If you quit your job and haven’t yet received your final paycheck, you may be confused, worried and even angry.
There are federal and state laws that determine when your employer should pay an employee’s last paycheck by. They cannot just fail to pay what you are owed.
Your employer may have made a genuine mistake, you may not realize that your pay check is on its way within the time period mandated by law, or in some cases, unfortunately, there are employers who knowingly try and avoid paying what you are owed.
Whatever the circumstances, the sooner you see an employment law attorney the better. They can tell you how both federal law and state law apply in your circumstances and what your legal options are to ensure you get what you are owed.
The Laws Depend Partly on How You Left Your Job
There are three main ways you might have genuinely left your job:
- You quit your job voluntarily;
- You were laid off;
- You were fired.
Whatever the reason for you leaving your job, you must be paid what you are owed. This should include pay up to the time you left, as well as any benefits you have earned or accrued, e.g. periods of vacation which were stated in your employment contract which you haven’t used.
You should be able to work out what you are owed. When you get paid depends on how you left your job as well as the actual law in the state you work in.
Each state has different laws. There are some states that don’t have any laws at all, leaving it up to the employer to decide.
In these cases, federal laws on last paychecks take precedence. In other words, there are laws about when your last paycheck should be paid, but sometimes you need an attorney to give you a helping hand to make sure you get paid what you are owed and in the legal time period so you don’t get into financial difficulty.
What to do If Your Employer Didn’t Pay You After You Quit
If you quit your job and never got your last paycheck, your employer may not be required by federal law to give former employees their final paycheck immediately. Some states, however, may require that employers make an immediate payment.
If you work in a state where there is no specific law on the payment of last paychecks, like Mississippi or Georgia, and you have left your job, federal law has to be followed. You will need to wait until the normal day you expect your next paycheck.
Whatever the reason you have for leaving your job, your employer has to pay all money owed to you.This should include pay up to the time you left, as well as any benefits you have earned or accumulated, e.g. periods of vacation which were stated in your employment contract which you haven’t used.
If the regular payday for the last pay period you have worked has passed and you have not been paid, you should first contact your employer to request the unpaid wages. If nothing is done you should contact the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division or your state labor department because your employer has likely violated both state and federal laws.
You should also consider contacting an employment law attorney who can help you get back the wages you are entitled to. The attorney will talk to your employer on your behalf and if this fails to get you the money you are owed the attorney will help you file a lawsuit against your employer for back pay and an equal amount as liquidated damages, plus attorney's fees and court costs.
Federal Employment Law on Last Paychecks
Federal law does not make it mandatory for employers to pay a final paycheck immediately, irrespective of how you were fired. Basically, federal law gives precedence to state law as long as the state you work in has a law on when final paychecks should be paid, which most do.
If you work in a state where there is no specific law on last pay checks, like Mississippi or Georgia, and have left your job, federal law has precedence and you would expect your employer to pay your paycheck when that final pay round comes around. In other words, you will need to wait until the normal day you expect your next paycheck.
State Employment Law on Last Paychecks
Each state has slightly different rules about when an employer has to pay a final paycheck. In some states, the law is the same as for federal law. In other states, an employer must pay a final paycheck to those employees who have been fired, immediately.
Some varied state examples are given below:
Illinois: It doesn’t matter why you left your job, whether you were fired or you left voluntarily (quit), your employer is expected to pay your final paycheck on your next scheduled payday. This is basically the same as the federal law on last paychecks.
Massachusetts: You must be paid immediately if you are fired, but if you quit your job, you will have to wait until the next payday. If your employer doesn’t have a set payday, then it is expected to pay your final paycheck on the next Saturday after the day you left the job.
California: If you were fired, you should be paid immediately. If you quit, then you should not have to wait for more than 72 hours after the day you quit.
How an Employment Lawyer Can Help
Many people who leave their job are anxious about being paid correctly. Some employers take advantage of this and don’t pay what is owed on tie or even sometimes not at all.
If you think you should have been paid your final paycheck, but it hasn’t been paid when you thought it should, contact the Department of Labor or your state employment office as soon as you can.
If either of these offices don’t or won’t help you it’s time to contact an employment law attorney. Make sure that you choose an attorney who understands the law as it applies to your situation and is aware of the regulations in the state where you work.