Waiting Time Penalties for Unpaid Wages After Termination of Employment in California

In California, employers are required to pay employee wages within a certain amount of time. When an employee is terminated, all of his or her wages must be paid immediately at that time. If an employer does not pay wages on time, the employee may be able to seek damages for unpaid wages.

Below, our California wage and hour lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions about the penalties for late wage payments in California:

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In California, if employer does not pay last wages on time, the employee may be able to seek damages for unpaid wages.

If you have further questions after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

1. When do employers have to pay wages in California?

For most employees, wages have to be paid at least twice during each calendar month on days designated in advance as regular paydays.1

Employers have to post a notice specifying the regular paydays and the time and place of payment in advance.2

Any work performed within the first 15 days of each calendar month must be paid between the 16th and the 26th day of that month. Any work performed between the 16th and the last day of the calendar month must be paid between the 1st and 10th day of the following month.3

Additional Work Hours

If an employee works extra or additional hours in excess of the normal work period, they may be paid wages for the additional work no later than the payday for the next regular payroll.4

Exceptions to Regular Pay Days

Exempt employees may be subject to different payday requirements, as they are generally exempt from certain California and federal wage and hour laws. Exempt employees, also known as white-collar workers, may include:

  • Executive employees
  • Administrative employees
  • Professional employees5

Exempt salaried employees may be paid once a month, on or before the 26th day of the month during which work was performed if the entire month's salary is paid at that time.6

Additionally, some employees who are covered by a collective bargaining agreement may have different pay arrangements.7

2. When do I get my last paycheck if I am fired or quit?

When an employee is fired or terminated, the employee’s final unpaid wages must be paid immediately upon termination. This includes employees who are fired or laid off for cause, or for no reason at all.8

If an employee resigns or quits without giving notice to the employer, the employer generally has to make the final payment available within 72 hours. However, if the employee provides at least 72 hours notice of the employee's intention to resign, the employer has to make final wages available on the employee's last day.9

An employee's final payment includes unpaid wages, as well as any unused vacation or paid time off accumulated by the employee.10

Exceptions to Final Pay Rules

Some employees in certain industries may have different final pay rules that do not require an employer to make the final paycheck available upon termination. This includes:

  • Certain seasonal food production workers laid off in groups 11
  • Employees working in the motion picture industry 12
  • Employees working in the oil drilling business 13
  • Live theatrical or concert event venue workers 14

3. What happens if my employer does not pay my wages on time?

If an employer does not pay employees according to the California labor regulations, they may be violating state wage and hour laws. An employer who makes late payments may be liable to the state for statutory fines. However, employees can also sue their employees for wage violation damages.

Every employer who fails to pay the wages of an employee as provided by California labor laws is subject to a civil penalty.15 The penalties for failing to pay employees on time are as follows:

Type of Violation

Civil Penalty

Additional Civil Penalty

Initial Violation

$100 for each failure to pay each employee

--

Second or Subsequent Violation

$200 for each failure to pay each employee

Plus 25% of the amount unlawfully withheld

Willful or Intentional Violation

$200 for each failure to pay each employee

Plus 25% of the amount unlawfully withheld

The California Labor Commission shall recover the penalties as part of a hearing to recover unpaid wages and penalties. Of the penalties recovered, 12 ½ percent of the penalty will be paid into a labor law education fund and the remaining 87 ½ percent will be paid into the California General Fund.16

In some cases, the employee may be able to file a lawsuit against the employer to get back any unpaid wages, as well as an award for the statutory penalties, legal fees, and court costs.17

4. What happens if I do not get my final paycheck on time?

If you were terminated or fired by your employer and the employer has not made final payment available upon termination, your employer may be violating California wage and hour laws. If you quit without notice and your employer has not made payment available within 72 hours, your employer may also be violating the law.

An employer who does not pay final wages on time may have to pay waiting time penalties. This includes failure to pay final wages for employees who are fired, laid off, quit, or resign.18

An employer may have a good faith reason why they think they do not have to pay the employee all or part of their final payment. When an employer has a good faith dispute concerning the amount of final wages due, the employer must present a good faith defense that, if successful, would find the employer did not owe the employee any wages. If the employer has a good faith defense, they may not have to pay waiting time penalties.19

However, if the employer has a good faith dispute over a portion of the employee's unpaid final wages, the employer must make immediately available any wages that are not in dispute.20

If an employee is owed wages after termination or quitting, the employee may be able to file a lawsuit against the employer to get back any unpaid wages, as well as any penalties, legal fees, and court costs.

5. Can I sue my employer for not paying my wages on time in California?

An employee who is owed unpaid wages can file a lawsuit against their employer to recover his or her unpaid wages, in addition to other damages provided by law.21

An employer who pays late wages, or fails to make final payments available is in violation of California wage and hour laws. In many cases, the employer may also be in violation of other California labor laws or the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).22

In California wage and hour lawsuits, an employee or group of employees may file a lawsuit against their employer, seeking damages for:

If an employer is violating the legal rights of one employee, they may have a pattern of similar violations against other employees. Successful wage and hour class action lawsuits often involve unpaid wages, late payment of final wages, and other wage and hour violations.

6. How much money will I get for if my employer doesn't pay my wages on time?

An employee who files a wage and hour lawsuit against an employer who fails to pay wages on time may be able to seek payment, statutory damages, attorney fees, and court costs.23

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.24

Late Wage Payments

Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) claims allow an employee to sue for late wages, as well as a civil penalty. The civil penalty is $100 for each aggrieved employee per pay period for the initial violation and $200 for each subsequent violation.25

Any civil penalties recovered by an aggrieved employee are divided up as 75% to the Labor and Workforce Development Agency and 25% to the aggrieved employee.26

Late or Unpaid Final Wages

An employer who fails to pay wages due on termination may be assessed a waiting time penalty for each late day. The waiting time penalty is equal to the amount of the employee's daily rate of pay for each day the wages remain unpaid, up to a maximum of 30 days.27

The waiting time penalty is calculated at the daily wage rate multiplied by the number of days of non-payment, up to a maximum of 30 days.28

In addition to unpaid wages and waiting time penalties, you may also be able to recover interest on the unpaid wages and reasonable attorney's fees and court costs.29

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For questions about late wages unpaid final wages, or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our skilled California labor and employment attorneys, 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.


Legal References:

  1. Labor Code 204 LC -- Payment of wages. ("(a) All wages, other than those mentioned in Section 201, 201.3, 202, 204.1, or 204.2, earned by any person in any employment are due and payable twice during each calendar month, on days designated in advance by the employer as the regular paydays.")
  2. Labor Code 207 LC -- Payment of wages. ("Every employer shall keep posted conspicuously at the place of work, if practicable, or otherwise where it can be seen as employees come or go to their places of work, or at the office or nearest agency for payment kept by the employer, a notice specifying the regular pay days and the time and place of payment, in accordance with this article.")
  3. Labor Code 204 LC -- Payment of wages. ("(a) Labor performed between the 1st and 15th days, inclusive, of any calendar month shall be paid for between the 16th and the 26th day of the month during which the labor was performed, and labor performed between the 16th and the last day, inclusive, of any calendar month, shall be paid for between the 1st and 10th day of the following month.")
  4. Labor Code 204 LC -- Payment of wages. ("(b)(1) Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, all wages earned for labor in excess of the normal work period shall be paid no later than the payday for the next regular payroll period.")
  5. 29 U.S.C. 213(a) -- Exemptions to minimum wage and maximum hour requirements. (“The provisions of sections 206 (except subsection (d) in the case of paragraph (1) of this subsection) and 207 of this title shall not apply with respect to—(1) any employee employed in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity.“)
  6. Labor Code 204 LC -- Payment of wages. ("(a) However, salaries of executive, administrative, and professional employees of employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act, as set forth pursuant to Section 13(a)(1) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, as amended through March 1, 1969, in Part 541 of Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as that part now reads or may be amended to read at any time hereafter, may be paid once a month on or before the 26th day of the month during which the labor was performed if the entire month's salaries, including the unearned portion between the date of payment and the last day of the month, are paid at that time.”)
  7. Labor Code 204 LC -- Payment of wages. ("(c) However, when employees are covered by a collective bargaining agreement that provides different pay arrangements, those arrangements shall apply to the covered employees.”)
  8. 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.")
  9. 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.")
  10. 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.”)
  11. 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.”)
  12. 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.”)
  13. 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.”)
  14. 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.”)
  15. Labor Code 210 LC -- Payment of wages. ("(a) In addition to, and entirely independent and apart from, any other penalty provided in this article, every person who fails to pay the wages of each employee as provided in Sections 201.3, 204, 204b, 204.1, 204.2, 205, 205.5, and 1197.5, shall be subject to a civil penalty as follows: (1) For any initial violation, one hundred dollars ($100) for each failure to pay each employee. (2) For each subsequent violation, or any willful or intentional violation, two hundred dollars ($200) for each failure to pay each employee, plus 25 percent of the amount unlawfully withheld.”)
  16. Labor Code 210 LC -- Payment of wages. ("(b) The penalty shall be recovered by the Labor Commissioner as part of a hearing held to recover unpaid wages and penalties pursuant to this chapter or in an independent civil action. The action shall be brought in the name of the people of the State of California and the Labor Commissioner and the attorneys thereof may proceed and act for and on behalf of the people in bringing these actions. Twelve and one-half percent of the penalty recovered shall be paid into a fund within the Labor and Workforce Development Agency dedicated to educating employers about state labor laws, and the remainder shall be paid into the State Treasury to the credit of the General Fund.”)
  17. Labor Code 2699 LC -- Private Attorneys General Act. ("(a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any provision of this code that provides for a civil penalty to be assessed and collected by the Labor and Workforce Development Agency or any of its departments, divisions, commissions, boards, agencies, or employees, for a violation of this code, may, as an alternative, be recovered through a civil action brought by an aggrieved employee on behalf of himself or herself and other current or former employees pursuant to the procedures specified in Section 2699.3.”)
  18. 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.”)
  19. 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.”)
  20. 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.”)
  21. 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.”)
  22. 29 U.S.C. 216(b) -- Damages; right of action; attorney's fees and costs; termination of right of action. (“Any employer who violates the provisions of section 206 or section 207 of this title shall be liable to the employee or employees affected in the amount of their unpaid minimum wages, or their unpaid overtime compensation, as the case may be, and in an additional equal amount as liquidated damages.”)
  23. Labor Code 2699 LC -- Private Attorneys General Act. ("(g)(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), an aggrieved employee may recover the civil penalty described in subdivision (f) in a civil action pursuant to the procedures specified in Section 2699.3 filed on behalf of himself or herself and other current or former employees against whom one or more of the alleged violations was committed. Any employee who prevails in any action shall be entitled to an award of reasonable attorney's fees and costs, including any filing fee paid pursuant to subparagraph (B) of paragraph (1) of subdivision (a) or subparagraph (B) of paragraph (1) of subdivision (c) of Section 2699.3. Nothing in this part shall operate to limit an employee's right to pursue or recover other remedies available under state or federal law, either separately or concurrently with an action taken under this part.)”
  24. 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.")
  25. Labor Code 2699 LC -- Private Attorneys General Act. ("(f) For all provisions of this code except those for which a civil penalty is specifically provided, there is established a civil penalty for a violation of these provisions, as follows: (1) If, at the time of the alleged violation, the person does not employ one or more employees, the civil penalty is five hundred dollars ($500). (2) If, at the time of the alleged violation, the person employs one or more employees, the civil penalty is one hundred dollars ($100) for each aggrieved employee per pay period for the initial violation and two hundred dollars ($200) for each aggrieved employee per pay period for each subsequent violation.”)
  26. Labor Code 2699 LC -- Private Attorneys General Act. ("(i) Except as provided in subdivision (j), civil penalties recovered by aggrieved employees shall be distributed as follows: 75 percent to the Labor and Workforce Development Agency for enforcement of labor laws, including the administration of this part, and for education of employers and employees about their rights and responsibilities under this code, to be continuously appropriated to supplement and not supplant the funding to the agency for those purposes; and 25 percent to the aggrieved employees.”)
  27. Labor Code 203 LC, see footnote 18 above.
  28. 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.”)
  29. 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.")

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