If are fired or laid off, in Massachusetts you have to be paid everything that you are owed on your last day of work.
If you quit, you have to be paid on the next regular payday. If there isn't a regular payday, you have to be paid the next Saturday.
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. Massachusetts also provides extra benefits and help to workers who are part of a mass-layoff.
Do I get paid for my accrued vacation time when I leave a job? You have to be paid for vacation time that you have accrued under the company's policy (usually in the handbook) or a union contract. There can't be a policy that makes you lose the time when you leave a job. There can't be a policy saying that workers lose their vacation time if they don't give 2 weeks' notice.
If you think you may be leaving your job soon find out the specific rules about accrued vacation. Read the employee handbook, ask Human Resource what the specific rules are, and ask other employees.
Can my boss hold back my paycheck? No. No matter what, it's your money. Your boss can't hold your check until you return company property, until you finish a job, or any other reason.
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. Even so, it's smart to return company property. 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: Mass. General Laws ch. 149 sec. 148
Who enforces the law: MA Office of the Attorney General Fair Labor Division