What happens if you get caught working under the table?

Generally, it is not illegal for your employer to pay you in cash. However, if the employer paid you under the table and did not report your earnings, you may be entitled to money damages under California Labor Code 226.

By Brad Nakase, Attorney

Email  |  Call (888) 600-8654

Get Smarter: Search my blogs

What does it mean to get paid under the table?

The term “getting paid under the table” refers to a situation where an employee receives payment for goods or services in cash or other forms of compensation without the transaction being officially recorded or reported to the government for taxation or regulatory purposes. It is also commonly known as “off-the-books” payment or “cash-in-hand.”

When paid in cash, neither the employer nor the employee reports the income to tax authorities or other relevant agencies. As a result, the income is not subject to income tax, social security contributions, or any other deductions that would typically be applied to a formal employment arrangement.

While some people might see this as a way to avoid taxes and possibly receive more money upfront, it is important to recognize that getting paid under the table is usually illegal and considered tax evasion. Both the employer and the employee may face severe consequences if caught, including fines, penalties, and potential criminal charges.

For employers, paying workers under the table can also lead to other legal issues, such as violating labor laws, workers’ rights, and insurance requirements.

In sum, getting paid under the table is an informal and non-compliant method of compensation that bypasses the usual tax and regulatory obligations. It is strongly advised to avoid engaging in such practices and to ensure that all income is properly reported and taxes are paid in accordance with the law.

Is it illegal to get paid under the table in California?

It is illegal to get paid under the table in California, and this applies to most jurisdictions within the United States. Under the table work are jobs that pay cash and are typically “off the record,” as in they aren’t reported as income. Both employers and employees have legal obligations when paid in cash to accurately report income and paying taxes.

Employers are required to report wages and salaries paid to employees to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the California Employment Development Department (EDD). This includes withholding and remitting income taxes, Social Security taxes (FICA), and Medicare taxes on behalf of their employees. Employers also need to comply with other employment-related laws, such as providing workers’ compensation insurance and adhering to minimum wage and overtime regulations.

If an employer is caught paying employees under the table and not reporting their income, they can face severe penalties and fines from the IRS. Tax evasion is a serious offense, and the penalties can include substantial financial liabilities, criminal charges, and potential imprisonment.

Employers and employees who participate in wage paid in cash may face legal consequences if caught by tax authorities or labor enforcement agencies. Prosecution may involve criminal charges, civil penalties, and additional taxes, along with the costs of investigation and legal proceedings.

It is therefore essential for both employers and employees to understand their tax and legal obligations and to comply with the applicable laws and regulations when paid in cash. Engaging in under the table payments not only puts individuals at risk of legal trouble but also deprives employees of important protections and benefits provided under the law. If you have concerns about being paid under the table, it is recommended to consult with an employment attorney to ensure compliance with the law.

Is it legal to be paid in cash in California?

In California, it is generally legal for employees to be paid in cash, as long as certain requirements are met and the employer complies with the relevant labor laws. However, even if an employee is paid in cash, the employer is still obligated to provide an itemized pay statement that includes specific information, as outlined in California Labor Code Section 226(a).

California Labor Code Section 226(a) mandates that employers must provide accurate and itemized written statements to employees at the time they are paid. The pay statement, commonly known as a wage statement or pay stub, should contain the following information:

  1. Gross wages earned: The total amount of wages the employee earned before any deductions.
  1. Total hours worked: The total number of hours the employee worked during the pay period, if the employee is paid on an hourly basis.
  1. Pay rate: The employee’s hourly rate or salary, depending on their pay arrangement.
  1. Deductions: Any deductions made from the employee’s wages, such as taxes, Social Security, Medicare, health insurance premiums, retirement contributions, or other authorized deductions.
  1. Net wages earned: The amount of wages the employee actually receives after all deductions are subtracted from the gross wages.
  1. Inclusive dates of the pay period: The dates for which the employee is being paid.
  1. Legal name and address of the employer: The employer’s official name and physical address.
  1. Employee’s name and identifying information: The employee’s legal name and, if applicable, the last four digits of their social security number or an employee identification number.

The purpose of this requirement is to provide transparency and ensure that employees have access to detailed information about their wages and deductions, which helps to prevent potential wage disputes and protect employees’ rights.

If an employer fails to provide accurate itemized pay statements as required by Section 226(a), they may be subject to penalties under California labor laws. The penalties can vary depending on the circumstances, and employees may have the right to file a claim or take legal action to enforce their rights.

While it is legal to pay employees in cash in California, employers must still comply with the state’s labor laws, including providing accurate and itemized pay statements to their employees. It is advisable for employers to maintain detailed and organized payroll records to ensure compliance with the law and to protect both their interests and those of their employees.

Can you sue your employer for paying under the table?

Under the table work are quick service job that pay cash. If a California employer pays an employee under the table and fails to provide proper itemized pay statements as required by Labor Code Section 226(a), the employee may be entitled to damages and other remedies under the law. This situation may arise when an employer engages in off-the-books payment practices and intentionally avoids providing official records of wages and deductions.

Under Labor Code Section 226(a), employers are required to provide accurate itemized wage statements to employees even though paid in cash. If they fail to do so, an employee who is paid under the table may have grounds to seek damages, which can include:

  1. Unpaid Wages: The employee may be entitled to recover the full amount of unpaid wages owed to them. This includes any wages that were paid in cash but not properly documented.
  1. Interest: In some cases, the court may order the employer to pay interest on the unpaid wages. This is to compensate the employee for the delay in receiving their rightful earnings.
  1. Penalties: Employers who willfully fail to comply with the itemized pay statement requirement may be subject to penalties. The penalty is typically a fixed amount for each violation, and it can increase for subsequent violations.
  1. Attorneys’ Fees and Costs: If the employee successfully brings a lawsuit against the employer for violations of Labor Code Section 226(a), the court may order the employer to pay the employee’s reasonable attorneys’ fees and litigation costs. This provision is intended to encourage employees to enforce their rights, even when seeking legal representation.

It is important to note that the specific remedies and damages available to an employee will depend on the circumstances of each case, and the court will consider factors such as the severity of the violations, the employer’s willfulness, and the impact on the employee.

Employees who believe they have been paid under the table and have not received proper itemized pay statements should consider consulting with an employment attorney or contacting the California Labor Commissioner’s Office to explore their legal options. Seeking professional legal advice can help employees understand their rights and potential avenues for recovering unpaid wages and seeking appropriate remedies.

Can you report an employer for paying under the table?

If a California employee believes their employer is paying them under the table and engaging in other illegal payment practices, they can take certain steps to address the issue and protect their rights. The following are some recommended steps to consider when paid under the table in California:

  1. Document the Evidence: The employee should gather as much evidence as possible to support their claim. This may include pay stubs, work schedules, messages, emails, or any other records that indicate payment in cash or a lack of proper wage statements.
  1. Talk to the Employer: In some cases, it may be worth discussing the concern with the employer directly, especially if the employee believes it was unintentional. It’s essential to maintain a respectful and professional approach during the conversation.
  1. Contact the California Labor Commissioner’s Office: The California Labor Commissioner’s Office is responsible for enforcing state labor laws, including wage and hour regulations. Employees can file a complaint with the Labor Commissioner’s Office, which can investigate the matter and take appropriate actions to address any violations.
  1. Consult with an Employment Law Attorney: It is highly advisable for the employee to seek advice from an experienced employment law attorney. An attorney can provide legal guidance, assess the situation, and help the employee understand their rights and potential remedies.
  1. Maintain Confidentiality: While reporting the employer for illegal practices is essential, the employee should be cautious about sharing the details of the situation with coworkers or others who may inform the employer. Confidentiality can be vital to protect the employee from potential retaliation.
  1. Retaliation Protection: California law provides protections against retaliation for employees who report violations of labor laws. If an employer retaliates against an employee for reporting under-the-table payments or other illegal practices, the employee may have further legal recourse.
  1. Cooperate with Investigations: If the Labor Commissioner’s Office or any other relevant agency initiates an investigation, the employee should cooperate fully and provide any necessary information to support their claim.

Employment law can be complex, and the specific circumstances of each case can vary significantly. An employment law attorney will be able to provide personalized advice and assistance to the employee throughout the process of reporting the employer and potentially pursuing legal action when paid in cash.

If you suspect that your employer is paying you under the table or engaging in other unlawful practices, do not hesitate to seek legal counsel to protect your rights and ensure fair treatment in the workplace.

Have a quick question? We answered nearly 2000 FAQs.

See all blogs: Business | Corporate | Employment Law

Most recent blogs:

HRIS - The Essential Tool for HR Management

HRIS: The essential tool for HR management

HRIS systems help manage and automate payroll, timekeeping, and benefits administration, enhancing overall HR efficiency. Modern cloud-based HRIS solutions offer increased data storage, security, and seamless integration with other HR applications.
What Is a Statutory Employee - Criteria, Taxation, and Example

What is a Statutory employee? Criteria, taxation, and example

A statutory employee is a freelancer treated as an employee for tax purposes, meeting specific criteria for Social Security and Medicare. These workers receive W-2 forms, allowing tax deductions for job-related expenses, but typically lack regular employee benefits.
Disparate Impact - What it Means, How it Works, History

Disparate Impact: What it means, how it works, history

Disparate impact refers to neutral policies that disproportionately affect protected groups, impacting areas like housing and employment. Federal regulations allow evaluating these impacts to identify and prevent discrimination.
What is Employer of Record (EOR)

What is Employer of Record (EOR)?

An Employer of Record (EOR) simplifies global expansion by handling payroll, benefits, and compliance, saving businesses time and resources. Companies can achieve a global presence without the complexities and costs of establishing a new office or entity.
What is EPL insurance

What is EPL insurance?

EPL insurance protects businesses from the high costs and disruptions of employment claims, covering legal fees and settlements. Safeguard your company from claims of harassment, discrimination, and wrongful termination with comprehensive EPL insurance.
Does employer match count towards the 401k limit

Does employer match count towards the 401k limit?

Employer 401k matches do not count towards your individual contribution limit, offering extra retirement savings. In 2024, the total 401k contribution limit, including employer matches, is $69,000 or 100% of your compensation.
What are employer payroll taxes

What are employer payroll taxes

Understand employer payroll taxes and the complexity of calculating the correct amounts, including contributions to Social Security and Medicare. Learn the importance of accurate payroll tax management to avoid potential penalties.
What is a Professional Employer Organization

What is a Professional Employer Organization?

Discover how a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) can streamline your HR responsibilities and provide expert support for a fraction of the cost. Learn about the various services offered by PEOs and how they differ from staffing agencies.
Everything you need to know about employee retention credit

Everything you need to know about employee retention credit

Explore the benefits of the Employee Retention Credit, a tax incentive designed to encourage businesses to maintain their workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn how to apply retroactively for this credit and maximize your business's financial recovery.
Will my employer know if I take a 401k loan

Will my employer know if I take a 401k loan?

Learn how taking a 401k loan is visible to your employer and understand the implications and conditions they might impose. Discover privacy rules around your 401k and employer's role in setting loan terms.
The largest employer in the US

The largest employer in the US

Discover the biggest employers in the US and learn which industries dominate the employment landscape, with insights into post-Covid economic recovery. Understand job stability and opportunities within these large companies despite economic fluctuations.
How to write a retirement letter to your employer

How to write a retirement letter to your employer

Craft an effective retirement letter with these straightforward tips, ensuring a smooth transition and maintaining positive relations as you step into retirement. Discover how to communicate your retirement plans clearly and respectfully.
What is employer branding

What is employer branding?

Discover the power of employer branding to attract top talent and improve your company's reputation. Learn key strategies to enhance your organizational appeal to prospective employees.
Questions to ask in an interview as an employer

Questions to ask in an interview as an employer

Use these key interview questions to gauge whether candidates align with your company’s culture and job requirements. Evaluate potential hires effectively with tailored queries in any interview setting.
Performance Appraisal

Performance Appraisal

Performance appraisals are crucial for making decisions about promotions, bonuses, and training; they can significantly enhance employee productivity if utilized effectively. This article details how to conduct effective performance reviews and utilize them to boost engagement and performance.


Absenteeism in the workplace can severely impact productivity and revenue, costing billions annually. This article addresses effective strategies and the importance of a skills matrix in managing absenteeism.
Recruitment Process

Recruitment Process

Learn about the full-cycle recruitment process, its benefits, and the six primary steps from preparation to onboarding in this detailed guide. Understand how a streamlined recruitment approach enhances efficiency and candidate experience.
Employee Onboarding

Employee Onboarding

Discover how effective onboarding strengthens employee-employer relationships, enhancing retention, job satisfaction, and performance. Learn to design tailored onboarding processes to build lasting bonds with new staff in this detailed guide.
Examples Of Orientation

Examples Of Orientation

Understand how a structured job orientation can ease new employees into their roles, improving both productivity and retention. Learn about the essential elements that make up an effective job orientation program.
Interview Guides

Interview Guides

Review the benefits of using an interview guide to streamline candidate evaluations and ensure a consistent interview process across your organization. Delve into the seven essential components that make up an effective interview guide.
Employee Performance Metrics

Employee Performance Metrics

Review the essential role of employee performance metrics in evaluating workforce productivity and effectiveness within an organization. Analyze the different categories of performance metrics and how they impact strategic HR decisions.
Strategic Workforce Planning

Strategic Workforce Planning

Learn about the importance of strategic workforce planning in ensuring a business is equipped for success both now and in the future. Discover how implementing this process effectively meets a company's current and future staffing needs.
Learning Is Developmental

Learning Is Developmental

Grasp the significance of learning and development in fostering a skilled workforce capable of facing challenges and thriving in the business world. See how strategic employee training is vital for achieving organizational goals and securing a competitive advantage.
Human Resources Planning Process

Human Resources Planning Process

Understand the critical role of human resource planning in preparing a workforce for future needs and maintaining a competitive edge. Examine the structured steps and benefits of effective HR planning processes in achieving organizational goals.
Compensation Types

Compensation Types

Gain insights into the various types of employee compensation and understand how to create competitive benefit packages to attract and retain talent. Review the importance of a well-structured compensation plan in enhancing employee satisfaction and boosting retention.
Sabbatical Leave

Sabbatical Leave

Understand the benefits of sabbatical leave for both employees and employers, and the key elements of effective sabbatical policies. Explore successful sabbatical programs from companies like Autodesk and Patagonia, and their impact on workplace dynamics.


Navigate the world of HR KPIs to measure and enhance your human resources management effectiveness and align with organizational goals. Understand the vital role of KPIs in achieving fair compensation and strategic HR outcomes.

Contact our attorney.

Please tell us your story:

3 + 4 = ?