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.

The final paycheck must include all wages and business expenses that the employee is owed. It must also 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.

Still owed your final paycheck?

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.

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In California, how long does an employer have to pay you 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 fired Same day as your termination
You quit Within 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 page 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.

Penalties You Can Recover = Up to 30 Days of Wages

Speak to one of our lawyers about how you can recover California labor code penalties for your employer making you wait for your 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.”

Steven Tindall

An employment-law litigator with over 20 years’ experience, Steven Tindall is well-acquainted with navigating the ins-and-outs of the California labor code. His largest recovery in a single employment case is $29 million.

Linda Lam

Prior to joining us at Gibbs Law Group LLP, Linda Lam worked at a national employment law firm, where she represented workers in lawsuits to recover unpaid wages and benefits.

Steve Lopez

Steve has prosecuted a variety of complex employment cases involving misclassification of independent contractors. He is fluent in English and Spanish.

Our California Employment Law Practice

Gibbs Law Group LLP is consistently ranked on U.S. News’ list of “Best Law Firms.”

The attorneys in our California employment law practice have all be selected as 2018 Northern California Super Lawyers or Risings Stars.

Get your pay plus penalties

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

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