Can an employer require you to work without compensation?

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Can an employer require you to work without compensation?

My son’s employer is having cash flow problems and told all employees they will not be paid for the next 4 weeks, but they are expected to show up for work regardless.

Asked on January 31, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

If employees agree to work without compensation, this is legal--for example, it is not uncommon for people working for a new or start-up up business to not take a salary at the outset. Also, some people volunteer to work for free for a business for a time, to gain experience or in the hope of being hired for a paying job later. While these are not exactly parallel situations, they illustrate the point: he law does not require someone to be paid for working.

If an employee does not agree to this, he cannot be made to work--though he could be terminated, unless there was an employment contract protecting his or her job. Sometimes, if an employee does not think the employer will honor its promise and pay in the future, it may be better to refuse to work and simply look for a new job (and if the employer fired him or her, he or she should be able, if otherwise eligible, to collect unemployment).


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