In California, you must receive your final paycheck immediately if you get terminated or resign with at least 72 hours’ notice. If you quit without notice, then your employer has 72 hours to give you your final paycheck.
Your final paycheck must include not only your wages but also any accrued PTO (paid time off), bonuses, and expense reimbursements. If your employer fails to issue your final paycheck on time, they may owe you waiting time penalties equal to your daily wages for each day you remain unpaid (up to 30 days).
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 your final check:
- 1. When do I get my final paycheck?
- 2. What does my final paycheck include?
- 3. How do I get my final paycheck?
- 4. What if my employer never pays me?
- 5. How much money can I get?
- 6. Rules for specialized workers
- 7. Additional reading
If you are fired or laid off from your job in California, your final unpaid wages must be paid immediately upon termination.
If you resign, then you should receive your final paycheck:
- on your last day of work if you gave at least 72 hours of notice of your quitting, or
- within 72 hours if you did not provide notice.
Note that if you quit without telling your employer, they have three days to pay you from the day they realize you quit.1
See our related article, Job abandonment in California – What is it and what is the law?
In California, final payment includes:
- unpaid wages and commissions,
- any owed business expenses,
- unused PTO (paid time off) such as sick days and vacation days, and
- the cash value of any other accrued benefits.
As with typical paychecks, final paychecks withhold standard deductions for federal and state taxes and court-ordered child support.
Final paychecks can also deduct costs if you stole money or office equipment or if your gross negligence led to office equipment being lost or damaged.2 In our experience, this is where employers try to get out of paying you what you are owed: They levy false accusations and bank on you not fighting back, but they usually change their tune once lawyers are involved.
Your final paycheck should be transmitted though 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 which you can pick up in person.
You can request that your employer mail you your final paycheck through first-class mail as long as you provide them your address. You are deemed to have gotten paid on the mailing date, not the date of receipt.3
If you do not receive your final paycheck, we can file a wage claim through the California Labor Commissioner. They will investigate the issue and, if necessary, hold a hearing (similar to a mini-trial) where the hearing officer can order your employer to pay.
Alternatively, we can file a wage and hour lawsuit against your employer to recover your unpaid wages in addition to other damages provided by law. In many of our cases, we can avoid lawsuits altogether simply by sending a strongly-worded demand letter that scares employers into paying up.4
If you are one of multiple employees who were not given a final paycheck, you all may be able to bring a wage and hour class action lawsuit.
If you have not received your final paycheck in California, you are entitled to recover:
- your unpaid wages plus interest;
- a waiting time penalty if your employer is willfully withholding your pay. This penalty is equal to your daily rate of pay for each day your wages remain unpaid (up to a maximum of 30 days);5
- reasonable attorney’s fees, and
- court costs.6
If your employer has a good faith dispute concerning the amount of wages due, they may be able to avoid paying you waiting time penalties. Employers may try to hide behind this “good faith defense” in attempt not to pay you, but they often do an about-face once we threaten litigation.7
Note you are entitled to these damages whether or not you worked part-time or full-time.8
California final paycheck laws vary for certain occupations:
- Seasonal worker layoffs – Payment must be issued within 72 hours of a group layoff at the end of seasonal employment for canning, drying, and/or curing fruit, fish, or vegetables.9
- 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.10
- 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 Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.11
- 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.12
For related information, refer to our informational articles:
- What happens if my employer in California pays me late?
- Cash out vacation time in California – Here’s how to do it
- Sample Demand Letter for Unpaid Wages in California
- 5 “California Paycheck Laws” That Workers Need to Know
- California Termination Laws – 5 That Every Worker Should Know
- California Labor Code 201 LC. 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. See, for example, Villafuerte v. Inter-Con Security Systems, Inc.
- Labor Code 227.3 LC. Note that your employer owes you for your vested PTO even if you signed a contract saying you waive payment for your vested PTO. Industrial Welfare Commission Order No. 4-2001.
- Labor Code 201 LC.
- See Murphy v. Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc.(2007) 40 Cal.4th 1094.
- Labor Code 203 LC. Labor Code 206 LC.
- Labor Code 1194 LC.
- Title 8, California Code of Regulations, Section 13520. 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.
- Mamika v. Barca (1998) 68 Cal.App4th 487.
- Labor Code 201 LC.
- Labor Code 201.5 LC.
- Labor Code 201.7 LC.
- Labor Code 201.9 LC.