Am I legally required to pay back my employeer for overpayment of my wages?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Am I legally required to pay back my employeer for overpayment of my wages?


I am a substitute teacher for the California school system. My latest direct
deposit was more than what I should have earned for my hours worked. The HR
department of the school system I work for called me and requested that I come to
the office with a check for the amount I was given- not offering that I only pay
the net difference. Am I legally required to return this money? I read that
Section 221 of the California Labor Code states ‘It shall be unlawful for any
employer to collect or receive from an employee any part of wages theretofore
paid by said employer to said employee.’ Does this mean I am not legally required
to pay them back?

Asked on June 14, 2018 under Employment Labor Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

No, it does not mean that. The employer cannot get a "kickback" from you for giving you a job (that's what that code means), but you are not allowed to keep wages given to you by mistake, any more than you could keep someone's wallet if they accidentally left it in your house. The law is very clear that a mistake does not let you keep money to which you are not otherwise entitled. You must repay them: if not, they could terminate you (unless there is a written contract preventing you from being terminated in this way or for this reason) and/or sue you for the money. 
You have to repay the gross amount of the overpayment: so if they should have paid you, say, $3,000 gross but paid you $4,500 gross, you must repay $1,500.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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