Labor and Employment

Wages and Time of Payment

By Lisa Guerin, ​J.D., Boalt Hall at the University of California at Berkeley
Find out when and how you must be paid by your employer.

Most people know that federal and state laws require employers to pay employees at least the applicable minimum wage, as well as premium pay when they work overtime. What you may not know is that these same laws don’t just cover how much employees have to be paid: They also dictate when employees have to be paid. Below, we explain some of the rules that determine when your wages must be paid.

Wage Payment Basics

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the primary federal law on wages and overtime. Under the FLSA, employers are generally required to pay their employees in cash or by a "negotiable instrument"—something that can be exchanged for cash at its face value, such as a check. In other words, you can't be paid in tokens, IOU vouchers, gift cards, or store credit.

Wages aren't considered paid by the employer and received by you unless they are paid finally and unconditionally, or in legal terms, “free and clear.” For example, you can’t be required to kick back all or part of your wages to your supervisor or any other person acting on your employer’s behalf.

Timing of Payment

The FLSA provides a few specific rules on when employees are entitled to be paid. State laws, however, often provide additional rules. (To learn more about wages, including minimum wage and overtime, see Wages and Hours FAQ.)

When You Must Be Paid Under the FLSA

Courts have interpreted the FLSA to require “prompt” payment of wages. The FLSA does not, however, require employers to pay wages on certain days of the month or at a particular frequency. Rather, the FLSA requires only that employers pay employees their wages, including any earned overtime, on the regular payday for the pay period in which they worked those hours.

When You Must Be Paid Under State Law

Unlike the FLSA, many state laws do require employers to pay employees at certain intervals or on certain dates. For example, employees in Georgia must be paid at least twice a month. In some states, including California, payday rules depend on the type of work you do. Although most employees must be paid at least twice a month, those who work for farm labor contractors must be paid weekly, for example.

As long as your employer meets your state’s payday requirements, you and your employer can agree to a more frequent pay schedule. For instance, in Ohio you have to be paid at least on a semi-monthly basis, on or before the 1st and 15th day of each month. But you and your employer are free to arrange weekly or even daily payments.

Many states also have rules on when your employer has to provide your final paycheck if you leave the company and whether that paycheck must include unused vacation time. (For more information, see Vacation Time After Leaving an Employer.)

When Overtime Is Due

Generally, overtime pay that’s earned in a particular workweek is due on the regular payday for the pay period including that week. So, if you get paid every two weeks, any overtime pay you've earned during that time must be included in your paycheck for that pay period. In other words, your employer cannot let overtime pay accumulate and then pay it to you all at once (after two or three months, for example).

If the correct amount of overtime pay can't be determined until after the regular payday for that pay period, your employer must pay you as soon as possible after it can determine the proper amount. For example, you might work unplanned overtime the night before the pay period ends, which can’t be included in your hours. In this case, your employer has only as much time as is reasonably necessary to calculate and arrange for payment of the amount due. And, employers may never delay payment beyond the next payday after the calculation is possible.

Changing Pay Schedule

An employer may change its payday schedule without violating the FLSA’s rules about prompt payment, but only if the change:

  • is made for a legitimate business reason (like a change in accounting methods)
  • doesn't cause an unreasonable delay in payment
  • is intended to be permanent, and
  • isn’t intended to allow the employer to avoid the FLSA's minimum wage or overtime requirements.

States may have stricter laws about changing pay periods; contact your state labor department to find out.

Questions for Your Attorney

To find out the rules in your state, consult with an experienced employment lawyer. Here are some questions you may have:

  • What are the rules in my state about when and how often I must be paid?
  • Can my employer pay me in cash?
  • Can my employer require us to use direct deposit?
  • Does it violate my state’s payday laws if my paycheck bounces?
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