Our employee walked off the job. What should we do with his final paycheck?

Question:

I’m the General Manager of a California restaurant and deal with HR issues. Last night, during a hectic dinner service, one of our employees walked off the job. He didn’t give us any notice. I know California has strict rules about final paychecks, and I don’t want to get penalized. What should I do with it?

Answer:

You’re right to be concerned about getting the final paycheck out in time. California has strict time limits for providing an employee with his or her final paycheck. When an employee quits with no notice, an employer has only 72 hours to get the final paycheck to the employee, including any accrued but unused vacation. (For the time limits for a termination or resignation with notice, see Nolo’s article on California paycheck laws.)

California employers who are late in providing final paychecks to their employees are subject to a steep penalty called a “waiting time penalty.” An employee who is forced to wait for a final paycheck can collect his or her daily average wage for each day that the paycheck is late, up to a maximum of 30 days.

You should try contacting the employee to arrange for him to pick up his final paycheck. In general, when an employee quits without notice, California law requires the employer to have the final paycheck available at its offices in the county where the employee worked. In your case, unless you have other local offices where the employee might pick up the check, you should have it available at the restaurant.

The employee may also request that the paycheck be sent to an address of his choosing, in which case you can mail the check. If you do mail the check, make sure to select some sort of tracking option. That way, if the employee later claims that he never received the check and pursues the waiting time penalty, you have a record of sending it.

If you have trouble getting a hold of the employee, your local office of the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) – the state agency that enforces wage and hour laws – may accept the paycheck on the employee’s behalf. For a list of district offices with contact information, see the DLSE’s website.

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