 12/23/16 as I was leaving out of state to move. The check was post marked for 1/11/17 but had gotten sent back due to 'attempted- not known" and it was sent back to my previous employer. I had asked for my last check previously before my final day of work and was told we can mail it to you, which I accepted. Am I still able to file a claim for the waiting period from the 26 to now? Or am I not able to based on wrong apartment number? The mail courier was told that a wrong apt number was going to appear, and a mailing address change was posted for my mail box stating my name and address.

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