Does Your Employer Owe You Wages?

Authored By: Colorado Legal Services

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Frequently Asked Questions

My employer owes me some wages. What can I do? +

You can call the Colorado Department of Labor & Employment (CDLE) at 303-318-8441 or 1-888-390-7936. The CDLE is in charge of enforcing the Colorado Wage Enforcement Act. You can either file a complaint with them or you may proceed with your own civil action to collect unpaid wages.

In either case, a claim for unpaid wages cannot begin until after your employment ends. Once that happens, you must make a written demand for the wages you are due, within 60 DAYS of the termination of your employment even if your scheduled payment is after your termination. If you do not send a written demand to your employer within this time, you will not be able to collect penalties for the nonpayment of your wages. Your written demand should contain information about where your employer can send the money to you. You should send this letter by certified mail and get a return receipt from the Post Office (which will show the date your employer received the letter).

Your employer has 14 DAYS, after receipt of your letter, to respond by sending you the amount of wages or compensation that your employer feels that you are due. If you do not receive all the money you think you are due, or if your employer does not send you any money, you can sue in court for the amount you believe that your employer owes you. If the court decides that your employer owed you more money than you received, the employer may be liable for your attorney fees, and also for penalties. Your employer will not owe you any penalties if they pay you within 14 days of receipt of your demand letter, unless a court determines that you were owed more than your employer paid.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment has forms available which you can use to send the demand letter to your employer. Click here for the CDLE Complaint Forms page.

What determines whether I am an "employee"? +

If you are generally directed regarding your hours of work and the way the work is performed, you are an employee and are due the protection of the law. Even if you signed an “independent contractor” agreement, you may still be an “employee.”

What are "wages"? +

In addition to your hourly pay and salary, the term wages includes accrued unused vacation pay at the time of termination. 

Wages also includes commission payments which are due at the time earned and contract work or piece work.

What can my employer deduct from my wages (otherwise earnings, or compensation)? +

An employer can deduct:from your wages: 1. any automatic deductions; 2. loans, advances; 3. goods or services; and; 4. shortages for theft.

What if my employer doesn't pay all of the wages or compensation owed to me within 14 days after receipt of my demand letter? +

A. You can file a court action against your employer. If your employer did not send you all the wages and compensation which you believe you are owed, or if your employer did not respond to your demand letter, you can ask the court to order your employer to pay your attorney fees and to pay a penalty. You do not have to make a complaint through the Colorado Workforce Center before you file suit.

B. If the court decides that your employer owes you money, the court can order your employer to pay a penalty for the employer's failure to pay. Penalties are determined according to the amount of money you have claimed from your employer:
If the wages owed are for less than or equal to $7,500, your employer can be ordered to pay you an additional 125% of the wages or compensation owed to you.
If the wages owed are for less than or equal to $7,500, your employer can be ordered to pay you an additional 125% of the wages or compensation owed to you.
For any wages owed that are more than $7,500, your employer can be ordered to pay you an additional 50% of the wages or compensation owed to you.
If your employer's failure to pay is determined by the court to have been "willful", your employer may owe an additional 50% of the penalty. Evidence that the employer has had a judgment entered against him/her for nonpayment of wages within the past five years can be considered by the court in deciding whether the employer's failure to pay was "willful".
If the court decides that your employer did not owe you any additional money or even as much money as the employer sent to you after receiving your demand letter, the court can order you to pay your employer's attorney fees and court costs, ONLY If the amount you claimed was greater than $7,500. The court can consider whether an order telling you to pay your employer's attorney fees would be a financial hardship for you.
Small Claims: The small claims court only deals with simple cases, such as claims to perform a contract, set aside a contract, recover money or property, or comply with restrictive covenants. There will not be a jury and all claims are usually heard by a magistrate. The small claims court cannot award more than $7,500. You will waive your right to the amount that exceeds $7,500, or you will have to bring your claim in a different court. You may also be entitled to recover your court cost and interest. Click here to watch some videos about Small Claims. Click here for Small Claims instructions and form on the Colorado Judicial Branch website.

My employer fired me. When do I get my wages? +

If you are fired, your wages are due immediately, and should be paid to you at the place where you were fired. ("Wages" includes vacation pay and uncollected commissions.)

If payroll checks are prepared at another location, however, your employer may have up to 24 hours to pay you. The employer can decide where to make your check available, including the work site, the employer’s office or the employee’s last known mailing  address.

I just quit. When do I get my wages? +

When you quit, your employer can wait until your next regular payday to give you all your wages.

What if I go on strike? +

Any uncollected wages are due at the next regular payday. Your employer cannot make any special deductions in your wages because of the strike.

How often does my employer have to pay me? +

For most employees, pay periods shouldn't be longer than one month, and you should be paid no more than 10 days after the end of the pay period, UNLESS you and your employer agree to a different schedule of payments. (This doesn't apply to profit-sharing plans, pension plans, or other deferred compensation programs.)

Your employer should post a notice in a conspicuous place at work telling you when, where and at what time you'll be paid. Employers are required to pay overtime earned during a work week on the next regular payday on which wages for that work week are paid, and employers cannot pay on an irregular basis.

My employer takes all my tips. Is this legal? +

ONLY if your employer posts a notice to the public telling customers that you don't keep the tips they give you. An employer CAN require you to share your tips with other employees. Regardless, your tips, plus your hourly wage, must be equal to the minimum wage. 

To see the current Minimum Wage Order in effect in Colorado click on this link.

My employer has filed a bankruptcy action. Is there any way I can get the wages I'm due? +

You can file a claim with the trustee appointed by the bankruptcy court. (The bankruptcy court clerk will tell you who this is.) Wage claims are considered "preferred claims", which means they will be paid off before some other claims might be. If you have sued your employer and obtained a judgment before your employer files for bankruptcy, you should give the bankruptcy trustee a copy of your judgment.

How long do I have to sue for wages I'm owed? +

In order to collect penalties for non-payment you must file a claim within 60 days of your termination. To bring a claim for just the wages themselves you must file within two years or three years if you believe your employer's nonpayment of the wages or compensation owed to you to be willful. If you fail to file within the relevant time frame you will no longer be able to collect on the wages you are owed. It's best not to wait, however; you should file as soon as you realize that you have a claim.


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The following information is provided by Colorado Legal Services. It is intended as general information only, and is not meant as legal advice for any specific situation. If you need legal advice, consult an attorney.

If you need advice on this or any other legal problem, contact an attorney of your own choosing. If you cannot afford an attorney, talk to Colorado Legal Services: 303-837-1321.


Last Review and Update: Jul 13, 2018