I Quit My Job and Didn't Get My Last Paycheck
Reviewed by Carina Jenkins, J.D.
After leaving your job, you expect to be done dealing with a problematic employer. But what if you quit and never got your last paycheck? You worked all that time … just to leave empty-handed?
Whether you quit or got fired, your employer must pay you for the time you already worked. Legal options are available if your job won't give you your last paycheck.
Your employer must pay you for any time you worked before quitting. You're entitled to this pay, even if the employer is angry or feels that you caused difficulty for the company by leaving.
Remember that your employer only has to provide pay you already earned. If you quit halfway through a pay period, you may only be entitled to half your usual earnings. Carefully calculate exactly how much your employer owes to ensure you get the correct amount.
You may also be entitled to pay for unused vacation or paid time off (PTO). Whether your employer must pay this money can depend on your location and the terms of your employment.
In nearly all cases, your employer must pay you for work you've already done. Your employer generally can't withhold payment based on claims that you did a lousy job or accidentally damaged company property, although some states have limited exceptions.
Occasionally, your employer may be able to withhold part of your check if they believe you've stolen or intentionally damaged property. However, many states limit an employer's ability to withhold payment for any reason. For example, Colorado only allows employers to do this if they make a police report. The employer must provide payment if the employee isn't criminally charged within 90 days.
Although your employer must give you your last paycheck, they may not have to do so immediately. Federal employment laws don't require immediate payment, but your employer must pay you on your next regularly scheduled payday.
However, many states require faster payment. For example, California law requires payment within 72 hours if an employee quits, or immediate payment if the employee is fired or laid off. Many states require immediate payment if you're fired, but give the employer additional time if you quit.
Some states give employers extra time to issue a final paycheck if the employee has company property, such as a vehicle or laptop. You may need to return company-owned property before you get your final pay. In some cases, your employer may be able to withhold your check or file a lawsuit against you if you don't return the property.
If you don't get your paycheck immediately, you may need to pick it up later or give your employer a mailing address.
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If the statutory due date for your last paycheck passed and you didn't receive it, you'll need to take further action. Understanding your rights can help you make the correct demands.
You may wish to begin by contacting your state's Department of Labor for more information. State labor office websites often provide information about state labor laws and offer advice on what steps you should take next. For example, some states advise you to send your employer written notice that they could face legal consequences if they don't issue your last check. The labor office may provide a sample letter or other form you can use.
You can also file a complaint with the state labor department for unpaid wages. Your employer may face penalties if they fail to pay you as required by law.
If the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) covers your employment, you can file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor. However, the FLSA doesn't apply to many small businesses and some types of employment.
Speaking with a lawyer is always a good idea and can be especially helpful if:
- Your situation seems unusually complex
- A large amount of pay is involved
- Your employer has accused you of theft or other wrongdoing
A lawyer can help you understand the law, advise you on the next steps or help you file a lawsuit if necessary.
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