Laws for getting my last paycheck from my employer

Written by daisy mccarty
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Laws for getting my last paycheck from my employer
(Image courtesy of cc license by flickr user liewcf http://www.flickr.com/photos/liewcf/558095441/)

Living from one paycheck to the next isn't ideal, but it is a financial reality for many Americans. Being between jobs without any income can trigger a series of late fees for unpaid bills. This can lead to ruined credit and other difficulties. If you have recently quit your job (or if you have been fired/laid off), you may well be wondering when you can expect to get your last paycheck from your employer.

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Disputes

Disputes over paychecks fall into two categories. First, there is the issue of timing. Your employer may be unaware of state regulations regarding how quickly he must pay you. Or, you may assume you have to be paid immediately when this is not necessarily true. Look up the relevant statute in your state before you accuse a company of illegally withholding your pay. The second common problem is the amount of a final paycheck. You need to fully understand your employer's policies, state laws and any agreements you have made about deductions so you aren't taken by surprise.

Time Frame

The federal government does not have a specific law dictating how long your employer can wait to distribute your final paycheck. This is left up to each state to decide. Many states have two different statutes. The first statute applies to employees who are fired or laid off. In these cases, your employer may be required to pay you quickly. For example, in California, an employee must be paid immediately upon dismissal. In Vermont, the employer has 3 days to cut a check. The second statute applies to employees who quit (with or without notice). Usually, the last paycheck is due on the next regularly scheduled payday. In many states, this is also the rule if you are fired.

Types of Pay

Any wages you have earned for time worked (including overtime) must be paid to you in the time period outlined by state law. Often, any reimbursable business expenses must also be paid at this time. In most states, you are also entitled to receive the cash value of any vacation time you have accrued; however, this is not always required by law and may come down to your employer's policy. Check your employee handbook for details about which paid time off benefits your employer has agreed to pay upon termination. Personal days and sick days are not always considered earned vacation time, and you might not receive payment for those accumulated hours. Your employer may also have up to 30 days to pay your commissions if you work in a sales job.

Deductions

Your employer is generally restricted from making unauthorised deductions from your final paycheck; however, deductions required by state or federal law (such as taxes and child support) will still be withheld. If you are enrolled in a medical benefits program or a 401(k) through your job, your final paycheck will reflect your usual contributions to those plans. Turn in any employer-owned property, such as uniforms, pagers or laptops, to avoid being charged for them. If you have been accused of stealing from your employer, your paycheck shouldn't be reduced unless an actual police report was filed about the alleged theft. If you make a mistake that costs your employer money, she usually can't take it out of your pay unless she can prove you were grossly negligent.

Legal Recourse

You can contact the labour department in your state if you need help collecting your final paycheck or you believe unlawful deductions have been taken. Or, you can contact the Wage and Hour Division at the Department of Labor on a federal level. You also have the option of hiring an attorney or handling the dispute yourself in small claims court. Your employer may be required to pay penalties for delaying your final paycheck beyond the allowable time limit.

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