You deserve to be paid for your work. Whether you leave on good terms or on less-than-good terms, you are legally required to be paid for any work you completed until your termination. If your employer has not paid you for your work, you have every right to demand payment. Although in some cases email might work, a traditional letter may be more effective in getting your employer’s attention.
Your state's department of labor may have a template or form for you to use to demand unpaid wages.
Many states offer resources to assist you with a letter of demand for unpaid salary. Some state, like Texas, will actually send the letter on your behalf. You have to fill out a form with the Texas Workforce Commission, and then they send the letter to an employer for unpaid wages.
Other states, such as Colorado, have a form for you to complete, but you must send the letter to your employer. To find out what resources are available, check your state labor department’s website or call them to find out whether they can help.
Most states have laws as to when you must receive your final paycheck. The time frame may vary depending on whether you were fired, quit with notice or quit without notice. If that time frame has passed, you have the right to demand payment, and an effective method is by letter. Your letter should include the following:
- The date.
- The name and address of the employer.
- Your name and address.
- How much you are owed.
The body of your letter should state that it is a demand for final wages. You may want to use language similar to the following: "This is a demand for my final wages. My last day of work was [date], and I have not received my final paycheck. I am owed $. Please send my final wages to the address listed below. If I do not receive my final wages by , I will report the unpaid wages to the Department of Labor and/or take legal action."_
Send the letter by certified mail so you have a receipt that shows it was received by your employer.
If your employer doesn’t respond to your letter, then you should consider your next steps. You can file a complaint with your state's department of labor or with the U.S. Department of Labor. Many states have penalties in place for employers who do not pay back wages promptly. For example, in Colorado, employers could be penalized either 125 percent of the amount owed or up to 10 days of your average daily pay, whichever is greater, along with a fine of up to $50 per day.
You can also take legal action against your former employer. For most people, this is a last resort, as consulting an attorney is expensive, and it takes time for cases to move through the court system. Depending on the laws in your state, though, you may get a bigger payout if you go through the court system. For example, in Minnesota, you may be owed one day of average wages for each day your employer doesn’t pay after the date you were supposed to receive your final paycheck (up to 15 days).
If you want to go the legal route, you may also want to explore legal assistance options in your city or state. Depending on your income and situation, you may be eligible for free or low-cost consultations to help you decide on the best course of action.