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When Do You Get Your Final Paycheck Under California Law? The Answer Depends on How You Leave


Most California workers are paid on a weekly or biweekly basis. But when an employer chooses to terminate an employee for any reason, California law requires “immediate” payment of any “wages earned and unpaid.” In other words, if you are fired or laid off, your now-former employer must give you your final paycheck that same day. (If you quit your job without giving advance notice, your employer is required to pay your final paycheck within 72 hours.)

California Supreme Court Reinstates Class Action Against S.F. Giants Over “Discharge” of Security Guards

The California Supreme Court recently issued a decision, Melendez v. San Francisco Baseball Associates LLC, involving a dispute over what qualifies as a discharge for purposes of the immediate-payment rule. The Court did not actually address the merits of this case. Rather, it was asked to settle the employer’s contention that the employees’ claims were “preempted” by federal law requiring arbitration.

Here is some background. The defendant is the owner of the San Francisco Giants. The plaintiff worked as a security guard at the Giants’ stadium. He filed a class action on behalf of himself and other security guards. The core allegation is that the Giants commonly “discharged” the security guards at the end of each home series, baseball season, or team event, and then rehired them as necessary. Yet the Giants allegedly did not actually make “immediate” payment of wages on the day of each discharge as required by California law.

In effect, the plaintiff said security guards are “intermittent” employees. The Giants disagreed, arguing the guards were “year-round employees who remain employed … until they resign or are terminated” pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the team and the Service Employees International Union.

As relevant to the Supreme Court’s decision, the Giants further alleged the CBA “preempted” the plaintiff’s proposed class action and required arbitration of any labor-related dispute. The trial court disagreed. It said the plaintiff’s complaint turned on an interpretation of state law–whether the guards were “discharged” and therefore entitled to immediate payment of wages–and did not involve the CBA. An intermediate appeals court later reversed that decision in favor of the Giants.

But the Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Court of Appeal and reinstated the trial court’s original decision, i.e., the CBA did not preempt the plaintiff’s class action. Writing for the Supreme Court, Associate Justice Ming W. Chin said this particular dispute did not require “interpreting” the CBA itself–which would require arbitration–but instead came down to an “interpretation of California’s independent labor laws,” which the trial court would have to consider moving forward.

Do You Have Questions About Your Legal Rights as a California Worker?

The interaction of state and federal labor laws is often confusing. In many respects, California affords workers with substantially greater protections than federal statutes. That is why it is a good idea to consult with an experienced California employment law attorney if you suspect your employer may not be fully complying with state law.




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* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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