What Can I Do If My Employer Pays My Late or Unpaid Wage?

Brad Nakase, Attorney


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Late and Unpaid Wages

In order to financially survive in the world, one must get a job and be paid for that service. Thankfully, these wages (cost of completing service, task, or specific job) are ensured by law.


Wages is defined as payment in exchange for labor.[i] Labor is defined to include, “labor, work, or service whether rendered or performed under contract … or other agreement if the labor to be paid for is performed personally by the person demanding payment.”[ii] Basically, labor includes any work performed for the benefit of an employer. However, sometimes the issue arises as to when payments must be made and what happens if payments are late. This article discusses both those issues and explains remedies available.

When is payment due?

Most payments are paid bi-monthly, or twice a month.[iii] Specifically, employers usually pay their employees the 1st and 15th of the month.[iv] However, some employees, specifically those salaried and covered under the Fair Labors Standards Act, may be paid once per month.[v] This occurs with some teachers; they are paid at the first of the month for the entire month. Overtime, time worked over expected shifts, must be paid no later than the next payday in order to be determined as on time.[vi]

When do I get paid if I was fired?

Issues and fears usually arise when being fired or let go from a specific position. People wonder how and when will they be paid for the time worked before this termination. California sets out guidelines in order to protect both the employee and employer. If an employee is fired or terminated, payment for work done that has yet to be paid for is due immediately. For example, if you worked three shifts at a restaurant and haven’t been paid since the first of the month, you are due that three shift payment the moment of termination.[vii] However, if you are laid off, the time period is not immediate but rather in a reasonable time as long as that period does not exceed 72 hours.[viii]

What happens if my employer violates the above laws?

If an employer does not follow the above rules, he or she will suffer a penalty or a fine.[ix] For each day the employee is not paid, he or she will accrue her daily wages until payment is made.[x] However, this accrual cannot exceed 30 days.[xi]

I think I have a case. What now?

If you believe you have been wronged and have not been paid in a timely manner, reaching out to the employer would be a great first step. Handing the problem internally would allow both parties to understand each other and end the issue quickly. However, if this is not an option or it has already been taken and failed, a suit may be filed against the employer.[xii] A court may deem compensatory damages as well as punitive especially if the employer has been fined previously or willfully withheld the overdue wages for an unlawful reason. However, due to statute of limitations, or deadline for filing a case, it is important and dire to ensure you have taken and spoken with a lawyer as soon as you see an issue.

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Legal Reference

[i] Cal Labor Code § 200

[ii] Labor Code § 200

[iii] Cal Labor Code § 204(a)

[iv] Cal Labor Code § 204(a)

[v] Title 29 § 13(a)(1)

[vi] Cal Labor Code § 204(b)

[vii] Cal Labor Code § 201(a)

[viii] Cal Labor Code § 201(a)

[ix] Cal Labor Code § 203(a)

[x] Cal Labor Code § 203(a)

[xi] Cal Labor Code § 203(a)

[xii] Cal Labor Code § 203(b)

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