Unpaid Wages and What Can Be Done

Updated on May 16, 2020
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Kate has over eight years of experience as an employment and personal injury legal executive. She runs LawCat, a legal explanations website.

It’s one of those things that has happened to a lot of us, that moment when you’ve gone to pay for something only to have your card rejected, or you’ve visited a cash machine to have your request refused. Sometimes this is our own fault, we’ve miscalculated what we have or forgotten about a particular bill, or said bill has been for more than was expected (anyone who has ever gone over their mobile data allowance will know this feeling). These things happen and they have to be dealt with.

However, it’s a different matter when you check your balance expecting to see your wages but instead, you see that they haven’t gone in. It is deeply worrying when you check your bank balance after payday and see an entire week/month wages have not been paid into your account. It is a difficult situation to be in, and it can be hard to know how to approach, or what your rights are.

This article will discuss the best way to handle such a situation under English Employment Law.

Informal Discussion

First of all, before panicking, check your dates, paperwork and any communications (phone messages, texts, emails, WhatsApp, etc.). It could be that you’ve gotten your dates in a muddle and your wages are not actually missing at all. Or you could have received a communication from your employer explaining any delays or irregularities.

If nothing has come through, and you're 100% sure you should have been paid, then you should approach your employer.

You should do so in a calm manner; do not go in screaming despite the stressful nature of the situation. You won’t resolve anything if you go in furious. So, you need to calmly reach out to your employer, and send a text or email along the lines of “I understood that we were due to be paid today, unfortunately, the money isn’t showing in my account at this time, can I check with you that the funds have been transferred?”

Remember that the cause may not be your employer's fault. There could be an issue at the bank with their technology, or there could have been a delay with your employer's accounts department due to a tech issue, or short staffing. There are numerous reasons that a delay could have happened, and while it is not an ideal situation, bringing it to your employer's attention will make them aware of the issue (if they are not aware already) and can lead to a quick resolution.

Refusal to Pay

In the worst-case scenario, your employer could be refusing to pay your wages.

If this is the case, then you need to check your contract. Are there any situations where your employer has the right to withhold funds from you? For example, do you have equipment that needs to be returned? There are very few instances where your employer can legally withhold your wages, but checking your employment contract is a good place to start.

If your employer has no legal grounds to withhold your wages, then you need to start taking steps to recover them. You have a right to payment for work done and you need to take action.

You should gather as much evidence as possible to prove that you have done the work requested of you and that payment is due. A clock-in card, work record, timesheets (or copies of these documents) can all be used as evidence that you have done the work required. Bank statements will prove that prior to this instance you were receiving regular wages, and also that you have not been paid in this instance.

You will not need said evidence immediately but it is always wise to gather and keep as much evidence as possible immediately to avoid it becoming lost, or disappearing in future.

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Formal Request

You should make a formal request for your wages in writing.

A formal request should iterate the facts, such as the dates you worked, your hourly rate, the number of wages you expected to receive, the date you should have received this, and of course a request that these funds be paid within the next two or three working days. You should also request a response confirming payment will be made and set a time limit on when you expect to receive this response, ‘by return’, ‘within 2-3 working days of the date of this letter/email', etc.

A formal request does not have to be a posted letter; it can be an email or a letter that you hand deliver to your employer. But you must keep copies yourself. If you send a formal posted letter then send it recorded delivery, this way you will be able to access the post offices website and see that the letter was signed for. I recommend that once the letter is received and signed for you to print out the confirmation from the post office website and add it to your paperwork collection.

If you send an email, then make sure you request a read receipt, and keep this on your computer. If possible, print out a hard copy.

If your employer ignores your formal request, you should raise a formal grievance for non-payment of wages. Consult your office manual for your company’s grievance procedure, or speak with your HR department, or your union if one exists.

Potential Court Action

If raising a grievance is unsuccessful, then your next steps should be to contact ACAS, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. They can mediate issues between yourself and your employer and will assist in resolving the situation. They will not work for you or for your employer but will act as a neutral third party. They are a free service that exists to assist employers and employees by making both sides aware of the law and offering reconciliation through mediation.

While you may be deeply angry by your employer’s refusal to pay your wages, which is understandable, and you may want to rush to court as a way to punish them and achieve justice for the wrong done to you. ACAS is a much better option, firstly they are a free service, court action can be expensive, and they can resolve issues promptly, court action can take a long time due to timetables etc.

However, if ACAS cannot resolve the issue then court action may be your way forward. You can bring a claim to the Employment Tribunal for an unlawful deduction of your wages. You will have to complete and submit your application within three months from the date the wages were due to be paid. All Court documents can be found online and there are certain free advice services which may be able to assist you in completing the documents. ACAS may also be able to guide you to where the documents can be found and give basic advice on how to complete the papers.

You will also be able to claim for the breach of your employment contract. You can do this, either at the Employment Tribunal or County Court. The Tribunal has a deadline of three months, but the County Court will give you six years to claim. The County Court will also allow you to claim other benefits that you have missed out on such as an employer loan, pension payment, expenses, redundancy pay or benefits such as private healthcare and gym membership.

If you have left your employment due to non-payment of wages you could potentially have grounds for constructive dismissal but that should be discussed with a legal professional and will be dependant on your situation.


Do not panic. Your wages may not have arrived in your account for numerous innocent reasons, such as technology or bank error etc. If your employer has not paid your wages you should first contact them and make them aware that you have not received your wages, they may be unaware of the situation. If your employer is refusing to pay your wages, check your contact and company handbook to find out your position and make a formal request for your wages.

You should raise a grievance with your employer if you still do not receive your wages. If this is unsuccessful then contact ACAS and if this is unsuccessful then you should seek legal advice and consider bringing a claim for unlawful deduction of wages, breach of contract and potentially constructive dismissal depending on your circumstances.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2019 Katie


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