In California, a sample demand letter for unpaid wages informs the employer of the missed payments and of the employee’s willingness to take legal action to recover them. Demand letters should include details about
- the worker,
- the employer, and
- the unpaid wages.
It should be formal and strongly worded, but should be polite and should stick to the facts.
What does a sample demand letter or template look like?
Every demand letter is unique. They will all include different information about the employer, the employee, and the circumstances that led to the lack of payment. However, they should all include certain elements. An example of a demand letter for unpaid wages can look like this:
[Your name, address, and contact information]
[Your supervisor’s name and employer’s address]
Dear [supervisor’s name],
I was recently let go from my position in your company on March 1st, 2022. At that time, I was owed $700 in unpaid wages for the pay period of February 20th to March 1st, 2022. I have still not received these wages in my final paycheck. I respectfully demand that you pay the full amount owed to me before April 10th, 2022.
If the full $700 in unpaid wages are not paid by that time, I will take legal action to recover them. This may involve the transfer of the debt to a collection agency. You may be liable for the costs of collecting this debt, including attorney’s fees.
This letter serves as a formal demand for payment. It is an official notice that may be used in court as evidence that you failed to fully pay my wages. If you believe that the amount is incorrect, then you are obligated to pay the correct amount and explain why it is the correct total.
Please send your payment to:
I hope that this issue can be resolved quickly and professionally.
[Your name and signature]
What is a demand letter for unpaid wages?
A demand letter for unpaid wages is a formal request to an employer. It informs the employer that wages were not paid and remain outstanding. It tells the employer how to pay the wages and when the deadline is to do so. It also lets the employer know that the worker is willing to take further legal action to recover the unpaid wages if they are not received by the deadline.
For former employees, sending a demand letter is often the first move in a series of legal actions that may be required to recover their unpaid wages. In some cases, the employer’s failure to pay is an honest mistake. If that is the case, the formal demand letter should spur them into action and quickly pay the amount owed. If that is not the case, the demand letter puts a deadline on the employer’s uncontested refusal to pay. It also notifies the employer that the unpaid ex-employee is willing to go further to recover his or her payment.
For current employees, issuing a demand letter for unpaid wages can serve 2 purposes. It can:
- try to collect the unpaid wages, and
- protect the employee’s job.
Filing a demand letter can protect the worker’s job because workers generally have a legal right to receive the wages that they have earned. Demanding payment is usually a legally protected right. Firing an employee for invoking a legally protected right can amount to retaliation. This can be the grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit.
What details should an unpaid wages demand letter include?
Demand letters for unpaid wages should include the following 8 elements:
- the employee’s personal and contact information,
- the date the letter is sent,
- information about the employer,
- details describing the wages that are owed,
- a deadline for the receipt of those unpaid wages,
- a description of the actions that the employee will take if the wages are not paid by the deadline,
- how the employer can pay the wages, and
- the employee’s signature.
The letter should include these elements using a strong but professional tone. The letter does not need to be complex or verbose. It should be written in simple and straightforward language.
The sample letter includes all of these elements and an appropriate tone.
Information about the employee
The demand letter should include the employee’s personal information and contact information. This needs to be up-to-date and current. Old contact information will add an obstacle to the communication that the letter aims to initiate. It should include the employee’s:
- email address, and
- phone number.
This information often goes right at the top of the page, in the header. The format of the letter is not important, but this personal information is often aligned to the right of the page at the top. It may also be included again at the bottom, beneath the employee’s signature.
The date the letter is sent
Including the date that the letter is sent can show that the employer had been given plenty of time to pay the employee. It also shows that the deadline in the demand letter is reasonably far off and that the employer has plenty of time to make the payment before the deadline has expired.
The employer’s information
Including correct information about the employer can be used to show that the letter went to the right place. It should generally include at least:
- the name of the employee’s supervisor, and
- the employer’s address.
It does not need to include the employer’s contact information. The employee will generally already have that, and providing it will not help the employer make the payment.
Details of the unpaid wages
This is perhaps the most important part of the demand letter. Employees should always give an exact dollar amount for the unpaid wages. They may also want to include a calculation that shows how they came up with this amount. For example, hourly workers may want to list the dates and the number of hours they worked without pay, including hours that required overtime pay. For those with other types of wages, the calculation may be more complex. Prior pay stubs may be useful if the employment was stable or salaried.
Providing more information is not necessary and can actually undermine the demand letter. If additional information is included – like what work was performed on each day – and it turns out to be inaccurate, the employer may point to the error as a reason to doubt the veracity of the claim.
All demand letters for unpaid wages should include a deadline. If a deadline is not included, then there is no set point in time when the employee can escalate their demands for payment. The deadline also urges the employer to act before it expires, or risk further legal action.
Employees should pick a deadline that is not so far in the future that it will unduly delay payment, but also not so soon that the employer can claim that it was unreasonable to meet.
For former employees, the deadline should also take into account how much time their former employer has to pay wages after termination. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not answer this question, but many state laws do. In California, employers have to immediately pay the final wages of employees who are fired or who quit with more than 72 hours of advance notice. If the employee quits without warning, the last paycheck has to be paid within 72 hours.1
Setting a deadline of 1 to 2 weeks or 5 to 10 business days or working days is often ideal.
Further legal action
The demand letter should state what the employee intends to do if the unpaid wages are not paid by the deadline. This can include:
- sending the debt to a collection agency,
- filing a claim with the state labor commissioner or the Department of Labor, or
- filing a lawsuit for unpaid wages or wage theft.
Employees should be prepared to follow through on whatever legal action they mention in their demand letter.
How the employer can pay
It is often useful to make it explicitly clear how the employer can rectify the situation. This generally includes restating the employee’s address and urging the employer to send a check for the unpaid wages there.
The employee’s signature
Signing the demand letter can show the employer that it is the employee who is behind the demand letter.
How should I send the letter?
Sending the demand letter is not as simple as dropping it in the mailbox. Additional precautions should be taken. Doing so soon after the wages have become past due is important in order to comply with the statute of limitations.
Employees should keep a copy of the demand letter for their own records. This can be helpful if the employer tries to deny that the letter existed.
The demand letter should be sent in a way that creates a record of its receipt. Employees should consider mailing it:
- via Certified Mail, or
- with return receipt.
The Certified Mail receipt can prove that the employer received the letter.
What happens if my employer does not pay?
If the employer still has not paid by the time the deadline has passed, employees should take the legal actions outlined in the demand letter. A lawyer with experience in employment law can help file a wage claim in superior court, in a small claims court, or with the appropriate government agency. Getting legal services and legal advice from an attorney at a reputable law firm can drastically increase your odds of recovering your unpaid wages.