The Private Attorney General Act gives individuals the ability to file certain types of claims against their employers.
California — like all states — has a complex set of laws and regulations that govern the workplace. These laws cover everything from when and how employees are paid to safety standards in the workplace. When an employer violates any of those laws or regulations, they may be held civilly or even criminally liable.
Unfortunately, the state agencies empowered to enforce these laws don’t always have the capacity to take on every violation. In 2004, California enacted the Private Attorney General Act (PAGA), which allows individuals to seek civil penalties against their employers as though they were a state agency.
There are three types of violations that can be the subject of a PAGA claim: (1) violations of the California Labor Code that are specifically listed in the statue; (2) violations of California’s health and safety regulations; and (3) any other violation California’s labor laws. These violations can arise in any number of ways. For example, if an employer fails to pay workers overtime in accordance with California’s wage and hour laws, that may be the basis for a PAGA claim.
As a California labor lawyer can explain, PAGA claims are different from other types of lawsuits. As an initial matter, you must file a claim online with the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency. This claim must contain specific information, not just a list of alleged labor law violations, including the basic facts of what happened as well as the laws that were violated and the employees who were affected by the violations. Once this filing is complete, you must serve a copy of your claim on your employer via certified mail.
After these initial two steps, the Labor and Workforce Development agency has 65 days to take action on the claim. If they fail to take the case based on their own investigation, you may then file a PAGA lawsuit with 1 year of the last alleged violation of California labor law. This type of claim is a representative lawsuit, which means that you will be standing for other employees who have suffered harm.
If you succeed in your PAGA claim, you will be able to recover civil penalties. 75% of these penalties will go to the state of California, while the remaining 25% goes to aggrieved worker(s) who brought the claim. This amount is split between all employees who were affected by the violations. In addition, your employer will be required to pay court costs and attorney’s fees. Unlike other types of employment lawsuits, you cannot recover lost wages and other damages in a PAGA claim.
There are advantages to filing a PAGA claim over filing an individual lawsuit, particularly when your level of harm may not be sufficient to file a lawsuit for damages. Civil penalties can add up quickly, especially when a large number of workers have been affected. For example, if your employer forbids you and your coworkers from taking a lunch break, that is a violation of law that is punishable for $100 for the first offense and $200 for each additional offense (per pay period). If you are paid every 2 weeks, and this has happened 3 times during each pay period for a year, that equals 78 violations. That works out to penalties of $13,000 per employee ($100 for a first offense, $200 for each additional offense). If 30 employees were affected, the total civil penalty will be $390,000. 75% of that amount, or $292,500, will go to the government. The remaining $97,500 will go to the employees, for a total of $3,250 per person.
PAGA claims are just one way that you may be able to seek justice if your employer has violated the law or treated you unfairly. At PLBSH, we represent employees on a broad range of employment law issues. Contact us today at (800) 435-7542 or firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation with a California labor lawyer.