It doesn't matter how or why you were terminated—a Maryland employer cannot legally withhold your last paycheck.
At the Employment Law Center of Maryland, we've seen employers (often small businesses or "mom and pop" shops) withhold an employee's last paycheck for all kinds of reasons. They'll say that the employee performed terribly, hasn't returned their work computer, or even accuse the employee of stealing from the company. But these Maryland employers often have no idea just how much legal trouble they can be in for withholding that last paycheck.
Maryland employers often have no idea just how much legal trouble they can be in for withholding that last paycheck.
The Maryland law governing this type of situation is the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law (MWPCL), which sets forth the rights by which employees receive wages in the state. This law, which has been on the books in Maryland for more than 50 years, states when and how often employees must be paid, general guidelines for making wage deductions, which actions are prohibited and how employees may enforce their rights.
The MWPCL sets forth four situations where an employer can legally withhold part or all of a paycheck:
pursuant to a court order;
if authorized by the employee in writing;
if allowed by the Maryland Commissioner of Labor and Industry; or,
if proscribed by a law, rule, or regulation issued by a governmental unit.
Note that "they sucked at their job" and "they haven't returned the spare key to the shop" are not included on this list, and any consent to the withholding by the employee has to be in writing. Regardless of the situation, unless there's a court order in place, an employer must generally give you your last paycheck on or before the day on which the you would have been paid if your employment had not been terminated.
What happens when a Maryland employer violates the MWPCL, and withholds that last paycheck? A Maryland state court can award the employee up to three times the amount of the unpaid wage, plus make the employer pay the employee's attorneys' fees. Under the MWPCL, a relatively small amount of unpaid wages can quickly become a crushing monetary judgement against a small employer. And that's the point—the Maryland General Assembly has decreed that Maryland employers better not withhold earned wages, or they risk severe penalties.
the Maryland General Assembly has decreed that Maryland employers better not withhold earned wages, or they risk severe penalties
So, what should you do if your Maryland employer is withholding your last paycheck? First, notify the employer in writing that they are unlawfully withholding your wages, and identify the specific amount of wages and the date they should have been paid by. Second, contact a Maryland wage lawyer for a free, confidential consultation.
You deserve to be paid fairly for your work, and you don't have to fight that battle alone.