Can My Employer Keep My Last Paycheck?


If you leave a job on bad terms, your final paycheck can at least give you some closure on the situation as the final severance between you and your former employer. Discovering that you’re not going to receive that final paycheck may not just be a final irritation. It may be illegal in many cases. Although laws regarding an employee’s final paycheck vary from state to state, federal law requires your employer to pay you for the work you perform.

Payment for Hours Worked

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act requires that all employers compensate their workers for all time worked, and requires payment to be at least the minimum wage – $7.25 per hour as of March 2011 – for regular hours and overtime rates of 150 percent regular wage for all hours beyond 40 worked in a single workweek. Unless your wages are outlined in a contract, it may be legal for your boss to reduce your final wages without notification, depending upon how freely your state interprets the doctrine of at-will employment.

Final Paycheck

Federal law doesn’t require that your employer provides you a check immediately upon termination or on your final day of work. You must be paid for your work, however, on the normal payroll cycle, and should receive your final paycheck on the same date you would have normally received pay. State laws vary significantly, and local regulations may require your employer to pay you immediately and might bar your final paycheck from being mailed to you unless you authorize it in advance. Consult your state department of labor for local regulations regarding your final paycheck.

Paycheck Reductions

If you entered into a contract with your employer to provide you a loan or in a situation where your company paid moving expenses that must be reimbursed if you quit within a set amount of time, your employer may be allowed to withhold a portion of your final paycheck. In some states, that amount must be specified in your contract and held to those limitations, while other situations may allow your employer to garnish your entire paycheck for reimbursement. You should receive a pay stub that itemizes your earnings, payroll tax withholding and other deductions on your normal pay period.

Recovering Final Paycheck

If you feel that your employer didn’t give you your final paycheck in a timely fashion as dictated by federal or state labor laws, if you think wage deductions were not authorized and illegal or you simply never received your final paycheck, contact the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (see Resources) or your state’s department of labor to report the incident and begin an investigation.

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