If you were fired or quit your job in California, you are entitled to pay immediately, or within 72 hours in certain circumstances.

Most employers are pretty good about issuing a final paycheck within the specified timeframe, but every once in a while, an employer will push its luck and refuse to pay the former employee.

This is illegal

California penalizes employers that delay in issuing or refuse to pay former employees for their hard work. If you are reading this right now, it is likely because you have yet to be paid for your time and labor.

If that is the case, you do have rights. To better understand what those rights are, you need to understand the law.

California’s Final Paycheck Law

Most states have laws in place that dictate when employers must give a former employee his or her final paycheck. While California is one of them, its laws are exponentially stricter than other states’ laws.

Whereas most other states allow employers to pay the final paycheck within one or two weeks of an employee’s last day, California requires employers to issue the final paycheck immediately, regardless of whether that employee was fired or quit. However, if an employee quits on the spot and without notice, the employer does have a 72-hour grace period.

If an employee provides 72 hours of notice of quitting, though, then the employer must have the final paycheck ready on the employee’s last day.

California’s short timeframe is not the only strict aspect of the final paycheck law.

California employees enjoy further protections of the law, which require employers to compensate former employees for their unused, accrued vacation time or paid time off.

This sum must also be paid  within the specified timeframes mentioned above. If an employer gives the employee a final paycheck that includes compensation for hours worked but not for unused vacation time or PTO, then the employer is still subject to the same penalties it would have been subject to had it not paid the employee at all.

Waiting Time Penalties

California employers who fail to issue a full, final paycheck within the specified timeframe are subject to monetary penalties.

In California, the penalty is an employee’s average daily wage for each day that the final paycheck is late, with a cap of 30 days.

For instance, if an employer waits to pay a former employee until three weeks after the employee’s last day, the employer would have to pay the former worker for 21 full days of work.

Penalties are based on what the employee’s regular rate of pay was. The number of hours an employer must pay for depends on the employee’s standard schedule, including commissions and overtime.

Here are a few guidelines that the state uses to calculate how much in penalties employees are entitled to:

  • If you regularly worked eight hours a day, five days a week, at $20 an hour, you would be entitled to $160 day for every day that your former employer fails to issue your final paycheck.
  • If you were a part-time employee and worked five-hour shifts, six days a week, at $15 an hour, you would be entitled to $75 a day for every day that you are forced to wait for your final paycheck.
  • Overtime is only included if you regularly put in extra hours. For instance, if you only worked overtime on occasion, it would not be calculated into the employer’s penalties. However, if you put in 50 hours a week every week, the employer’s penalties would be based on a 10-hour work day. For instance, if you earned $20 an hour, the employer would have to pay you for $220 a day—eight hours at your regular rate of pay plus an additional two hours at the time and a half overtime rate.

An employer is entitled to pay you for every day that you are forced to wait for your money. This includes Saturdays and Sundays or any days that you regularly took off.

Penalties also apply if your employer only pays you part of what it owes you.

For instance, if the company issued a check just for your final pay but the final check did not include compensation for your accrued vacation time or PTO, your employer will still be forced to pay the full amount of penalties.

These laws are in place to protect employees, as no employer wants to pay an employee who is no longer doing work for the company. So long as employers abide by the law, everyone wins.

Additional Things Employers Cannot Do in Regards to the Final Paycheck

California’s laws also outline a bunch of “don’ts” when it comes to employees’ final paychecks. A lot of employers—especially those who feel slighted by a worker’s sudden notice of quitting—try to use unfair tactics to either avoid paying the employee or to get more out of them.

It is important that you understand your rights so that you do not end up signing documents or putting in more work to receive money that is rightfully yours. Some things that the employer cannot do before issuing a final paycheck include:

  • Make you wait until the next standard payday to give you your final check;
  • Attach strings to your last check, such as making you sign a bunch of documents, forcing you to complete a bunch of work, making you pay for damage you did to the company vehicle, asking you to turn in your uniform and keys, etc.; or
  • Forcing you to come into the office to retrieve your final check.

What to Do When You Are Not Given Your Final Paycheck on Time

If your employer delays or refuses to give you your final paycheck, you can do one of two things: either file a complaint with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) or file a lawsuit against your former employer.

If you file a lawsuit and win, you will be entitled to your final paycheck plus penalties for each day that you were forced to wait, up to 30 days.

If you want to go the lawsuit route, reach out to the employment rights attorneys at the Workplace Rights Law Group. You can call our office to schedule a free consultation or use our online contact form.

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