If your place of work is not paying you on the promised pay date, what kind of legal action can be taken and what would the outcome be?

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If your place of work is not paying you on the promised pay date, what kind of legal action can be taken and what would the outcome be?

It is a small family-owned chiropractic office, and their reason for not being able to provide paychecks is because the company is “not making enough money” to pay staff. The paychecks are supposed to be provided every other Friday, however the paycheck from the 30th of last month was not received until this month on the 9th, and then the paycheck on the 13th has yet to be given. As far as I know, the other employees are not receiving paychecks either, but that could be untrue because they are all family, and I am not, so I wouldn’t put it past them to hide that from me.

Asked on January 18, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, Arizona

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Legally, a lack of money is not a defense to the obligation to pay employees--though of course, as a practical matter, if they truly do not have the money, they can't pay, and all the legal rights in the world do not change that. That said, this is the situation of a business in severe financial distress, unable to meet most or all of its obligations--not merely one that is choosing to not pay its staff while still paying vendors, rent, utilities, owners/partners, etc.

As stated, you have a legal right to be paid. You have two ways you could try to vindicate that right. First, you could contact your state department of labor and try to file a complaint, and see if they will intervene. They may not--the DOL focuses on violation of wage and hour laws (like not paying overtime), safety issues, leave laws (like  medical leave), and sometimes employment discrimination (other times, there is a separate agency to handle that).

If the DOL will not help, or if they say they will, but are just taking too long, you could file a lawsuit--since you have a legal  right to be paid, you could sue to get the money and for a court order that the employer stop paying you late. Of course, going to court costs money, and if you are ultimately being paid (just late), it may not be worth the cost of doing. Filing a lawsuit is probably something to consider when they are 2 - 3 paychecks behind, and it looks like you're not getting paid at all, not when they are just 1 - 2 weeks late on each check.

Unfortunately, the way the legal system is set up, "minor" problems are often not ones for which there is any cost-effective and effecient recourse. Generally, there must be enough of a loss to justify the cost of a lawsuit to make action practical.


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