South Carolina Payment of Wages Act

The South Carolina Payment of Wages Act (“SCPWA”) is a state law that protects employees and sets forth the requirements that employers must follow with respect to employee wages.  Notably, the South Carolina courts have determined that an owner of a business can be personally and individually liable for unpaid wages, in addition to the company itself.  This is important because if a business goes bankrupt, the owner employer can still be personally liable for the wages owed. 

What Are Wages?

The SCPAW defines “wages” to include all amounts for which labor is recompensed including salaries, commissions, bonuses, vacation, holiday and sick leave which are due to an employee under any policy or contract.  Recently, South Carolina courts have also held that “wages” may include tips that tipped employees are paid. 

Written Notification Requirements

The SCPAW requires employers to notify each employee in writing at the time of hiring of the normal hours and wages agreed upon, the time and place of payment, and the deductions which will be made from the wages, including payments to insurance programs.  Any changes in these terms must be made in writing at least seven calendar days before they become effective (except for wage increases).  This means that if an employer reduces your salary or hourly rate, it must provide you written notice seven calendar days before the reduction becomes effective.  Additionally, if you have an employment contract that sets your wages at a certain rate for a certain period of time, your employer cannot reduce your wages in violation of the employment contract even if it does provide you with seven days written notice of the reduction in pay. These notice requirements are unique to South Carolina and South Carolina is one of the few states in the country to implement these strict requirements. 

Deductions from Wages

An employer may not withhold or divert any portion of an employee’s wages unless the employer is required or permitted to do so by state or federal law or the employer has given written notification to the employee of the amount and terms of the deductions within seven calendar days before the deduction becomes effective.

Payment of Wages to Discharged Employees

Many employees contact us following their termination or resignation to find out when they will receive their final paycheck and what the final check should include.  With respect to the question of “when,” the employer must pay all wages due to the employee within 48 hours of the time of separation or the next regular payday (which may not exceed 30 days).  Most employers will issue the employee their final paycheck on the next scheduled payday. 

What amounts will your final paycheck include?  This depends.  Many employees contact us to find out whether their employer must pay out unused annual or sick leave.  Employers are not, generally, required to pay a separating employee unused annual or sick leave.  However, an exception occurs if an employer has a policy that states it will pay separating employees unused annual and sick leave.  If the employer’s policy indicates it will do so, it must comply with its own policy. These types of policies relating to the payout of unused annual and sick leave are often found in the employee handbook. 

Penalties for Employer Failure to Comply

If an employer violates the SCPWA and fails to pay wages due to an employee, the employee may recover in a civil action an amount equal to three times the full amount of the unpaid wages, plus costs and reasonable attorney’s fees as the court may allow.  Note, triple damages and attorney’s fees are not mandatory and special rules govern whether a court will award them or not.  While they are one potential available remedy under the law, you should not assume that a court will award them in every case. 

Employees have three years to commence a civil action for recovery of wages after the wages become due. 

What Should You Do If You Are Owed Wages

If you are owed wages by your employer, the first thing you should do is speak with your employer concerning the situation.  If your employer fails to immediately remedy the situation, you may contact an attorney and/or contact the South Carolina Department of Labor Wage & Hour Division.  The SC DOL may investigate the situation after you file a complaint. In either instance, you should act quickly

Charleston, South Carolina Unpaid Wage Lawyers

The attorneys at Falls Legal have handled many restaurant cases on both a regional and national basis.  We have helped servers and bartenders recover millions of dollars in unpaid minimum and overtime wages.  If you work in the food and beverage industry and have experienced any of the issues described above, please contact us to see if we can help you recover the wages, tips, and other money you may be owed.    



P.O. Box 12910
Charleston, SC 29422


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