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Final Paycheck Laws for Terminated Employees in California

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Final pay rules: Understanding California waiting time penalties

Final paycheck laws - waiting time penalties in California - not paid all my wages when I quit or fired


This webpage explains all about final paycheck rules and waiting time penalties for California employees.

In a nutshell, if you weren't paid all of your final wages in a timely manner - then you are probably entitled to substantial waiting time penalties (BIG money penalties) based upon California law. I lay it all out for you on this webpage. 

The law realizes that when you're not paid the wages that you're owed, it puts you in a really tough place. You can't pay your bills, put gas in your care, pay rent / mortgage or even put food on your family's table. Because of all this (and more, as I explain in this article), the law allows you to collect BIG money penalties when you're not paid you final wages timely. 

Find out how you can collect BIG money penalties when you're not paid your final pay by the company. Find out what you can do about it. What you can do, in order to collect the money penalties and wages that you're owed. 


In this article, our California wage lawyers answer the following questions and/or address the following issues, and more: 

What are the final paycheck laws for terminated employees in California (Meaning, you are fired, let-go and/or laid-off)?

What are the final paycheck laws for employees that give at least 72 hours notice?

What are the final paycheck laws for employees that do not give at least 72 hours notice?

What are the purpose of waiting time penalties?

When may I be entitled to up to 30 days wages?

It can really add up fast

California's leading wage lawyer

An example of how waiting time penalties can add up really fast

The failure to pay must be willful

Good faith disputes

California law "gets it" - the law realizes how hard it is for folks when you're not paid the wages that you're owed

How can I get waiting time penalties if I'm not paid my final wages on time?

Why should I get an unpaid wages audit?

Your next step

What am I talking about?

Waiting Time Penalties and Employer Responsibilities After an Employee Leaves

What are the final paycheck laws for terminated employees in California (Meaning, you are fired, let-go and/or laid-off)?

California law has strict timing requirements on the payment of final wages to you if you have resigned or have been terminated. Under California Labor Code Section 201, if you are fired/ discharged, then your employer must pay you immediately. Meaning, right then. On the spot, before you leave. 

California Labor Code Section 203 provides that if you aren’t paid your final wages timely you are entitled to seek waiting time penalties from your employer.  The penalties are because you had to wait for the wages that are due to you.

You are entitled to seek waiting time penalties equivalent to one day’s regular wages for each day the payment is late, for up to 30 days. In many instances the waiting time penalties can end up being much more than the underlying final wages that are owed.

If you are fired or let go by your employer, your final wages must be paid at the time that you are let go or fired (read: involuntarily terminated).


What are the final paycheck laws for employees that give at least 72 hours notice?

If you resign (read: quit) and give at least 72 hours notice, your employer must pay your final wages on your last day. If you aren’t paid your final wages timely, in this instance, on your last day of employment, you are entitled to seek waiting time penalties from your employer.  The penalties are because you had to wait for the wages that are due to you.


What are the final paycheck laws for employees that do not give at least 72 hours notice?

If you resign or quit with less than 72 hours notice, final wages must be paid within 72 hours. If you are not paid your final wages within 72 hours of your resigning or quitting your employment, then you are entitled to seek waiting time penalties from your employer.  The penalties are because you had to wait for the wages that are due to you.


What are the purpose of waiting time penalties?

The purpose of Lab C § 203, is to “encourage” employers to pay your final wages immediately. The statute is designed to compel the prompt payment of earned wages.  The law fully recognizes that all sorts of bad things happen to people when they aren't paid their wages in a timely manner. Rent or mortgage doesn't get paid, people can get put out on the street. Workers and their families can't but food.  I don't have to tell you how bad it can get when you aren't paid the wages that you are owed. 

Because of this hardship that is placed on workers when you aren't paid the wages that you are owed in a timely manner, and because you had to wait for your earned wages, the law allows you to get penalties because you have to wait. 


When may I be entitled to up to 30 days wages?

Under the law, you may be entitled to 30 days wages if you aren't paid your wages in a timely manner. You are entitled to this 30 days waiting time penalties if you employer owes you $5.00 in unpaid wages or whether you are owed $500.00 in unpaid wages. 

It can really add up fast

If not, the company may have to pay you 30 days wages. Which can really add up fast.

These are called "waiting time penalties. In this article, I discuss final paycheck laws for terminated employees in California.

California's leading wage lawyer

I'm not saying this to brag. I'm telling you this so you will know that I know what I'm talking about.  I represented the workers in the leading California Supreme Court case on California unpaid wages law - Brinker vs. Superior Court. I wrote the winning briefs in the recent California Supreme Court cases - Augustus vs. Superior Court (the leading case on rest breaks) and Williams vs. Superior Court (the case that gives you the right to getting the names of your co-employees in a PAGA case). 

I am regularly asked to testify before the California State Senate and the California State Assembly on unpaid wages law. I helped write the recent changes to California's unpaid wages PAGA laws. 

Time limits for bringing unpaid wage claims in California - Statute of limitations for wage claims - Bill Turley testifying

Bill Turley is regularly asked to testify before the California legislature as an expert on California wage law. 

How long do I have to bring a wage claim under California law? - Bill Turley testifying before the California Assembly

Bill Turley testifying before them California State Assembly on California wage laws. 


An example of how waiting time penalties can add up really fast

Here is a quick example.  John averaged making $245 a day while driving for a delivery company.  The company automatically deducted John's meal periods when in reality, he was working during meal periods.  Thus, when he quit, the company still owed him for the 1/2 hour each day for the meal periods that were illegally deducted and he was owed an hour's pay for every missed meal period and rest period.

Thus, just in waiting time penalties, John was owed as follows:

$245 x 30 days = $7,350

I call it the joy of math. Not that it's a joy to have your wages stolen. But it is a joy when I get you your stolen wages back.

Of course, this isn't a guarantee of what you will get in your case. But is for illustrative purposes to demonstrate what you may be entitled to under California law.  As I tell people, the only thing that is guaranteed in life is death, taxes and the company is going to hire shark lawyers that will come up with a couple of dozen or so  reasons (the law calls them "defenses") of why you shouldn't get money in your case.  Happens all the time. I call 'em, the Devil's Advocates.

The failure to pay must be willful

In law there are things call "defenses."  You can bet that your employer will try and defend your claim for waiting time penalties by arguing that their failure to pay you on time wasn't willful.  I suggest that you don't get all hung up on this because 9 out of 10 times the failure to pay you timely is going to be willful. 

California law  provides for the assessment of a penalty against your employer when there is a willful failure to pay wages due to you at conclusion of the employment relationship. See Labor Code Section 203.
The term "willful," as used in Lab C § 203 does not mean that a refusal to pay wages must necessarily be based on a deliberate evil purpose to defraud you of your wages which your employer knows they owe you.
“Willful” merely means that one intentionally fails or refuses to perform an act which is required to be done. 
It needs to be emphasized that it extremely rare for courts to find that the failure to timely pay employees final wages isn't willful.  

Good faith disputes

Assessment of the penalty is not automatic however, as a "good faith dispute" that any wages are due will prevent imposition of the penalty. Again, it is rare for the court to find that you not getting paid your final wages would be a "good faith dispute."


California law "gets it" - the law realizes how hard it is for folks when you're not paid the wages that you're owed

The law gets it. The law realizes how hard it is for folks when you're not paid the wages that you're owed. You should know why California law allows you to get BIG money penalties when you're not paid the wages that you're owed.

There's good reason why California's powerful wage laws allow you to receive BIG money penalties when the company doesn't pay you the wages you're owed.
First, to compensate you for not getting paid your wages when you were supposed to receive your wages.
Second, to discourage companies from not paying wages timely.
Third, because of the harm posed to society by companies not paying wages on time. When you're not paid, then you can't pay the people that you owe money to. Thus, the law is penalizing companies for not meeting their obligations to pay employees timely.
Fourth, because it's fair. When the company does you wrong by not paying you the wages that you're rightfully owed under the law, then the company should have to pay for it.

How can I get waiting time penalties if I'm not paid my final wages on time? 

You're first step is know when you're owed waiting time penalties. This article explains a lot of this. But, based on what I see - many folks don't realize that they are owed. waiting time penalties or why they're owed waiting time penalties. This isn't their fault, it's just that most folks aren't experts on California wage laws. 

The second step is knowing when to ask for or when to sue for waiting time penalties.  You are usually looking at a day's wages for every day that you're not paid your final wages - up to 30 days. Thus, if possible, you may consider waiting 30 days before you request your final wages be paid and ask for waiting time penalties.  I realize this isn't always possible. 

Next, you may consider simply asking / requesting the company pay you your final wages and pay you waiting time penalties. Again, there are positives and negatives to this also. 

You have four options on how to sue your employer under California law when the company doesn’t pay you wages that you are owed.

First, under California law you can bring an individual wage lawsuit.

Second, you can bring a class action lawsuit for unpaid wages.

Third, you can file a PAGA lawsuit for penalties for Labor Code violations and Wage Order violations.

Fourth, you can bring a wage claim with the California Labor Commissioner’s office.

I suggest that before you take any of these steps, you talk to a really good California wage lawyer. 


Why should I get an unpaid wages audit? 

However, based upon what I see, there may be a lot more going on that you might realize. It's sort of like that saying, "Where there is smoke, there is fire."  What I mean by that is that most folks don't have any idea how much they are owed in unpaid wages. This isn't your fault.  You just haven't been trained in performing an unpaid wages audit.  

Basically, an unpaid wages audit will help you determine whether you have been paid all of the wages that you are entitled to under California law.  I suggest that if you have the slightest suspicion that you are owed unpaid wages - and you probably have that, since you are reading this webpage - you should have an unpaid wages audit performed. 

Your first step is contacting our office. First we will talk with you in order to get an initial determination of whether you are owed unpaid wages. This is a no obligation, and free. If we go forward with the unpaid wages audit, you will never have to pay us. Ever. It is up to you how you want to proceed after we explain to you the results. If we agree to accept your case, all of our fees will be approved by the court and paid directly by the company. 

Your next step

If you suspect (or know) that you haven't been paid all of the wages that you are owed, you need to immediately contact a seasoned California wage lawyer about your unpaid wages. I word of caution here though. I suggest that you don't call someone because they have a pretty webpage. Anybody can slap up a webpage on the Internet and pose as a wage and hour lawyer. 

What am I talking about? 

Here is a quick story on a recent case we had. We filed a case against a decent sized California manufacturing company. Soon after we filed the case, another lawyer (that is all over the Internet and has a very fancy and impressive website that claims he is an "experienced California wage and hour lawyer) put together a quick settlement with the company's lawyer.  This is not uncommon.  That is, for companies to try and settle quickly and pay pennies on the dollar. Especially, if the company knows a big-time, well known lawyer has another case with the same company.  The lawyer then filed a Motion for Preliminary Approval of a Class Action Settlement for $500,000. 

Our client objected to the Settlement as not being adequate and very unfair to the workers. The Judge in the case agreed with us. So we did a lot more investigation and discovery and based upon our investigation it was clear that the workers were owed a lot more money.  We recently went to a new mediation and settled the case for $4,500,000. Or 9 times more than the other lawyer had tried to settle the case for. 

As it turns out, a large part of this case was based upon waiting time penalties. 

The lesson here - don't believe everything you read on the Internet. Instead, you need to make sure that the California unpaid wages lawyer that you hire really is one of the best wage class action lawyers in California. Not all lawyers are alike. The last thing you need is a lawyer that is going to try and settle your case cheap. 

This in not to suggest that every case has this value. Every case is different and there are not guarantees in life or law. Just because we have gotten great results in so many previous cases, is no guarantee of any particular result in your case or any other case. 

Clients with smiles and unpaid wages settlement checks.

It feels really good when you get your check for unpaid wages owed to you!


Waiting Time Penalties and Employer Responsibilities After an Employee Leaves

The length of time a California employer has to provide employees with their final paychecks depends on whether  you quit or were fired. If the employer does not meet the deadline, you are entitled to a waiting time penalty equal to a full day's pay for each day the paycheck is late, up to a total of 30 days. Workers have a right to collect these waiting time penalties no matter what the terms of their separation from the company.

Under California final paycheck laws, an employer has the following responsibilities to:

Fired or laid off employees:

An employee who is involuntarily separated from his or her job must be given a final paycheck at the time of termination.

Employees who quit: 

If an employee voluntarily leaves a company without giving the employer prior notice, the employer has 72 hours to provide the worker with his final paycheck. If an employee gives at least 72 hours' notice before quitting, the employee should be given his final paycheck on his last day at work. 

Provide total pay:

Not only do California employers have to provide final wages in a timely manner, they also have a duty to pay the full amount of wages owed. The full amount of wages should include any accrued paid time off, unused vacation days, and regularly scheduled overtime. If an employer splits your final paycheck into separate payments, you may still be owed a waiting time penalty for the days you waited for the total amount to be paid.

If you were kept waiting for your final paycheck or were not paid in full, you may be able to take action against your employer.

Have questions?

Call us at 619-304-1000  - If you call after regular business hours, when you leave a message, be sure to repeat your name and telephone number twice, so we get it correctly. And be sure to indicate whether it's okay if we respond by text.

Text us at 858-281-8008 - Be sure and put "new wage case" in your text. 

Or leave us a message on this web page

Disclaimer: Please understand these discussions and/or examples are not legal advice. All legal situations are different. This testimonial, endorsement and/or discussion does not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter, your particular case/ situation and/or this particular case/ situation.

William Turley
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“When I seek out professional advice, I don’t want B.S., I want it straight up. I figure you do also.”
Fired from Generac no notice and reason was for expensing hotel in Los Angeles for travel when for the past 6 months expense reports were approved and hotel expenses in Los Angeles were approved with no mention of me not being allowed to expense it. Took over 10 days to get final paycheck and accrued vacation from date I was fired. I a CA based employee for Generac Corporation based out of WI. Additionally nothing in writing was provide to me summarizing why I was fired (it was done over a brief phone call I was asked to dial into). Base salary was 120k at very least I want employer to pay me waiting payment.
Posted by Benjamin Daly on October 27, 2019 at 08:57 AM
I work for a commercial company in California, I was laid off yesterday and was handed my last check on the spot when I arrived for my shift and was told I could leave. I work 1 hour away from my home, as soon as I got there I was laid off, should i have been paid my full last day even though I didn't work or at least travel time as I did not know I was being laid off?? Thank you!
Posted by Rosie on October 2, 2019 at 11:56 AM
I am a nurse There was a few co workers who been bullying me. swearing at me getting angry with me in front of patients and other employees. I notified my manager of this via text message. 1 particularly employee was male he behaved strange and seem to be unstable at time on 1 occasions he grab something from my hands. I notified my manager that I did not feel safe around this person. My manager ignored my complaints she Force me to work with him alone face to face regardless of my attempts to keep my distance from this employee. When other co workers brought it up in a meeting That I was not in. She didn’t not even address me personally. A week later she fired me. Her reason was I was not a right fit. What are my rights
Posted by Anaya on September 19, 2019 at 12:09 PM
On Friday September 5th, I resigned from my employment in lieu of termination. The company stated doing so, they would pay me up until 9/15/2019. Should I received the check that day or within 72 hours
Posted by Natalie on September 10, 2019 at 07:23 PM
i started working at a 99cents store here in los angeles june 11 and worked till june 12. so i called for.my schedule since im not on the list yet and no one answered the call then i recieved a voicemail from the store.manager the next day saying i nedd to call so i called then no one answered the call. again that same day i called and spoke to another manager and told him i have been calling for.my schedule and he said that i need to.speak.to the store manager and just wait for his call. i waited for 2 days and no call so i called again and finally someone answered and was transfered to the manager. then he said im terminated cause i didnt show up and i told him i dont have a schedule and john the manager said that i nedd to wait for your call. he just said that my check was ready at the store a week ago and i can pick it up, i ask why no one even called me about it and he said they wer busy. i was disappointed and angry and ask id i can have the check sent to my address he said he will check it. i waited and waited and called no one answering so i decided to stop doing deliveries for postmates and get my check. is there any violations the manager did or did he violated the 201 california code?
Posted by debra on July 27, 2019 at 03:41 PM
If an employee gives notice on a Monday that his last day will be that Friday, but his last shift worked was that Wednesday (didn't work Thursday or Friday), when is the company required to provide the final check; on Wednesday or Friday? Thank you!
Posted by Margie on July 23, 2019 at 01:51 PM
I was fired at 7 pm on Sat July 13 and still have not been paid my final check it is Mon the 15 of july
Posted by Carla Gallagher on July 15, 2019 at 01:31 PM
I took a few weeks off to care for my pregnant wife during a very challenging pregnancy after getting written approval but received a letter saying I volunterly quit ?? This.is.not.true ! I'm not.sure why they said.that. I was fired but they said.i quit ?? I have email coraspondance that proves this. I also.was not paid for the last 2 weeks that I worked! I didnt a receive a final.pay check.
Posted by Andrew on June 28, 2019 at 09:45 PM
I was terminated on a Friday where I was scheduled to work, even asked to confirm prior that I was going to be there. I believe I am owed a half days pay for showing up "ready to work." I didn't receive my final pay until the following Tuesday, which didn't include the Friday I was terminated nor any waiting time penalties. In addition to this, I know for sure as a delivery driver for a major pizza corporation, I was not reimbursed anything close to the standard mileage rate regarding per delivery compensation vs. mileage and lost nearly $15/day(shift) in "kick-backs" to the franchise. As a minimum wage worker, this brought me well below the minimum wage per hour. Any help with recouping any of this would be fantastic. This is a major corporation who has had many class action lawsuits against them (or their franchises), and would involve a lot of drivers since this particular franchise ownership group owns approximately 80 stores, but not all in California.
Posted by Ryan on May 22, 2019 at 08:42 AM
Are the Casinos in California required to follow the "Labor Code Section 201 Law" as well?
Posted by polly dunlap on March 27, 2019 at 12:43 AM
I was laid off by my work on october 10th and have not received my final pay. I asked my supervisor and he directed me to a cooperate office. Not sure my legal rights thus far.
Posted by Michael Kern on October 12, 2018 at 01:38 AM
I Was fired on Tuesday IT is now Friday and I have only recieved a portion of my final check. The other portion will take 7 more days what can I do
Posted by Ricardo on September 28, 2018 at 10:08 PM
I work for San Bernardino County in California I was terminated on 8/22/2018 and they still owe me money and have not paid me yet do they owe me now for Waiting Time Penalties?
Posted by Jeremy on September 11, 2018 at 03:05 PM
I was terminated from my job at 6pm on Friday 083118. I was told they'd mail my final check. Today is the 4th and pay the 72 hour mark. Do I have a case?
Posted by Keith C Foster on September 4, 2018 at 03:44 PM
So i was fired today at 6:00am I've called all day they are now closed so i didn't get paid so tomarrow if they try and pay me do i make them only pay me for today or how many days can i make them pay me
Posted by Chad on August 6, 2018 at 09:06 PM

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