If you are fired or terminated, California law requires that you be paid all of your outstanding:
- commission pay,
- accrued vacation and
- expense reimbursement
on the same day as the termination.
If you quit or resign without notice, you must be paid within 72 hours.
If a California employer does not issue your final paycheck on time, you may be able to seek damages for each day the wages remain unpaid.
Below, our California labor and employment lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions about when an employer is required under state law to pay out the final check:
- 1. When is an employer required to pay final wages after termination?
- 2. Do I have to get my final paycheck on my last day?
- 3. What happens to my unused vacation pay if I am laid off or fired?
- 4. Can I sue my employer for not paying unpaid wages in California?
- 5. How much can I sue for if my employer doesn’t pay me on time?
- 6. Can a final paycheck be direct deposit in California?
1. When is an employer required to pay final wages after termination?
When you are terminated, your final unpaid wages must be paid immediately upon termination. It does not matter whether you are:
- laid off for cause, or
- laid off for no cause at all.1
- If you quit or resign without providing prior notice to your employer, the employer generally has to make your final payment available within 72 hours.
- However, if you provide at least 72 hours notice of your intention to quit, the employer has to make final wages available by the last day of work.2
If you quit without prior notice, you can request that your employer send your final wage payment to a designated address. The 72-hour period to send final payment is based on the date of mailing.3
Final payment includes:
- unpaid wages,
- unused vacation, or
- any other time off you accumulated.4
Note that if you quit without telling your boss, it may take several days before your employer realizes you have permanently left the job. Once your employer realizes you constructively quit, they have three days to pay you. See our related article, Job abandonment in California – What is it and what is the law?
2. Do I have to get my final paycheck on my last day?
Under California final paycheck laws, you are generally required to be given your final wages upon termination. However, there are some exceptions that allow employers additional time to provide a final paycheck following termination of employment.
Quitting Without Notice
If you quit or resign with less than 72 hours notice to your employer, you may have to wait before you can get your final paycheck. An employer has 72 hours to provide final payment.
You can also request the final payment by mail, with the date of mailing within 72 hours of quitting.5
Seasonal Worker Layoffs
If you are a seasonal worker, you may be required to wait before you can get your final paychecks. When a group of employees is laid off at the end of seasonal employment in:
- canning fruit, fish or vegetables,
- drying fruit, fish, or vegetables, or
- curing fruit, fish, or vegetables,
payment must be made within 72 hours after the layoff. If requested, these final payments can be made to your designated address.6
Motion Picture Layoffs
If you are working in film production and are laid off – and if your employment terms require special computation – you may be paid the next regular payday. The final payment may be:
- mailed to you, or
- made available at a specified location.7
Oil Drilling Layoffs
If you work in the oil drilling business, you must be paid within 24 hours after you are discharged. The 24-hour period excludes:
- Sundays, and
Live Event Venue Workers
If you work on a short-term basis in live theatrical events or concerts, you may be paid according to your collective bargaining agreement. This applies if you were hired through a:
- hiring hall, or
- other system that is subject to a bona fide collective bargaining agreement which provides for the time limits for final wages.9
3. What happens to my unused vacation pay if I am laid off or fired?
In addition to unpaid final wages, you are entitled to payment for your unused vacation time immediately at the time of termination in California.10
Note that employers are not required to provide paid vacation time. If they do, vested vacation time is paid at your final rate of pay.11
Under California labor law, your employer cannot provide for forfeiture of vested vacation time if you are fired or laid off.12
Example: Ed’s boss Stephan tells Ed that his department is losing too much money and he is being laid off. Stephan hands Ed his final paycheck including his final hours for the day. Ed asks about his unused paid time off (PTO). Stephan says that company vacation policy was “use it or lose it.” Ed signed a contract that said any unused vacation time would be forfeited.
Ed is still owed for his unused vacation time paid at 20 hours of his normal rate of pay. It does not matter if the company policy says otherwise, California labor law requires payment of vacation time on termination. Similarly, the language of Ed’s employment contract cannot take away state labor protections. California law treats vacation time like earned wages, which do not expire and cannot be taken away.
4. Can I sue my employer for not paying unpaid wages in California?
If your employer has not made final payment available upon termination, your employer may be violating California wage and hour laws. If you are owed unpaid wages, you can file a lawsuit against your employer to recover your unpaid wages, in addition to other damages provided by law.13
If your employer willfully fails to make the final wages available if you are laid off or quit, your employer may be liable for late penalties.14
When an employer has a good faith dispute concerning the amount of wages due, the employer may be able to avoid waiting time penalties with a good faith defense.15
However, even where there is a good faith dispute as to part of the unpaid wages, the employer must make immediately available any wages that are not in dispute.16
In many cases, an employer who is withholding final wages may also be in violation of other wage and hour laws. In a California wage and hour lawsuit, you may seek payment or damages for:
- Unpaid wages
- Unpaid overtime
- Hours worked “off-the-clock”
- Not provided meal breaks
- Not provided rest breaks
- Failure to pay the California minimum wage
- Failure to pay the local city or county minimum wage
- Late payment of wages
In many cases, an employer may have violated California labor laws against multiple employees. Successful wage and hour class action lawsuits often involve unpaid wages for:
- final payment,
- late payment of final wages, and
- other wage and hour violations.
5. How much can I sue for if my employer doesn’t pay me on time?
If you have not been paid for wages worked, you can file a lawsuit for unpaid wages. However, there is also a waiting time penalty when an employer does not immediately make the final wage payment available upon termination.17
An employer who fails to pay wages due at termination may be assessed a waiting time penalty. The waiting time penalty is equal to the amount of your daily rate of pay for each day the wages remain unpaid, up to a maximum of 30 days.18
The penalty has nothing to do with:
- the number of days you work during the month, or
- the length of time you have worked for the employer.
Even a part-time worker is entitled to the waiting time penalty calculated at the daily wage rate multiplied by the number of days of non-payment, up to a maximum of 30 days.19
In addition to unpaid wages and waiting time penalties, you may also be able to recover interest on the:
- unpaid wages,
- reasonable attorney’s fees, and
- court costs.20
If the employer’s violation of California labor laws was not due to a good-faith error, you may be eligible for double damages. Liquidated damages include an amount equal to the unpaid wages plus interest.21
Example: Astrid is working as a cashier at a funnel cake stand making $15.50 per hour. She works 3 days a week for 5 hours a day. Astrid gets promoted to head cashier and gets a raise to $16.00. However, after Astrid’s third shift as head cashier, she is fired because she is caught snacking on funnel cakes while working.
Astrid’s employer tells her to leave immediately. Astrid asks for her final paycheck but her boss says he’s too busy and he will mail her final paycheck. After a week, Astrid calls up her employer to ask about her final paycheck and her employer says she shouldn’t even be getting a final paycheck because she broke the rules, but that he would get around to it later.
If Astrid files a lawsuit against her employer, she will be able to claim unpaid wages and seek a waiting period penalty. The waiting period penalty may amount to $80 per day for each day of non-payment after she was fired, up to a maximum of 30 days.
Even if Astrid’s employer was “busy” at the time she was terminated, he is required to make final payment available immediately. The waiting time penalty would amount to $80 per day because $65 was Astrid’s daily wage rate ($16/hour at 5 hours per day worked = $80/day).
6. Can a final paycheck be direct deposit in California?
Your final paycheck will be direct deposit if you have previously authorized your employer to pay you through direct deposit. If your employer has been paying you through paper checks, then your final paycheck will be a paper check.
Call us for help…
For questions about unpaid final wages, California wage and hour laws, or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our skilled California labor and employment attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
We have local employment law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
Work in Nevada? See our article on when employers are required to pay final paychecks in Nevada.
- California Labor Code 201 LC — Payment of wages on discharge. (“(a) If an employer discharges an employee, the wages earned and unpaid at the time of discharge are due and payable immediately.”). See also Bernstein v. Virgin Am., Inc., (9th Cir. 2021) 990 F.3d 1157. See also Kaanaana v. Barrett Bus. Servs (2021) 11 Cal. 5th 158.
- Labor Code 202 LC — Payment of wages upon quitting. (“(a) If an employee not having a written contract for a definite period quits his or her employment, his or her wages shall become due and payable not later than 72 hours thereafter, unless the employee has given 72 hours previous notice of his or her intention to quit, in which case the employee is entitled to his or her wages at the time of quitting.”). See, for example, Villafuerte v. Inter-Con Security Systems, Inc.
- Labor Code 202 LC — Payment of wages upon quitting. (“(a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an employee who quits without providing a 72-hour notice shall be entitled to receive payment by mail if he or she so requests and designates a mailing address. The date of the mailing shall constitute the date of payment for purposes of the requirement to provide payment within 72 hours of the notice of quitting.”)
- Labor Code 227.3 LC — (“Unless otherwise prohibited by a collective-bargaining agreement, whenever a contract of employment or employer policy provides for paid vacations, and an employee is terminated without having taken off his vested vacation time, all vested vacation shall be paid to him as wages at his final rate in accordance with such contract or of employment or employer policy respecting eligibility or time served; provided, however, that an employment contract or employer policy shall not provide for forfeiture of vested vacation time upon termination.”)
- Labor Code 202 LC, see footnote 2 above.
- Labor Code 201 LC — Payment of wages on discharge. (“(a) An employer who lays off a group of employees by reason of the termination of seasonal employment in the curing, canning, or drying of any variety of perishable fruit, fish or vegetables, shall be deemed to have made immediate payment when the wages of said employees are paid within a reasonable time as necessary for computation and payment thereof; provided, however, that the reasonable time shall not exceed 72 hours, and further provided that payment shall be made by mail to any employee who so requests and designates a mailing address therefor.”)
- Labor Code 201.5 LC — Payment of wages in the motion picture industry. (“(b) An employee engaged in the production or broadcasting of motion pictures whose employment terminates is entitled to receive payment of the wages earned and unpaid at the time of the termination by the next regular payday.”)
- Labor Code 201.7 LC — Payment of wages in the oil drilling business. (“An employer who lays off an employee or a group of employees engaged in the business of oil drilling shall be deemed to have made immediate payment within the meaning of Section 201 if the wages of such employees are paid within such reasonable time as may be necessary for computation or payment thereof; provided, however, that such reasonable time shall not exceed 24 hours after discharge excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays; and provided further, such payment may be mailed and the date of mailing is the date of payment.”)
- Labor Code 201.9 LC — Payment of wages for live event venues. (“If employees are employed at a venue that hosts live theatrical or concert events and are enrolled in and routinely dispatched to employment through a hiring hall or other system of regular short-term employment established in accordance with a bona fide collective bargaining agreement, these employees and their employers may establish by express terms in their collective bargaining agreement the time limits for payment of wages to an employee who is discharged or laid off.”)
- Labor Code 227.3 LC, see footnote 4 above.
- Murphy v. Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc.(2007) 40 Cal.4th 1094, 1117. (“An employee need not administratively exhaust his claim before filing a civil action.”)
- Labor Code 203 LC — Failure to make final payment. (“(a) If an employer willfully fails to pay, without abatement or reduction, in accordance with Sections 201, 201.3, 201.5, 201.9, 202, and 205.5, any wages of an employee who is discharged or who quits, the wages of the employee shall continue as a penalty from the due date thereof at the same rate until paid or until an action therefor is commenced; but the wages shall not continue for more than 30 days.”)
- Title 8, California Code of Regulations, Section 13520. (“A willful failure to pay wages within the meaning of Labor Code Section 203 occurs when an employer intentionally fails to pay wages to an employee when those wages are due. However, a good faith dispute that any wages are due will preclude imposition of waiting time penalties under Section 203.”). See, for example, Diaz v. Grill Concepts Services, Inc . See also Bijon Hill v. Walmart, Inc. (9th Cir. 2022) __ F.4th __ (2022 WL 1218776).
- Labor Code 206 LC — Wage disputes. (“(a) In case of a dispute over wages, the employer shall pay, without condition and within the time set by this article, all wages, or parts thereof, conceded by him to be due, leaving to the employee all remedies he might otherwise be entitled to as to any balance claimed.”)
- Mamika v. Barca (1998) 68 Cal.App4th 487, 493. (“A proper reading of section 203 mandates a penalty equivalent to the employee’s daily wages for each day he or she remained unpaid up to a total of 30 days. This larger penalty acts as a disincentive to employers who are reluctant to pay wages in a timely manner, thus furthering the intent of the statutory scheme.”)
- Labor Code 1194 LC — Action to recover minimum wage, overtime compensation, interest, attorney’s fees, and costs by employee. (“(a) Notwithstanding any agreement to work for a lesser wage, any employee receiving less than the legal minimum wage or the legal overtime compensation applicable to the employee is entitled to recover in a civil action the unpaid balance of the full amount of this minimum wage or overtime compensation, including interest thereon, reasonable attorney’s fees, and costs of suit. (b) The amendments made to this section by Chapter 825 of the Statutes of 1991 shall apply only to civil actions commenced on or after January 1, 1992.”)
- Labor Code 1194.2 — Liquidated damages in wage/hour suits. (“(a) In any action under Section 98, 1193.6, 1194, or 1197.1 to recover wages because of the payment of a wage less than the minimum wage fixed by an order of the commission or by statute, an employee shall be entitled to recover liquidated damages in an amount equal to the wages unlawfully unpaid and interest thereon. Nothing in this subdivision shall be construed to authorize the recovery of liquidated damages for failure to pay overtime compensation. A suit may be filed for liquidated damages at any time before the expiration of the statute of limitations on an action for wages from which the liquidated damages arise. (b) Notwithstanding subdivision (a), if the employer demonstrates to the satisfaction of the court or the Labor Commissioner that the act or omission giving rise to the action was in good faith and that the employer had reasonable grounds for believing that the act or omission was not a violation of any provision of the Labor Code relating to minimum wage, or an order of the commission, the court or the Labor Commissioner may, as a matter of discretion, refuse to award liquidated damages or award any amount of liquidated damages not exceeding the amount specified in subdivision (a). (c) This section applies only to civil actions commenced on or after January 1, 1992.”)