Your Right to Get Paid in Full When Your Job Ends

1. When should I be able to get my final paycheck from my employer?

In most cases, you should be able to get paid in full on your last day of work. When an employee in California is laid off, fired, or quits after providing 72 hours of notice, the employee should get paid their full wages on their last day of work. These employees should be paid in full even if the layoff is temporary or seasonal.

If an employee quits with less than 72 hours of notice, the employer must pay the employee in full within 72 hours from the worker’s last day of work.

2. Should I receive compensation for unpaid vacation time when my work ends?

Yes. Employers are not required by law to provide paid vacation benefits to employees. However, if your employer provides vacation benefits, your employer has to pay you for any unused vacation time when your job ends. Unused vacation time compensation should be paid as part of your final wages.

3. Are there any penalties if an employer doesn’t pay my full final wages on time?

Yes. An employer that fails to pay all final wages to an employee within the time limits specified above may be assessed “waiting time” penalties if the employer intentionally failed to pay all of the wages owed to the employee.

If an employee files a claim for unpaid wages and penalties are assessed, the employer must pay the employee—in addition to the unpaid wages—a full day’s wages for every day that the employee was waiting to receive his final, full wages, up to a total of 30 days of the worker’s wages. For example, if a worker is laid off on a Friday April 7, but is not paid in full until April 15, then the worker is owed 8 days of wages as a waiting time penalty. If the worker has to wait until May 14, then the worker is owed 30 days of wages as a waiting time penalty.

A worker may also recover a waiting time penalty if the employer did not pay some of the employee’s wages. Take for example a chef who was laid off from a restaurant. The chef worked 8 hours a day, but twice a month, the chef worked 9 hours a day. If the employer paid overtime premium wages as required under California law, and paid the chef her final check on the date she was laid off, the chef would not be entitled to any waiting time penalties. But if the restaurant did not pay her overtime premium wages when the chef worked more than 8 hours a day, the chef could recover waiting time penalties after being laid off because the final check did not include all of the wages owed by the employer.

If the employer and the chef disagree as to whether the chef worked overtime, and there was a good faith dispute as to whether the chef did work overtime, then the chef would not be able to recover waiting time penalties, because the employer’s failure to pay those wages was not “willful.”

4. How can I recover my final paycheck?

There is no one way to recover your wages. If you have not been paid final wages, you can send or deliver a letter to your employer to request immediate payment before taking legal action. This option is often taken by workers who need their final wages immediately. You can also file a claim with the Division of Labor Standards and Enforcement, or file a lawsuit. For more information, you can schedule an appointment with our Workers’ Rights Clinic.