Q. We allow employees to begin working without handing in the documentation we require, such as reference letters. (We always have legal documentation, such as I-9s and W-4s) Are we legally allowed to hold an employee’s paycheck until their personnel file is complete? — Michael, New York
A. Most state laws, including New York, require you to pay your employees within a certain amount of time after they have performed work for you. Similarly, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act requires you to pay employees at least minimum wage for all hours worked. Holding pay until documents are received (or other conditions met) is likely to violate both state and federal laws if the holding results in an individual not receiving his or her pay within the prescribed time frame.
You can achieve the same goals by holding off on providing a signing bonus or other benefit conditioned upon your receipt of all relevant personnel records, or by disciplining (or even terminating) the employee who fails to comply in a reasonable time.