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When and How Does My Employer Have to Pay Me in California?

Individuals working in California are legally entitled to receive a wage for the work that they provide their employers. The right to a pay check is guaranteed under two different legal theories:

  • First is contract law. Simply put, an employer must honor their promise to pay any wages or benefits that they agreed to provide. For example, an employer promises to pay their employee $15.00 per hour worked, then the Courts will allow that employee to enforce that promise.
  • Second is the California Labor Code. It provides a number of obligations that an employer must comply with when paying their employees. These obligations mostly exist regardless of any agreement with your employer. Accordingly, you can think of these requirements as separate of and addition to any agreements you may have with your employer. This article will highlight some important sections of the California Labor Code.

Important Note: California wage laws only apply to “employees” – not “independent contractors.” However, employers may misclassify employees as independent contractors to avoid complying with California’s wage laws. To learn more about the difference between employees and independent contractors, please click here.

General California Rules on Pay Checks

California has a large patchwork of labor laws and regulations. Below, you can find the general rules that apply to most employees. Yet, there are a number of industry specific rules that may be applicable. You may want to consult with an attorney if you have a specific question.

How Should I get Paid?

Most employers pay their employees using company checks. Though, this is not required. Employers may pay using a personal check or cash.

Important Note: An employer may not pay their employees by issuing coupons, gift cards, or other instruments redeemable in merchandise or anything else other than in money. See Labor Code, Section 212.

Generally, there are three different ways that a person’s wages may be calculated:

  • Hourly Pay

Many employees are paid by multiplying the number of hours that they worked by the applicable hourly rate. Thus, an employer must keep accurate records of the time that an employee spends working. The hourly rate paid must comply with various federal, state, and local laws. To learn more about minimum wage laws, please click here.

One of the most important factors in determining an hourly employees’ compensation is determining when the employee is “on duty” or actually working for his/her employer. To learn more about hours worked under California law, please click here.

  • Piece-Rate Pay

Some employees are not paid by the number of hours worked, but by the number of tasks completed or by a “piece-rate.” This is more common in the agriculture or transportation industry. For example, a person may get paid by the number of deliveries made or the number of plants harvested.

In California, even employees that get paid by a piece-rate may be compensated for rest and recovery periods, nonproductive time, and overtime. Additionally, piece-rate employees are still subject to minimum wage laws.

  • Salary Pay

Salaried employees get paid a fixed amount of money or compensation by an employer. For example, a salaried employee might earn $65,000 per year or $1,500 per week. Therefore, employers may not be required to keep track of their salaried employees’ hours.

Salaried employees may be considered “exempt” employees for the purposes of overtime or other legal requirements, but this is not always true. To learn more about the difference between exempt employees and nonexempt employees, please click here.

  • Other Special Rules

There are a number of other special rules that may also effect a person’s compensation. For example, some employees may be entitled to “Reporting Time Pay” or pay for any time the employee is required to report for work, and does report to work, but:

  • is not put to work, or
  • only put to work for less than half of the employee’s usual or scheduled workday.

Reporting time is equal to half of the usual or scheduled workday’s wages, but it cannot be less than two (2) hours and not more than four (4) hours of the employee’s regular rate of pay.

Additionally, some employees may be subject to a collective bargaining agreement in which employees (generally represented by a union) and employers have agreed to terms and conditions of employment.

When Should I get Paid?

The general rule requires that employees be paid at least twice a month, but your employer can pay you more frequently (for example, on a weekly basis). Your paydays should be established by your employer before your first pay check. Normally, your payday should not periodically change.

If you are paid twice a month then you should be paid between the 16th and the 26th day of the month for all work performed between the 1st and 15th days of the month and between the 1st and 10th day of the following month for all work on the 16th and the last day of the month. If you are paid more frequently, you must be paid within seven calendar days following the close of the payroll period.

These schedules may be different for employees that are covered by a collective bargaining agreement or for salaried employees. If you are subject to a collective bargaining agreement, your employer must follow that agreement. On the other hand, salaried employees may be paid at least once a month.

To read more about the California Labor Code requirements for pay periods, please see Labor Code, Section 204 and Section 207.

What Information Should be Included with my Pay Check?

California law not only requires that an employer pay you on time, but also requires that the employer provide you an accurate and timely “wage statement.” This wage statement must include the following information:

  • The “dates of the period for which the employee is paid.”
  • The “total hours worked by the employee.”

Important Note: Salaried and “exempt” employees may not have the total hours worked on their pay check. To learn more about Exempt employees, please click here.

  • “All applicable hourly rates in effect during the pay period and the corresponding number of hours worked at each hourly rate by the employee.”

Important Note: This requirement means that an employer must list the amount of overtime you worked, and the rate at which that overtime was paid. To learn more about overtime pay, please click here.

  • The “number of piece-rate units earned” and “any applicable piece rate if the employee is paid on a piece-rate basis.” This section only applies to those paid on a piece-rate basis.
  • The “gross wages earned,” or total amount of wages you earned for the pay period before any deductions.
  • “All deductions” from your gross pay. This may include state and federal taxes, health insurance premiums, pension payments or retirement contribution.
  • The “net wages earned.” This is the amount of gross pay minus any deductions from your paycheck. This number should be equal to the amount actually listed on your paycheck or equal to the amount of cash you received.

A wage statement should be attached to each one of your paychecks. But, may also be provided as a separate document if you get paid by personal check or cash.

Important Note: You also have the right to ask for a copy of a wage statement upon reasonable request, but an employer is only required to keep such records for three years.

The law also requires that this wage statement be accurate and an employer may be liable if the employer falsifies the number of hours worked or the compensation due.

Important Note: An employer may not make you sign a statement certifying the number of hours you worked during a pay period if the employer knows that statement to be false. Such signed statements are void under California law and have no effect on your right to claim unpaid wages.

To read more about the California Labor Code requirements for wage statements, please see Labor Code, Section 226 and Section 206.5.

When Should I get My Last Paycheck?

When you get your last paycheck in California will largely depend on whether you were terminated or you quit. Again, below are the general rules. However, these rules may differ for specific industries.

  • Terminations

If your employer terminates your employment, the wages earned and unpaid at the time of discharge are due and payable immediately.

These rules may be different for state employers and certain industries. To learn more, please see Labor Code, Sections 201 to 201.9.

  • Resignation

If you quit your job, your final paycheck must be provided to you immediately if you provided 72 hours’ notice or more. If you provide less than 72 hours’ notice, your final paycheck must be paid within 72 hours of your resignation. This final paycheck may be mailed to you at your request; however, it still must be sent within the same 72-hour period.

To read more about the California Labor Code requirements for wage statements, please see Labor Code, Section 226.

Important Note: California law provides for a “waiting time” penalty if an employer “willfully” fails to provide your final paycheck within the time periods established by law. This penalty is generally equal to the normal wages you would have been paid if you had continued to work for each day you are not paid. This penalty is capped after 30 days. To read more, please see Labor Code, Section 203.

What to Do if my Employer does not Pay my Full Wages?

In California, aggrieved employees have two options if their employer refuses to pay their wages: they may file an administrative claim with the California Labor Commissioner’s Office or they may file a lawsuit.

The California Labor Commissioner has a helpful website detailing how to file a wage claim. However, California’s Private Attorneys General Act or “PAGA” also authorizes aggrieved employees to file lawsuits to recover civil penalties on behalf of themselves, other employees, and the State of California for Labor Code violations. Essentially, PAGA allows employees to step into the shoes of the Labor Commissioner to enforce California’s Labor Code. Those who intend to pursue PAGA cases must follow the requirements specified in the Labor Code.

Whether it is wise to file an administrative claim with the Labor Commissioner or to file your own lawsuit will often depend on the facts of your individual case. Lawsuits are often subject to more complicated and time consuming procedures than filing an administrative claim. Thus, a lawsuit may not make sense in a simple case. A lawsuit, however, may be appropriate for multifaceted claims or cases involving a large number of employees. Given the complex nature of California’s wage law, consulting an experienced attorney is often a good idea before asserting any legal claim. Many attorneys will offer free initial consultations and will take a case on a contingency basis, meaning you may not have to pay any attorneys’ fees and costs unless the case is successful.

Important Note: Wage claims may be subject to a number of “statutes of limitation” or time periods in which an employee must bring their claims. Thus, it is important to act immediately when you discover any wage law violations.

Important Note: An employer may violate federal labor laws (including the Fair Labor Standards Act), in addition to violating California’s Labor Code. The federal laws may also allow you to file a claim or lawsuit. Again, because there are a number of laws that may be applicable to your claim, your best option may be to consult with an attorney.

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