What To Do if Your Employer Doesn't Pay You

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Sometimes your paycheck may be short or delayed, or you might not receive it all. What can you do if you don’t get the compensation you expected?

Federal and state laws regulate how and when employees are paid, and your employer should follow those guidelines. If they don’t, the first step is to discuss the missing pay with your employer. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, you may be able to get assistance from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) or from your state department of labor.

Review guidance on when you can expect to be paid, what to do when your paycheck is missing or short, and how to file a claim for unpaid wages if you can’t get a resolution from your employer.

Key Takeaways

  • Keep track of your earnings. It will be easier to get a problem resolved if you have documentation.
  • Report discrepancies right away. Advise the company as soon as possible if your paycheck is short or missing.
  • If you don’t get paid in a timely manner, you can file an unpaid wages claim with the department of labor (federal and/or state).

Employer Pay Guidelines

Employers are required to follow both federal and state laws when paying employees. Those guidelines determine what you can expect to receive in your paycheck:

Minimum Wage

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets a minimum wage (with some exceptions) of $7.25 per hour. Some locations have a higher minimum wage. When a state, county, or city has a higher rate, employers are required to pay it. 

Regular Pay

Employees are paid on an hourly or a salary basis. That classification is based on the type of work they do and how they are paid. The number of hours you work per week will be determined by your employer.

Overtime Pay

When an employee works extra hours, they may be entitled to overtime pay beyond their regular earnings. Most hourly employees must be paid time and a half—50% more than their normal rate of pay—if they work more than 40 hours.

Wage Supplements

Some employees may be eligible for additional payments on top of their regular pay. These wages vary based on company policy or an employee’s employment contract. Types of supplemental wages include:

  • Bonuses
  • Commissions
  • Expense reimbursement
  • Holiday pay
  • Paid sick leave
  • Paid time off (PTO)
  • Personal leave
  • Severance pay
  • Tips 
  • Vacation pay

Final Pay

When your employment ends, your final paycheck should include all the earnings you are due, including regular pay, bonuses, commissions, and expense reimbursement. Depending on company policy and state law, your final paycheck may also include pay for unused PTO.

When Employers Are Required To Pay You

Typically, employees are paid on a weekly, biweekly, semimonthly, or monthly basis, depending on state law and company policy. There aren’t federal guidelines that require issuing paychecks on a specific timetable, but most states have regulations that determine how often employees must be paid. Employees can be paid more frequently than state law requires. 

In addition, some states require that final paychecks be paid immediately or shortly after termination of employment. For example, California and Colorado both require immediate payment if an employee has been fired.


Check this chart with the state payday requirements from the U.S. Department of Labor to learn when you can expect to get your paycheck.

Types of Unpaid Wages

There are a variety of circumstances in which an employee may not receive some or all of the pay they expected, including not receiving a paycheck, receiving a short paycheck (missing overtime or PTO, for example), not being paid a commission, bonus, or tips, being paid an incorrect amount, or not being paid a final paycheck after employment ends.

Reasons for Not Getting Paid

The simplest reason for not getting the pay you expected is that there was a mistake. When your paycheck isn’t accurate, it could be because of a payroll reporting or processing error, which should be easy to rectify. In other cases—for example, if your employer didn’t have the funds to cover payroll or your pay was shorted—correcting the problem can be more complicated. 

What To Do if You Don’t Get Paid

Talk to Your Manager

The first thing to do if there is an issue with your paycheck (or if you didn’t get one at all) is to talk to your manager, payroll department, or human resources department. It could be an error or a miscommunication, and they should be able to advise you on what the problem is and when you can expect to get paid.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recommends that the employee explain the complaint in writing so that those investigating can understand the problem and work to resolve it. If that’s not possible, the person receiving the complaint should write it up.

The employee should be notified of the resolution of their complaint as soon as possible and told when they can expect to be paid.

Collect Documentation

If there is still a problem after the initial conversation with your employer, it’s important to provide information on the amount you expected to receive. Collect documentation to support your claim, including your time sheets, work schedule, pay stubs, direct deposit information, company pay policies, and the details of what you’re missing.


Keep track of your earnings. It will be easier to resolve pay issues if they arise.

If talking to your employer doesn’t work, you may need to file a complaint. Having this information on hand will make that easier to do.

How To File a Complaint

If you aren’t able to resolve your complaint directly with your employer, the department of labor (federal and/or state) may be able to assist you. 

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division can assist with unpaid wages related to the FLSA, including overtime and minimum wage. Your state department of labor may be able to help with a claim for unpaid or withheld wages and wage supplements.

Information You Need To File a Complaint

In order to file a claim, you’ll need to provide the following:

  • Your name
  • Your address and phone number 
  • Name of the company 
  • Address of the company 
  • Phone number of the company
  • Manager's or owner's name 
  • Type of work you did
  • How and when you were paid
  • The details of what you haven’t been paid for, including unpaid or short wages, illegal deductions, wage supplements, minimum wage, and overtime


Additional information such as copies of pay stubs, direct deposits, records of hours worked, or other information on your employer’s pay policies and practices will help expedite your claim.

Federal U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division

For complaints and information related to the FLSA such as minimum wage or overtime, you can contact the Wage and Hour Office to ask about the law or file a complaint. You can also call WHD's toll-free helpline:

  • 1-866-4US-WAGE (1-866-487-9243)
  • Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern Time

State Department of Labor

For state assistance, contact your state labor department. They will be able to advise you on how they can help and what you’ll need to do to file a claim.

Get Legal Advice

Depending on the amount you are owed, you may also want to consider getting legal advice on the best way to pursue a claim.

For those who can’t afford to hire an attorney, the American Bar Association has a program that matches low-income clients with pro bono (free) lawyers, including an online service.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Labor. "Minimum Wage." 

  2. U.S. Department of Labor. "Overtime Pay." 

  3. New York State Department of Labor. "Unpaid/Withheld Wages and Wage Supplements."

  4. Paycor. "PTO Payout Laws by State."

  5. SHRM. "What Issues Should We Consider When Deciding on the Frequency of Payroll?"

  6. U.S. Department of Labor. "State Payday Requirements." 

  7. U.S. Department of Labor. "Last Paycheck." 

  8. NOLO. "Chart: Final Paychecks for Departing Employees."

  9. SHRM. "How to Resolve a Pay Dispute."

  10. U.S. Department of Labor. "Information You Need to File a Complaint." 

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