An unpaid wages demand letter is a formal communication sent to an employer who has failed to pay the wages you’re owed. This may be a past employer who failed to give you your last paycheck, additional money for unused earned vacation pay, or a current employer who skipped paydays.
This letter serves as a preliminary step before any legal actions, allowing the employer to resolve the issue and pay the outstanding wages to avoid further complications, such as a lawsuit or complaint with a labor board.
- Unpaid Wages: Most Common Types
- Demanding Unpaid Wages in 5 Steps
- Final Paycheck Laws and State Requirements
- Frequently Asked Questions
Unpaid Wages: Most Common Types
Unpaid wages can come in many forms, whether you are employed or have just left your previous employer. In most cases, wage theft is more common than simply failing to give you a paycheck.
Some of the most frequent types of wage theft include:
- Failing to pay your last paycheck.
- Paying less than the minimum wage.
- Not paying overtime or demanding employees work off the clock.
- Stealing tips or taking out pay beyond the usual deductions.
If you experience any of these, you can send an unpaid wages demand letter.
Demanding Unpaid Wages in 5 Steps
If you are owed unpaid wages, a demand letter offers you and the employer the chance to resolve the matter peacefully before further legal action is taken. It also fortifies your court case, if it comes to that, by showing evidence of the employer’s refusal to pay.
Here are the steps you’ll need to take to demand unpaid wages:
Step 1: Get in Touch with Your State Labor Office
Your state labor office can advise you about your rights when employers refuse payment and help you resolve your unpaid wages case.
No matter what excuse your employer gives for failing to pay your wages, you should still take the case to the labor office. You are likely still owed those wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Your state labor office may advise you on what to include in your unpaid wages demand letter.
Step 2: Draft a Demand Letter for Unpaid Wages
Once you’ve spoken with your state labor office, it’s time to draft a formal demand letter. Use an appropriate tone and keep your letter to the point: explain the wages you are owed, the actions you may take if they are not paid by a specific date, and where your wages should be paid.
Step 3: Ask a Local U.S. Department of Labor Office to Contact the Employer
On top of your demand letter, ask the U.S. Department of Labor office to contact your employer to demand that they pay your owed wages. If the formal letter is not taken seriously by your employer, contact from a government agency may be.
If your boss agrees to pay and you receive your unpaid wages promptly, that’s all you need to do. You can move on with your life and with your next job. However, if they still refuse to pay, it’s time to take legal action.
Step 4: File a Complaint and Summons to Start Your Case
If your demand letter goes unanswered, the next step is filing a complaint. In your complaint, you will state when the job ended or the wages went unpaid, the amount you are owed, and the steps you took to collect payment. You may attach a copy of your due wages demand letter and the certified mail receipt as proof that the letter was sent.
In addition to your complaint, you will file a summons. This summons will be served to your employer, informing them of the case being brought against them and that they must appear in court.
Step 5: Be Prepared to Attend Court Hearing
Once a complaint is filed, you must prepare to attend a court hearing. This means that you may have to pay lawyer’s fees for representation.
You must also gather all the documentation and evidence to show your case to the judge. However, if you understand your rights to your unpaid wages, a court hearing can also offer confidence that your employer or ex-employer will not be able to get out of paying you.
Final Paycheck Laws and State Requirements
There are no laws mandating when employers must pay the final paycheck in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi. However, all other states have their laws regarding final paycheck requirements:
|State Law||When Employee Is Fired||When Employee Quits|
|Alaska||Within three business days||Within three business days or the next regular payday, whichever is sooner|
|Arizona||Within seven business days or the next payday, whichever is sooner||By next payday|
|Arkansas||By next payday||By next payday|
Additional laws: 201.3, 227.3
|Immediately||72 hours or immediately if employee gives at least 72 hours notice|
|Colorado||Immediately||By next payday|
|Connecticut||By the next business day||By next payday|
|Delaware||By next payday||By next payday|
|Hawaii||Immediately||By next payday or immediately if employee gives one pay period’s notice.|
|By next payday or within 10 days, whichever is sooner; within 48 hours if employee requests earlier payment||By next payday or within 10 days, whichever is sooner; within 48 hours if employee requests earlier payment|
|Illinois||By next payday||By next payday|
|By next payday||By next payday|
|Kansas||By next payday||By next payday|
|Kentucky||By next payday or within 14 days, whichever is later||By next payday or within 14 days, whichever is later|
|Louisiana||By next payday or within 15 days, whichever is later||By next payday or within 15 days, whichever is later|
|Maine||By next payday or within 14 days of demand, whichever is sooner||By next payday or within 14 days of demand, whichever is sooner|
|Maryland||By next payday||By next payday|
|Massachusetts||Immediately||By next payday|
|Immediately||As soon as amount is calculated|
|Minnesota (Additional Law)||Immediately||By next payday, unless payday is less than 5 days after last day; in which case, by the following payday or within 20 days, whichever is earlier|
|Montana||Immediately or in accordance with written policy||By next payday or within 15 days, whichever is sooner|
|Nebraska||By next payday or within 14 days, whichever is sooner||By next payday or within 14 days, whichever is sooner|
|Immediately||By next payday or within seven days, whichever is sooner|
|New Hampshire||Within 72 hours, or by next payday if employee was laid off||By next payday, or within 72 hours if employee gives one pay period of notice|
|New Jersey||By next payday||By next payday|
|Within five days||By next payday|
|New York||By next payday||By next payday|
|North Carolina||By next payday||By next payday|
|North Dakota||By next payday||By next payday|
|Ohio||By next payday||By next payday|
|Oklahoma||By next payday||By next payday|
|Oregon||By end of business day||Immediately if given 48 hours notice; if no notice, within five days or by next payday, whichever is sooner|
|Pennsylvania||By next payday||By next payday|
|Rhode Island||By next payday; if laid off due to merger, relocation, or liquidation, within 24 hours||By next payday|
|South Carolina||Within 48 hours or by next payday||Within 48 hours or by next payday|
|By next payday or whenever employee returns employer’s property||By next payday or whenever employee returns employer's property|
|Tennessee||By next payday or within 21 days, whichever is later||By next payday or within 21 days, whichever is later|
|Texas||Within six days||By next payday|
|Utah||Within 24 hours||By next payday|
|Vermont||Within 72 hours||By next payday|
|Virginia||By next payday||By next payday|
|Washington||By end of pay period||By end of pay period|
|West Virginia||By next payday||By next payday|
|Wisconsin||Next payday or within one month, whichever is sooner; if laid off due to merger, relocation, or liquidation, within 24 hours||By next payday|
|Wyoming||By next payday||By next payday|
You can download our free unpaid wages demand letter template below in PDF or Word format.
Frequently Asked Questions
How should a demand for unpaid wages be delivered?
You should have your unpaid wages demand letter sent by certified mail. This way, when your employer receives the letter, they will have to sign the receipt, which will be sent back to you. You should keep this receipt as evidence. This will prove that the letter was sent and that the employer failed to pay.
Can an attorney help with a demand letter for unpaid wages?
An attorney can help you draft the letter for unpaid wages and advise you on the next steps if your employer does not pay.