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When Should I Be Paid My Final Paycheck in California?


We’ve all heard the saying: out of sight, out of mind. So, what happens if you’ve left your California job and have not received your final paycheck? What are the laws regarding how soon it needs to be paid, what needs to be included, and what are your rights when it comes to collecting? Many California workers–and indeed, many California employers–do not understand how the law works in this area. Here is a brief overview of California’s “final paycheck” rules, including what is required of both you and your ex-employer.

Quitting vs. Fired Employees

The California Labor Code establishes the basic rules governing payment of final wages. The rules are simple, but vary based on whether or not you quit or are fired, and also on whether you give your employer any advance notice before leaving. We illustrate potential outcomes with a hypothetical employee named Alice, who works in a retail job.

Alice decides to quit her job. She informs her boss and gives 72 hours (3 days) notice. Under Section 202 of the Labor Code, Alice is entitled to her final paycheck as soon as she completes her last day, three days later. If Alice decides to quit right away and gives no advance notice, however, the employer has up to 72 hours to give Alice her final paycheck. If Alice does not want to come in to pick up her check, she can give the employer her mailing address, in which case the employer complies with Section 202 by putting the check in the mail within the 72-hour window.

But now let’s say Alice is fired by her employer. In that scenario, Section 201 of the Labor Code requires the employer to “immediately” pay any wages that are “earned and unpaid at the time of discharge.” (In the case of seasonal agricultural workers who are laid off, the employer may delay payment up to 72 hours.) If Alice had any accrued vacation time, the employer would have to pay this as well at the time of termination as well as all other earned wages – such as commissions, sick leave, etc. Requiring that the paycheck is tendered immediately really does mean immediate – it has to be tendered at the time and place of termination.

Now, you might be wondering what happens if Alice gives her employer 72 hours notice of quitting, but her boss turns around and tells her to leave immediately. If this happens, the quitting effectively becomes a termination. This means the Section 201 rule applies, and the employer would have to give Alice her final paycheck right away, rather than waiting 72 hours. It’s also worth pointing out the employer does not have to pay Alice for the next three days–i.e., the notice period–as she did not actually perform any work during that time.

Penalties for Late Paychecks

Regardless of whether an employee is fired or quits, the final paycheck rules described above must be followed. If the employee is forced to wait for his or her final paycheck, the employer must pay a penalty equal to that employee’s daily pay for each day that payment as late–up to 30 days in total. In other words, let’s say Alice is fired on Monday, but her now-former employer does not give her a final paycheck for three more days. Under the law, the employer must give Alice three additional days of pay as a penalty.

If you have any additional questions about the rules governing final paychecks, you should speak with qualified California employment law attorney right away.





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* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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