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What Happens When You Don’t Get Your Last Paycheck?

What happens when you don't get your last paycheck?

When you (or your employer) decide that your time with the company is over, you probably walk out without a final paycheck in hand. Many workers do not receive a final paycheck; others see weird deductions from their final checks.  Is that lawful?  Probably not.  Can you do something about it?  Absolutely.


When Should You Receive Your Final Paycheck?


No federal or state law requires your employer to hand you a final paycheck at the same time as your termination or resignation. Nor does any law impose a duty on your employer to make special accommodations to get your pay any earlier than you would have gotten it had you remained employed. Still, an employer does not have the right to keep your paycheck indefinitely.  No matter whether you were fired or resigned, Pennsylvania law requires that you receive your final paycheck on the next regularly scheduled payday.


Is it Ever Lawful for Your Employer to Withhold your Final Paycheck?


In almost every instance, the answer is no, it’s not lawful.  An employer cannot withhold your final paycheck, especially not as an act of discrimination or retaliation.


For example, if the employer fired you shortly after you announced you were pregnant, not only would your termination be unlawful, but it would also be unlawful for the employer to withhold your paycheck for this reason.


You are also entitled to your final paycheck even if you violated a company policy. An employer cannot keep your final paycheck as a form of punishment or discipline.


It is also unlawful for an employer to withhold your final paycheck because you damaged property, stole from the company, or failed to return equipment or uniforms.


What if Your Final Paycheck is a Lot Less Than You Expected?


Sometimes departed workers notice unusual amounts withheld or deducted from their final paycheck.  The law is very specific about what employers can withhold from paychecks of any kind:


  • Deductions that are legally authorized; and

  • Deductions that are authorized by the worker in writing and that are for the employee’s benefit.


The law permits your employer to withhold payroll taxes and costs for benefits (such as health insurance premiums).  Other common deductions are for uniforms, meals/lodging or tools.  These must be authorized by the employee in writing, in advance and cannot reduce your pay to below minimum wage in any pay period. 


Deductions Not Permitted by Law:


  • Deductions as a Disciplinary Measure

    • Your employer is not allowed to deduct money from your paycheck as a type of punishment or retaliation.


  • Deductions for Shortages in Register Receipts

    • Your employer cannot balance the register by withholding a portion of your wages.


  • Deductions for Damaged Property

    • Perhaps you were terminated because you were involved in an accident that damaged your employer’s property.  Your paycheck cannot be reduced to pay for the damaged property.


  • Deductions for Pay Advances

    • If your employer advanced your pay, they cannot collect the full amount of the advance back in your final paycheck if it reduces your pay below minimum wage.


Unlawful deductions in paychecks and withhold final paychecks are not uncommon.  It is not unusual for employers to misunderstand wage laws and take unauthorized deductions from workers’ wages. 

Take Action When Your Final Paycheck is Withheld

You may have a legal cause of action against an employer if they refuse to deliver your final paycheck in a timely manner. This could include the right to recover any unpaid compensation, penalties and attorney’s fees.  The experienced employment attorneys at Fiffik Law Group are waiting to talk with you about your situation and help you get the wages you worked hard for and deserve.


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