Can an employer hold your last paycheck unless a contract is signed that they did not have you sign months ago?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Can an employer hold your last paycheck unless a contract is signed that they did not have you sign months ago?

I left a job that gave me a sign on bonus. After quitting the owner refused to give me my check unless I signed a contract saying I left before the year was up. I never signed anything upon being hired and nothing was ever said about having to stay a year. I signed it because I needed my check to pay bills. Will this contract hold up in court? Am I stuck owing him the money now?

Asked on November 25, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, South Carolina


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

Yes, now that you signed the contract, you are stuck with it and its consequences (e.g. owing you money) and it is legally enforceable. The problem is, whether you needed the check or not, the law regards your signing as voluntary, because you could have refused to sign and sued them for your last check (which legally, they could not withhold). The fact that you did not evidently have a reserve fund and needed the money for bills does not make this less voluntary in a legal sense, since the pressure you faced is  consequence of your own lifestyle, your own finances, and your own choices. (Most everyone faces economic pressure unless they are wealthy; the law does not recognize economic pressure as something making agreements/contracts not voluntary or enforceable.) Therefore, while you would have had good grounds to simply sue (e.g. in small claims court) for the money had you not agreed to sign the contract, in signing it, you contractually obligated yourself to whatever it says. 

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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