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BusinessColumnistsCarrie Mason-Draffen

Worker entitled to final wages, even if he failed to give notice

Regarding your final paycheck, state labor law requires

Regarding your final paycheck, state labor law requires your employer to pay you in a timely fashion. Photo Credit: Getty Images / iStockphoto / BrianAJackson

From time to time Help Wanted focuses on a single topic. Today’s subject is about giving notice.

DEAR CARRIE: I work as a security guard. Because my company has a high turnover of personnel, we have to sign an employment contract that requires us to give a two-week notice before quitting. The manager who hired me stated at the time that if I quit and left the company without someone to cover my hours, I could possibly forfeit my last paycheck and receive a negative note in my personnel file advising the company not to rehire me. When I became skeptical and asked him if he could legally refuse to pay me, he changed his tune and said, “ No, in New York State, all hours worked must be paid to an employee regardless of the situation.” I looked this up on the internet, and found that, indeed, hourly workers, which include me, must be paid for all the hours they work. I also found out that workers in New York aren’t required to give a two-week notice. Since the company would have to pay me regardless, my question is: What is the law in New York regarding a final paycheck? — Healthy Skepticism

DEAR HEALTHY: First, let’s start with the conclusions you reached after your Web research. They are partly true. If you are an hourly employee, yes, your company has to pay you for all the hours you worked. That is a right you cannot sign away. And your supervisor, when pressed by you, all but acknowledged that.

And, yes, New York is an employment-at-will state, which means that employees can be fired at any time and can leave at any time, without repercussions, unless a contract comes into play. And that last part is key. Since you signed a contract, you could face legal fallout from your employer if you fail to give a two-week notice.

And if the contract — or company policy — says that if you fail to give the required notice, you forfeit all accrued paid-time off, that is legal.

As for putting negative information in your personnel file because of a contract breach, that is legal, too.

Regarding your final paycheck, state labor law requires your employer to pay you in a timely fashion. Here is what the Labor Department says on its website:

“When employment has ended, the employer must pay the wages by the regular payday for the pay period worked. If asked, the employer must mail the final wages to the employee.”

DEAR CARRIE: For more than 20 years I have worked for a large company that offers a defined-benefit pension, which I am fully vested in. We are required to give notice before we resign. My question is this: Can defined-pension benefits be withheld under any circumstances, such as not giving notice? And can a department within the company set a different requirement for giving notice? — On Notice

DEAR ON NOTICE: Once you become vested in a defined-benefit pension, it becomes an irrevocable right. The company might become upset with you if you violate its notice policy, but it can’t take away your pension.

Defined-benefit pensions are awarded to employees based on their salary and years of service. They have become more scarce as 401(k)s increasingly dominate in the workplace.

And, yes, a department within a company can set its own notice requirements. I have even heard of departments within the same company having stricter vacation policies than others. Unless a contract comes into play, companies have broad leeway in setting the terms for paid-time off.

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