Your Options If Your Employer Refuses to Pay You

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 19, 2018

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If you have earned the money, then it’s yours: your employer must pay you. Examples of money which you’ve earned would be salary or wages for weeks worked, commissions for sales made, or tips which were made but not yet distributed.

Employers are allowed to apply certain reasonable offsets to monies owed in some situations. For example, if your company loaned you money, it may have done so pursuant to an agreement that any amounts outstanding could be taken out of your final paycheck. If you received some moving or relocation allowance, or tuition reimbursement, and did not do whatever it took to have the amount be forgiven (e.g. you left too soon after being relocated), again, depending on the terms of the allowance, reimbursement, etc. and your employment, the employer may be able to debit this from what you are owed. In the case of commissions, it’s not uncommon for a company to be able to hold final commissions until the money has been collected from the customers.

However, as you can see from the examples above, these are fairly uncommon situations and, in any event, any offsets against your pay must have been agreed to in advance. Assuming none of these apply, then your employer needs to pay you everything you earned prior to leaving.

Of course, if your employer refuses to pay you what you’re owed, you’re going to have to sue the employer for money. Lawsuits can be expensive; before going ahead with one, you should:

1) See if there are any other legitimate claims you can put against your employer, to increase the total amount you’re suing for and make it more cost effective. If the employer discriminated against or harassed you on the basis of your race, sex, religion, gender, disability, or age over 40, retaliated against you for bringing up safety issues, or has defamed you in what it has said to prospective employers, you should bring those claims, too.

2) Think about whether it’s worth it to sue. If you sue in small claims court, it’s fairly affordable, but you’ll have to represent yourself and it will take time. If you want or need to get a lawyer to represent you, ask the attorney for a projected budget, including the lawyer’s fees. Make sure that you’ll come out ahead by suing.

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