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Can an Employer Refuse to Pay Me?

With all their valuable contributions in the workplace, employees enjoy a number of rights and benefits in return. One of these rights is the right to receive payment for work done, and this, among others, is an entitlement that employers must duly and unfailingly respect. Both state and federal laws acknowledge this right and require the payment of at least minimum wage in satisfaction of such right. Unfortunately, however, even with these safeguards in place, the reality is that some employers fail to pay wages owed to their employees. So how long can an employer not pay you?

If you are an employee with unpaid wages, including unpaid overtime pay, night pay differential, and other work-related compensation, it is important that you know your rights under the law. Ultimately, this is so that you can take the best legal recourse to claim what is rightfully yours.

Employment lawyers protect the rights and interests of employees and provide legal advice and representation in various legal matters. Contact the best employment lawyer near you today through this list of pre-screened employment lawyers by state.

Generally, employers cannot refuse to pay their employees’ wages. Even without going into federal and state laws yet, the notions of fairness and justice would tell us that a person who has sacrificed his time and effort for the benefit of another deserves rightful compensation by the latter.

The requirement under both individual state and federal laws is that employers pay their employees at least the minimum wage, which varies from state to state. Particularly for your case, you should know how much you are to receive, whether minimum or above minimum wage, by looking at your employment contract. If your employer refuses to pay you this stated wage, then that would constitute a violation of your employment contract and relevant laws. You are then entitled to seek legal recourse, as stated in the Fair Labor Standards Act and your state employment laws.

Payday Laws in General

As in all legal issues, payday laws vary from state to state. The regularity of payment of wages depends on where the employment occurs, but in general, most state laws require weekly, bi-weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly payment of wages. While these laws already exist in legislation, most states would nonetheless still require that employers notify employees when and how often they are to receive their wages, among other payday requirements.

Your right to a timely paycheck: examples

“My employer didn’t pay me on payday.”

This is a pretty common problem among distressed employees, and the distress, without question, is completely valid. As an employee, you are expecting to receive what is due to you on your designated payday, and not receiving your wages on time — or at all — leads to worry and anxiety, especially when you have monthly bills, expenses, and all.

Remember that both individual state and federal laws require that employees not only be paid their proper and fair wages but also to be paid on time. Some examples of specific state laws are:

  • New York: Manual workers must be paid weekly (or twice a month, upon approval), while other kinds of workers, such as clerical workers, must be paid at least twice a month.
  • California: Wages are generally paid at least twice during a calendar month with the exception of a few types of employees such as “executive, administrative, or professional” employees, who employers must pay once a month.
  • Illinois: Similarly, employers must pay employees categorized as “executive, administrative, or professional” once a month, while all other employees are on a semi-monthly basis.
  • Florida: The government must pay employees at least once a month, while employers in the private sector do not have any minimum payday requirements.

Timely paychecks are a right under employment laws, and if the employer denies you this right, you may seek legal recourse. Contact an employment lawyer near you today to advise you of your best options and to represent you in a potential case for wage claim.

When Can an Employer Refuse to Pay Me?

As mentioned earlier, employers generally do not have the right to refuse to pay their employees. In fact, even if your employer just fired you or you resigned from work, you are still entitled to be paid for the work you have done prior to your exit.

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An instance when an employer may be justified not to pay you is if you did not complete the number of hours you were expected to work. For example, if your employment requires you to work for 40 hours a week, but you couldn’t do so without any valid and justifiable reason, then your employer doesn’t have to make the full payment for that week. Simply put, the general rule that our labor laws follow is “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s labor.”

What to Do If My Employer Refuses to Pay

The following courses of action are available to employees whose employers refuse to pay the wages due to the former:

  • Read your employment contract. This document might contain relevant information on why you did not receive your wages. Apart from this, you may also seek to consult your company manual, if available.
  • Communicate with your employer. If the above-mentioned documents do not explain why you failed to receive your wages, then it is most prudent to ask your employer about it. Ideally, you should communicate to your employer in writing, so that in the event you have to elevate the matter to the courts, you have pertinent records to show as evidence.
  • Contact your local state labor agency. If you still do not receive your wages, seek assistance from your state labor department or any similar entity. Generally, these agencies have a standard complaint form aggrieved employees can fill out, where they can explain their situation and file an official complaint. 
  • Consult an employment lawyer or law firm. Employment law attorneys are the legal experts that you need to advise you on what to do if your employer doesn’t pay you. They will also represent you in case the matter should go before the courts.

What to Do if Your Employer Didn’t Pay You on Payday

To note, fair labor standards do not only require that you get paid for your labor, but also, more specifically, the laws require that you get paid on time. This means that wages are immediately available in your account and are readily accessible for withdrawal or personal use on your designated payday.

In case your employer fails to pay you on your payday, the following are possible courses of action:

  • If it is proper, under the circumstances, speak to your immediate supervisor.
  • Contact whoever is in charge of organizing or issuing employee paychecks or accounts.
  • If, after these initial discussions, you are told there has been no sincere mistake, write a statement to your employer to ask for your unpaid wages.
  • Contact your local state labor agency if, upon receipt of the written statement, your employer still fails to make the necessary payment on your payday.
  • Talk to an employment law attorney to help you prepare to file a claim in a small claims court, should it be necessary.

What Laws Protect Against Wage Theft?

The most important employment law in the U.S. is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA is a federal law enacted in 1938, which is intended to protect workers against unfair labor practices, including wage theft. It establishes minimum labor standards, including basic wage and overtime pay, so that employers have proper guidance about what their employees should get, at the very minimum.

Recently, in May 2022, to be specific, the Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act was introduced in the U.S. Congress. As expressed by its sponsors, this law, if passed, would “help combat wage theft and improve wage recovery by:

  • Strengthening workers’ right to fair pay and improving employer accountability;
  • Increasing deterrence of and penalties for wage theft violations;
  • Bolstering recovery of workers’ stolen wages; and 
  • Expanding workers’ rights to their employment records.

Can I Sue an Employer Not Paying Me Correctly?

Definitely. One of the rights granted by labor laws to aggrieved employees is to sue an erring employer. If you are wondering, “My employer didn’t pay me what can I do?” You must know there are legal remedies available for employees in your situation. 

Under the FLSA, an employee may file a suit against an employer to recover wages, damages, attorney’s fees, and litigation costs. The U.S. Department of Labor also has the authority to file a suit on behalf of aggrieved employees, or, in lieu of litigation, to settle with employers with respect to unpaid wages.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is wage theft?

Wage theft occurs when an employer fails to pay an employee in accordance with the law. The most common example of wage theft is the nonpayment of the wage for work the employee actually performs. Other examples of acts that may be wage theft are paying below minimum wage, nonpayment for work performed during overtime hours, making employees work off the clock, and taking workers’ tips. 

How much do employment lawyers usually cost?

The average hourly cost of an employment law attorney is $300. This rate would go higher or lower depending on the location, experience of the lawyer, and the nature of the employment issue involved. Further, most employment lawyers would charge more if the client is the employer.

Do employment law attorneys charge for consultations?

Some employment law attorneys offer a free initial consultation, during which the lawyer can first decide whether the issue actually necessitates legal action. Others would charge a certain fee, which would be around $100 to $200. 


Even with the enactment of federal and state employment laws, the reality is that many employers still fail to pay wages owed to their employees, among other unfair labor practices.

If you are an employee with unpaid wages, it is important that you take the best legal recourse to claim what is rightfully yours. With the help of an employment lawyer near you, you will be on an equal footing with your employer. More importantly, you can protect your rights and interests as an employee.
Contact the best employment lawyer near you today through this list of pre-screened employment lawyers by state.

Article by Yevheniia Savchenko

Yevheniia Savchenko is a Product Content Manager at Lawrina. Yevheniia creates user interface copies for Lawrina products, writes release notes, and helps customers get the best user experience from all Lawrina products. Also, Yevheniia is in charge of creating helpful content on legal template pages (Lawrina Templates) and up-to-date information on US law (Lawrina Guides). In her spare time, Yevheniia takes up swimming, travels, and goes for a walk in her home city.

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