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What Happens If My Paycheck Is Late — Or Doesn’t Come At All?

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When you put in hard work, you expect to get paid. But what happens if your paycheck is late — or if you don’t get paid at all for the work that you do?

In California, employers are required under state law to pay employees their wages within a certain amount of time. This includes immediately paying employees who have been terminated all of their wages. Employers who fail to follow this law may be liable for unpaid wages plus damages.

If your employer doesn’t pay you, or pays you late, then you may be able to file a lawsuit or Labor Board claim against your employer for late or unpaid wages.

When Are California Employers Required To Pay Wages?

Under the California Labor Code, most employers must be paid at least twice during each month, on days that are designated in advance as regular paydays. Under this law, employers are required to post a notice that sets out the regular paydays, as well as the time and place of payment.

Any work that employees perform within the first 15 days of the calendar month must be paid between the 16th and the 26th day of that month. Work that is performed between the 16th and last day of the month must be paid between the 1st and 10th day of the following month.  If employees work overtime, then they must be paid their overtime wages for this work no later than the next regular payroll period.

Importantly, these rules do not apply to salaried, “exempt” employees, which are workers who are not subject to the same California or Federal wage and hour laws. Exempt employees are usually white collar professionals, such as executives, administrative employees, and other professionals. Salaried employees may be paid once a month, on or before the 26th day of the month for which work was performed.  Similarly, employees who work under a collective bargaining agreement may have different procedures for being paid.

What Are California Employers Required To Pay When I Am Fired Or Laid Off?

If an employee is laid off or fired (whether “for cause” or otherwise), then the employer must immediately pay their final unpaid wages. This final pay must include both wages as well as any unused vacation or paid time off that the employee has accumulated. Employees who resign without giving notice are entitled to receive their final pay within 72 hours. However, if an employee gives at least 72 hours of notice of their intent to resign, then the employer is required to pay that employee on their last day.

For Example:

Chris works as an hourly employee for a local big box store. He found a new job and gave two weeks’ notice to his current supervisor. Because he gave more than 72 hours of notice, his employer is required to pay him his full amount of unpaid wages plus paid time off on his last day of work. However, if Chris had walked into work one day and suddenly quit, then his employer would have 72 hours to give him his final paycheck.

What Can I Do If My Paycheck is Late Or Doesn’t Come At All?

If your employer pays you late or fails to pay at all, then you may be able to file a lawsuit against the company for your unpaid wages plus damages. Employers who pays their employees late or who do not pay final wages in accordance with California law may be liable to their employees for:

  • Unpaid wages
  • Unpaid overtime
  • Meal and rest breaks that were not provided
  • Hours worked off the clock
  • Failure to pay minimum wage
  • Late payment of wages

In a lawsuit against an employer for late or unpaid wages, employees may seek payment of these wages as well as statutory damages, attorney’s fees, and court costs. If the employer’s failure was not due to a good faith error, employees may be able to recover liquidated damages, which includes an amount equal to the unpaid wages plus interest.

For Example:

If Jen’s employer didn’t pay her overtime wages starting on January 1, 2019, she could file a lawsuit against her employer. If she wins and the court finds that her employer acted in bad faith, then Jen would be entitled to all of her unpaid overtime wages, plus interest on those wages from the date that the wages were not paid until the date of the judgment.

If more than one employee is affected, a lawsuit may be filed as a class action or even as a representative action under the Private Attorney General Act (PAGA) claim. With a class action, employees with a similar complaint — such as late or unpaid wages — band together to file a lawsuit against their employer. With a PAGA claim, an employee files a lawsuit on behalf of himself and all other similar situated aggrieved employees. For purposes of the PAGA lawsuit, the employee is “standing in the shoes” of the Attorney General of the State of California and, in exchange, the employees can recover a portion (25%) of the civil penalties that the employer must normally pay to the State.

Wage and hour cases can be complicated, particularly when an employer violates both state and federal law. Working with an experienced employment lawyer can help you get the compensation that you are entitled to under the law. This may involve filing a complaint with the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, filing a lawsuit as an individual, banding together with fellow employees to pursue a class action lawsuit, or even filing a PAGA claim.

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