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Helping You Navigate Workplace Issues in California

What Pay Am I Entitled to When I Leave My Employment?


If you work in California, your employer is normally required to pay you at least twice during each calendar month on regularly designated paydays. But what happens when your employment ends and you need to receive your final paycheck or wages? Does the employer have to pay you right away, or can it wait until what would have been your next regular payday?

The answer to these questions may depend on the specific type of industry you work in. But as a general rule, the timing of your final paycheck will depend on how your employment ended. Basically, if your employer has fired you, California law requires you receive your final paycheck at the “time of separation,” meaning the day you are terminated.

However, if you decide to quit, then the timing of your final paycheck will further depend on how much notice, if any, you gave your employer. If you gave at least 72 hours (3 days) notice, then you must receive your final pay at the time of separation. But if you did not give at least 72 hours notice–i.e., you walked off the job and simply never returned–then your employer has 72 hours to deliver your final pay.

Here are some other thing to keep in mind when it comes to final pay:

  • An employee who is fired must be paid at the “place of termination,” while one who quits must be paid at the “office or agency of the employer in the county where the employee worked.” In either case, this is normally the employer’s regular business office. But if the employee worked remotely, or does not wish to come to the office, a final paycheck can be mailed, delivered by messenger, or made via direct deposit.
  • An employee’s final pay must include any accrued vacation.
  • The employer must still make legally required deductions from an employee’s final paycheck, but may not withhold money to cover the cost of any company property that is not returned; however, the employer may sue the former employee in small claims court to recover such property.

And as noted above, there may be slightly different rules regarding final pay for certain industries. Here are just a few examples:

  • If an employee works under “unusual or uncertain terms of employment” in the motion picture industry, the employer may wait until the “next regular payday” to pay final wages.
  • Employees who work in “oil drilling” and are laid off must receive final wages within 24 hours of discharge, unless that is a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday.
  • Employees who work at live theaters or other concert venues under a collective bargaining agreement may receive their final pay at such times specified by that agreement.

Contact a California Employment Law Attorney If You Have Additional Questions

This is just a brief overview of some of the rules in California governing final paychecks. It is not intended as legal advice. If you do have questions regarding your specific rights with respect to an employer, consult with a qualified California employment law attorney as soon as possible.


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* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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