A pay schedule refers to the date(s) and time periods when employers are legally required to pay their employees. California labor laws state that most employers must pay their employees no less frequently than
- semi-monthly – which means twice a month.
The California payday laws also say that one of these paydays must come
- on or before the 10th of the month, while the other must come
- on or before the 26th of the month.
Exceptions to these rules do apply. For example, employers are only required to pay exempt employees (such as “professional” employees) once per month. This payment must be made on or before the 26th day of the month. In addition, overtime pay must be paid by the payday for the employee’s next regularly planned payment.
In the event that an employer fires an employee, the employer must be able to pay the employee for any earned wages at the time of announcing the firing. If the employee quits a job, he/she is entitled to any earned wages within 72 hours of quitting.
There are several penalties that may apply if an employer violates one of California’s pay schedule requirements. These include:
- misdemeanor charges (which are criminal charges different from felonies and infractions), and
- fines and PAGA claims.
Note that, in addition to California employment laws, there are federal laws that apply to pay schedule requirements. Most are set forth in the Fair Labor Standards Act. The federal laws are largely consistent with those imposed by the State.
Our California labor and employment lawyers will explain the following about California payday laws:
- 1. Do employers have to pay you on payday?
- 2. When is payment made if a worker is terminated from work or leaves a job?
- 3. Can my employer pay me late in California?
- 4. What is the penalty for not paying employees on time in California?
- 5. Are there federal laws regarding pay periods?
1. Do employers have to pay you on payday?
In general, yes. California state laws say that most employees must be paid:
- semimonthly, or twice during one calendar month, and
- on specific dates (as set forth by the law and the employer).
Some exceptions to this general rule do apply. The most notable being for:
- exempt employees,
- overtime pay, and
- sales commissions,
1.1. How long does an employer have to pay you after payday in California?
Most California workers are required to be on a semi-monthly payroll. This means their California employers have to pay them twice a month.1
The employer must tell the employee the specific dates during the workweek when he/she will be paid.2
These dates of the pay period must also comply with the following rules:
- employees must be paid on or before the 26th calendar day of the month for money earned between the 1st and 15th day of that month, and
- employees must be paid before the 10 day of the following month for any money earned during the last half of the month.
But whether workers are paid semi-monthly, weekly, or every two weeks, they should get paid within seven days of the end of the pay period.
If a holiday lands on a business day, then an employer may pay the employee’s wages on the next business day.
Note that these rules mostly apply to hourly employees (or those that get paid for the total hours of work performed). This is true no matter if they’re making minimum wage or some other applicable hourly rate of pay. This also applies to new employees and seasoned employees alike.
These pay frequency rules are for work wages only. Other payments, for example social security payments, may operate on a different schedule.
1.1.1. Method of payment
Payment is often made in the terms of a business check either given to the California employee:
- via mail, or
- in his or her bank account by means of direct deposit.
Wage statements (pay stub) must include an itemized list. It must include gross wages and net wages for the corresponding number of hours for the regular pay period, plus any deductions. In addition to having the worker’s name and the last four digits of his/her social security number, the statement should have
- the employer’s name and address,
- the number of hours worked at each hourly rate, and
- the amount of units and rate for any piece-work (if applicable).
The statement can be
- a separate document or
- a detachable pay stub.
Furthermore, employees who request their payroll records must be able to examine them within 21 days of the request. The employer can charge reasonable copying costs if the employee wants to keep a copy. But if the employer does not give over the records, the employee may be entitled to an extra $750 from the employer.3
(Also see our article on final paychecks, paycheck laws and layoffs.)
1.2. When do exempt employees get paid?
The above semi-monthly payment of wages rules do not apply to exempt employees.4 The law states that the following rules apply to these workers:
- payroll period is once per month, and
- payment must happen on or before the 26th day of the month (not the last day of the month).
Exempt employees are workers that do not receive the protection of certain employee rights under state law. These rights include the right to:
- minimum wage,
- overtime pay, and
- rest and meal breaks.
Examples of exempt employees include:
- professional employees,
- administrative employees,
- computer employees, and
- outside salespeople.
Note that certain payroll taxes may get passed down to these employees in their paychecks.
Also note that farm labor contractors must be paid weekly.5
1.3. How soon do employers have to pay overtime pay?
Non-exempt employees are entitled to overtime pay if they work more than:
- eight hours in a single workday,
- forty hours in a single workweek, or
- six days in a single workweek.
Employers must pay time and a half for work in excess of these hours. They must also make this payment by the payday for the next regular payday.6
1.4. When do sales commissions get paid?
A commission is the amount of money a person earns when he/she sells something. The law says that commissions are in fact wages that an employer must pay.7
If an employer pays an employee on a commission pay arrangement, then it must pay him/her when the commission is earned.8 The employment agreement sets forth when this takes place.
An agreement, for example, may say that a commission is earned when a customer signs a sales agreement to buy a good or service.
Despite the “earned” requirement on this method of payment, most of these pay arrangements operate on a semi-monthly basis. This means the worker will receive two paychecks a month on set days.
Note that an employer can always decide to pay an employee more than twice a month, including:
- on a biweekly payroll, or
- payment for each weekly schedule.
2. When is payment made if a worker is terminated from work or leaves a job?
If an employer fires an employee, the law says that the worker is entitled to get paid as soon as the employer announces its decision. In other words, at the time of termination – not the next scheduled payday. The paycheck must include not only
- wages but also
- any unused vacation and paid time off (PTO).9
If, however, a worker quits or resigns from a job without notice, the employee is typically entitled to get paid his or her final wages within 72 hours of quitting. If the employee gives 72 hours’ notice, he/she is entitled to the final paycheck on the last day.
If the employer is late with the final paycheck, the employer may have to pay a penalty to the former employee. The penalty amounts to a full day of wages for each day the final paycheck is late – up to 30 days.10
3. Can my employer pay me late in California?
Employers must pay their employees on time. But employers have an extra pay period to pay non-exempt employees overtime wages.
If payday is a holiday, the employer can pay the wages the following day. And if the employee quits without giving 72 hours of notice, the employer has three days to deliver the final paycheck.11
4. What is the penalty for not paying employees on time in California?
There are two main time penalties that may apply if an employer violates one of California’s pay schedule requirements. These include:
- criminal penalties, and
4.1. Criminal penalties
It is a crime in California if an employer fails to either:
- provide an employer with notice of how he/she will get paid, or
- provide payment in accordance with that plan.
The crime is charged as a misdemeanor.12
4.2. Fines and PAGA claims
There are situations when an employer fails to properly pay an employee, and the employee remains with the employer.
In these situations, California’s labor laws impose a fine on the employer for a violation of the law.13
The fine is in the amount of $100 for an initial violation. For any subsequent violation, the law imposes a fine that is a combination of:
- $200, and
- 25% of the amount withheld from the employee.14
Employers must pay these waiting time penalty fines to the State of California.15 But, employees can try to recover 25% of the amount of the fine by bringing a claim under the Private Attorneys General Act. These are known as PAGA claims are civil lawsuits filed against the employer.
5. Are there federal laws regarding pay periods?
The federal government applies certain federal laws in the United States that pertain to pay schedule requirements. The main law is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which is largely enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
The FLSA sets forth pay schedule laws similar to those outlined above. Note that if a state law conflicts with federal law, an employer must follow the one that gives the greatest protection to the employee.16
For additional help…
Have you received late payments or no payments from your employer? For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a labor and employment lawyer, we invite you to contact our law firm at Shouse Law Group. We serve clients in Los Angeles and throughout the state of California.
Also see the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) and Labor Commissioner.
- California Labor Code section 204.
- See same.
- See same. California Labor Codes 226, 1198.5.
- California Labor Code 204a and 204c.
- California Labor Codes 204a, 205.
- California Labor Code 204b.
- Sciborski v. Pacific Bell Directory (2012) 205 Cal.App.4th 1152.
- California Labor Code 201a. See also California Labor Code 204a.
- California Labor Code 201.
- California Labor Codes 202a, 1194.2.
- See above notes.
- California Labor Code 215.
- California Labor Code 203.
- California Labor Code 210a.
- California Labor Code 210 and 225.
- 29 U.S.C. § 218(a). See also Aguilar v. Association for Retarded Citizens (1991) 234 Cal.App.3d 21.