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

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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

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 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. 


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