I Didn’t Get Paid, What Should I Do?

There are a number of reasons that may or may not dictate why you may have not received a pay check.  Most workers know what they are supposed to get paid. But when that money doesn’t appear in their bank accounts, or it is less than expected, it is always a difficult decision to know what to do next. 

You may think that the employer just made a mistake and it would be corrected at the next pay. Sometimes, it is a mistake, but often it has been done deliberately. This is called wage theft. Sometimes, employers pretend that workers are independent contractors so they are only paid for a job done not wages on a regular basis.

What to Do Next

The rules regarding payments depend on what state you’re in so it’s best to double check laws and regulations for your state. The first thing you should do is review your employment agreement/manual.

The promise to pay wages for work typically takes the form of a formal written contract. But an oral agreement is also enough to create an enforceable obligation to pay earned wages.

After reviewing the regulations you should go to HR with your concerns. All states have different laws, but if the incident took place in California employers in that state are obliged legally to pay the wages that their employees earn and at a time specified to the employee and on a regular basis.

Evidence to Prove When Your Wages Should Be Paid

Before you can lodge a complaint you must have evidence available to prove you haven’t been paid. Your employer is required to provide you with a wages statement every time you are paid. This should show:

  • gross and net wages paid;
  • the number of hours that have been worked during that pay period,
  • if the employee is paid a piece rate the number of pieces for which the employee is being paid should be included;
  • any deductions taken from gross pay such as payroll taxes.

In California, the employer is required to keep a copy of the wage statement for at least 3 years. All current and former employees must be able to get access to any copies if they request it.

As most wages are paid directly into employees’ bank accounts, your bank statements can provide the amount of wages paid and the dates they are paid on a regular basis. It is easy to access pay stubs as they are often forwarded to employees by email.

On an everyday basis you should keep a file of workplace duties and the amount you have been paid so you have the evidence at your fingertips if you find a wages payment is missing.

Don’t take anything for granted with your employer, even if s/he appears to have an amicable relationship with you. Wage theft is often deliberate so you want to ensure you keep your distance from your employer so if wage theft takes place you won’t feel afraid to question the act.

You should always have your own records on hand for evidence as this is a quick and easy way to prove wages theft. Unpaid wages and penalties for late payment of wages can be resolved in three main ways:

  • by confronting your employer and resolving the dispute between you;
  • by filing a lawsuit;
  • by submitting an administrative claim for unpaid wages and penalties.

How an Employment Lawyer Can Help

If your wages theft took place in California there are penalties the state applies when wages theft can be proved. For a first violation the employer has to pay $100 for each wages theft for each employee.

If there is a 2nd violation, the penalty is $200 for each failure to pay each employee, plus 25% of the amount unlawfully withheld. Typically this is paid to the State of California but an employee can, at times, recover up to 25 percent of the penalty by filing a lawsuit under the Private Attorneys General Act. You may need an attorney to work on your behalf to get a fair settlement for your wages theft.

Additional Resources

Examples of Wage Theft

Do I Need a Wage Theft Attorney for My Wage Theft Case?