If you quit, your boss has to pay you (or put the check in the mail) within 3 days of your last day of work. If you told your boss at least 3 days before you quit, you have to be paid by the end of your last day of work.

If you are fired or laid off, your boss has to give you your final paycheck by the end of your last day of work.

The rules:

  • If you are laid off but are returning to work in the same pay period (on a specific date), you can be paid on the next regular pay period.
  • If you work seasonally preparing or packaging food, your boss has to pay you (or put the check in the mail) within 3 days.
  • If your work is far away from the company’s administrative office, the company has to pay you (or put the check in the mail) within 24 hours of your last day of work (not including weekends and holidays)
  • When you are owed commissions that can’t be calculated at the time you leave the job, you have to be paid as soon as they can be calculated.
  • It is not a legal excuse if your boss says she didn’t pay you because she didn’t have the money.
  • On top of the unpaid wages, bosses may have to pay you a “waiting time” penalty -- a day’s wages for every day you wait for your final paycheck (up to 30 days).

    Also, private employers with more than 100 employees have to give workers 60 days notice before closing a workplace or laying off 50 or more workers. Workers can be paid for the days that they should have had notice. This is called Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN). Some states have extra protections for more workers. Go to the "Big Layoffs & Bankrupt Bosses" link in the Resource Box on this page for more information.

Do I have a right to severance pay? Most workers do not have a right to severance pay, unless there is an employment contract or a union contract that says so. Sometimes you can argue for severance pay if there is a company policy or practice of giving it. If a large group of workers is being laid off, you should get 60 days notice or pay for any of those days you didn't have notice. See the link to "Big Layoffs and Bankrupt Bosses" in the Resource Box on this page for more information.

Do I get paid for my accrued vacation time when I leave a job? In California, you earned your accrued vacation and it is part of your wages – you must be paid for it. The exception is if there is a company policy or union contract that says that you lose your benefit time when you leave.

If you are thinking about leaving your job, find out the rules about accrued vacation. Sometimes there is a rule that workers will be paid their accrued vacation if they give notice before they quit. Read the employee handbook, ask Human Resource, and ask other employees if the company has paid other employees their accrued time when they left. If you think there's going to be a problem, decide if you should use up your accrued time before you leave.

If you are a state worker, you have a right to be paid for unused benefit time (vacation, holiday, comp time) immediately. If you give a written request at least 5 days before your last day of work, the state will put as much of your benefit time pay (pre-tax) into a retirement fund (like 401(k)). In some circumstances, you can defer a payment until the following year.

Can my boss hold back my paycheck? No. No matter what, it’s your money. Also, your boss can’t hold your check to force you to return company property. HR may tell a worker that “when you drop off the equipment, you can collect your final check.” That suggests you can’t have your check unless you return the company property – but you can.

If you have company property, it’s smart to return it -- in the future another company may be calling to ask for a reference (even if you didn’t tell them to). If you have something that’s worth a lot, the company could also take you to small claims court to get it back.

What are my rights if I have a union? If you have union protection, often the law requires following the union contract (or an employment contract) because you have more rights than non-union workers. Your union can help protect your rights more effectively than the law. Contact your union steward or representative for help getting your final pay.

What rights do independent contractors have to get a final check? Independent contractors can't file wage claims. They can take someone who doesn't pay them to small claims court (see the page on "What Can I Do if My Boss Won't Give Me My Money"). If you are just called independent contractors so your boss can avoid the laws protecting you, you may be able to prove that you are really an employee (NOT an independent contractor) and win your rights and sometimes back pay, unemployment, or workers comp.

The law: CA Labor Code, §201 (final pay when a worker is fired/laid off)
                     CA Labor Code, §202 (final pay when a worker quits)
                     CA  Labor Code §203 (waiting time penalty)
                     CA Labor Code §227.3 (pay for accrued vacation)

How to enforce the law: The law is enforced by the CA Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. Go to "What Can I Do If My Boss Won't Give Me My Final Pay" for more information on enforcing your rights.