California Final Paycheck Law (2023)

How long does your employer have to pay your final check? And what are the penalties if they don’t?

Under California employment law, departing employees are entitled to receive their final paycheck almost immediately. Employees who quit must receive their final paycheck within 72 hours of giving notice that they’re leaving. Employees who are fired must be paid on the same day as termination.

California final paycheck laws require that the final paycheck include all wages and business expenses that the employee is owed. Also, the final paycheck must include the cash value of benefits owed to the employee (such as accrued vacation days).

Fired workers who don’t get their final paycheck on their last day are entitled to recover penalties from their employer for every day they have to wait. Workers who quit and don’t receive their final paycheck within 3 days can recover the same penalties. The penalty is a full-day’s wages for every day the worker has to wait, up to a maximum of 30 days. For violating California final paycheck law, employers can end up owing more in waiting-time penalties than what they owed for the final paycheck itself.

Example: Fed up with his job, John tells his boss that he quits. His boss loses it, and decides to withhold John’s final paycheck to punish him. Six months pass, and John starts looking for a lawyer to help him recover what he’s owed. How much does John’s employer owe him? Answer | John’s employer owes him the amount of wages that should have been on his final paycheck, plus 30 days of wages — the maximum penalty.

Below, we discuss 4 common questions employees often have about California’s final paycheck law.

California final paycheck law: penalty of up to 30 days of wages

We can help you recover penalties of up to 30-days’ worth of wages if you didn’t receive your last check in a timely manner.


In California, how long does an employer have to give final paycheck after termination?

If you’ve been fired, California labor law requires your employer to pay you on the same day as your termination.

Typically, an employer or human resources (HR) person will hand you a check when they inform you that you’ve been let go. Companies will also sometimes give you a final check during an exit interview, when HR tells you what you need to do before leaving (turn in security badges, keys, etc.).

If you’re the one who decided to end the employment relationship, your employer must pay you within 72 hours of your giving notice that you quit.

What happened?When is final paycheck due in California?
You’re firedSame day as your termination
You quitWithin 72 hours of your giving notice that you’re quitting

What are the penalties in California if an employer doesn’t give a final paycheck on time?

If your employer doesn’t timely provide your final paycheck (on the same day as termination or within 72 hours of your quitting), the California labor code entitles you to a penalty equal to one-day’s wages for every late day.

These penalties are known as “waiting time penalties,” and employers in California are punished for making employees wait for their last check. Employees that are now jobless face a host of expenses, such as rent, electricity, and food costs. They need their final paycheck to live off.

Waiting time penalties can quickly add up, but are capped at 30 days. An employer that pays a former employee a month late will face the maximum penalty.

Example: John’s boss calls him into her office. She says, “John, I’ve never liked you, and you showed up late yesterday. You’re not worth the $120 a day we pay you, so I’m letting you go.” The company never gives John his final paycheck, and he sues. How much is he entitled to in waiting time penalties?

Answer: John can recover $120 per day in penalties up to a maximum of 30 days. Because 30 x $120 is $3600, John can receive a maximum of $3600 in penalties for the company’s failure to provide his final paycheck.

Other Damages a California Employee Can Recover For Failure to Pay Final Check

In addition to “waiting time” penalties, a California employee who never receives a final check is entitled to get the full amount that should have been on the check. Unused paid-time-off (PTO) is supposed to be reflected in the final paycheck. If an employee has unused vacation days at the time of termination, California PTO law requires an employer to provide a day’s worth of wages for each unused vacation day.

Can an employer make deductions from a final paycheck in California?

An employer can make standard deductions from a final paycheck (such as federal taxes, court-ordered child support), but generally cannot deduct costs for supposed damage or lost money that they say is the employee’s fault. Employers in California can only deduct costs from a final paycheck if the employee stole money or equipment, or damaged or lost it due to “gross negligence.”

Featured Members of Our Employment Law Practice

Steven Tindall

Steven specializes in employment litigation and has been lead or co-lead counsel on several cases that resulted in settlements of over $1 million.

View full profile

Linda Lam

Linda focuses her practice on representing consumers, small businesses, and employees in complex litigation.

View full profile

Steve Lopez

Steve represents consumers, employees, and whistleblowers harmed by corporate misconduct in a variety of complex litigation cases.

View full profile

Our California Employment Practice

Our California employment attorneys – with over 50 years of collective experience litigating under California employment law – know how to fight for employees’ rights and get them the money they deserve. We’ve recovered tens of millions of dollars for California employees and represent individuals as well as class actions in virtually every area of California employment and labor laws: California overtime law, off the clock violations in CA, breach of contract disputes, California independent contractor law, sexual harassment, employee misclassification, discrimination, as well as mass layoffs in violation of the California WARN Act. Our California employment lawyers are repeatedly recognized for their expertise litigating in California. Founding partner Eric Gibbs has been selected as one of the Top Plaintiff Lawyers in California. And seventeen of the firm’s attorneys were selected as Northern California Super Lawyers and Rising Stars, a distinction received by less than 5% of attorneys in Northern California.

About Us

Gibbs Law Group is a California-based law firm committed to protecting the rights of clients nationwide who have been harmed by corporate misconduct. We represent individuals, whistleblowers, employees, and small businesses across the U.S. against the world’s largest corporations. Our award-winning lawyers have achieved landmark recoveries and over a billion dollars for our clients in high-stakes class action and individual cases involving consumer protection, data breach, digital privacy, and federal and California employment lawsuits. Our attorneys have received numerous honors for their work, including “Top Plaintiff Lawyers in California,” “Top Class Action Attorneys Under 40,” “Consumer Protection MVP,” “Best Lawyers in America,” and “Top Cybersecurity/ Privacy Attorneys Under 40.”
california lawyer attorney of the year CLAY award
titan of plaintiffs bar award
best law firm ranking
chambers USA leading firms award
daily journal top plaintiff lawyers award

Had to wait for final paycheck? California law gives substantial penalties

Late checks aren’t allowed in California. We can help you recover penalties if your employer sent your final paycheck late.