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 semi-monthly, or twice a month.
The 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 (e.g., “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 highlight the following in this article:
- 1. What are the State’s payroll schedule requirements?
- 2. When is payment made if a worker is terminated from work or leaves a job?
- 3. What are the penalties for a violation of these laws?
- 4. Are there federal laws regarding pay periods?
1. What are the State’s payroll schedule requirements?
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. General rules
Most California workers are required to be on a semi-monthly payroll. This means their 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 must also comply with the following rules:
- employees must be paid on or before the 26th 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 month for any money earned during the last half of the previous month.3
If a holiday lands on a business day, then an employer may pay the employee 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 hourly rate. This also applies to new employees and seasoned employees alike.
Payment is often made in the terms of a business check either given to the employee:
- via mail, or
- in his or her bank account by means of direct deposit.
These pay frequency rules are for work wages only. Other payments, for example social security payments, may operate on a different schedule.
1.2. Exempt Employees
The above semi-monthly pay rules do not apply to exempt employees.4 The law states that the following rules apply to these workers:
- pay frequency is once per month, and
- payment must happen on or before the 26th day of the month.5
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:
Note that certain payroll taxes may get passed down to these employees in their paychecks.
1.3. 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 regularly planned payment.6
1.4. Sales commissions
A commission is an 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.9
If, though, a worker quits or resigns from a job, the employee is typically entitled to get paid his or her final wages within 72 hours of quitting.10
3. What are the penalties for a violation of these laws?
There are two main penalties that may apply if an employer violates one of California’s pay schedule requirements. These include:
- criminal penalties, and
3.1. 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.11
The crime is charged as a misdemeanor.12
3.2. 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 ay 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 fines to the State of California.15 But, employees can try to recover 25% of the amount of the fine by brining a claim under the Private Attorneys General Act. These are known as PAGA claims are civil lawsuits filed against the employer.
4. 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 a federal law, an employer must follow the one that gives the greatest protection to the employee.16
For additional help…
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.
- California Labor Code 204.
- See same.
- See same.
- California Labor Code 204a and 204c.
- California Labor Code 204a.
- 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 Code 202a.
- California Labor Code 215.
- See same.
- 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.