I am unable to pick up my final paycheck from my employer immediately. How long do I have under federal law to retrieve my paycheck before my employer is no longer bound to honor it?
I found several articles meant to inform business of their obligations in dealing with unclaimed paychecks:
They all focus on state law, and I saw no mention of any relevant federal laws. Therefore, in answer to your specific question, I would conclude that there are no federal laws governing this situation.
As far as state law, the articles agree that all the states have laws under which the employer will be required to hold the paycheck for some period of time (on the order of a year or two), and perhaps to attempt to notify the employee by certain specified means. The details will vary between states. After that time, as mentioned in Andy's answer, they are required to turn it over to the state's unclaimed property office, who will hold it in the employee's name, indefinitely. The office will typically have a publicly searchable database showing all the funds they hold. The employee (or their estate or heirs) may then contact the state at any time in the future and collect the funds, with no time limit.
There is no circumstance in which state law would permit the employer to take the money back. That would constitute wage theft and could be a crime.
So even if it takes you fifty years to get around to collecting your pay, you'll still be able to get it - you just may have to get it from the state instead of from the employer.
I don't know how long they are required to hold it, but i think that's largely irrelevant. If you already did the work, they are obligated to pay you. If you never get the check, they would probably mail it. In some states, if you don't cash it within a certain timeframe they must forward the money to the states unclaimed property department, where you would be able to claim it.