What Is PAGA?
The Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) gives employees in California the right to file lawsuits against employers that violate the California Labor Code. Enacted in 2004 to help advance the enforcement of California labor law protections, the statute lets workers file a lawsuit on behalf of groups of employees. Aggrieved employees can recover civil penalties, whether on behalf of themselves, other workers, or the state.
However, filing a lawsuit against an employer comes with another challenge. Workers are often forced to sign mandatory arbitration agreements, preventing them from sometimes filing lawsuits in Court when, for example, wage and hour laws are violated. However, with the PAGA, even if your employer has forced you to sign an arbitration agreement, you can still file a lawsuit in Court on behalf of a group of employees if your employer has committed violation of the California Labor Code. In short, a PAGA lawsuit can be filed in Court even if an employee has signed away their right to sue in Court.
How Does PAGA Work?
PAGA consists of two parts. The first allows current or former employees to step in the shoes of an attorney general and represent the state of California on behalf of the aggrieved employees. Given such a role, the employees can proceed with a lawsuit as if they were fulfilling the role of a state agency responsible for protecting the rights of California workers. Previously, only the State Labor Commissioner could bring a civil action in Court through the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. But now, employees can now recover monetary penalties on their own.
The second part of PAGA imposes a monetary penalty for every violation an employer commits, including violations committed against other employees. A penalty of $100 is imposed for the first violation, per worker for each pay period and $200 per worker for each subsequent violation. These penalties can quickly add up to millions of dollars in recovery for both the employees and the State of California.
To file a PAGA claim, it’s helpful to have an experienced employment wage and hour law attorney representing you because that attorney will know the detailed procedures to follow and will hopefully advance all of the costs necessary for filing the case. Typically, successful attorneys will represent the client on a contingency basis where the client does not have to pay any money to the attorney for his or her pocket.
What Violations Can Lead to PAGA Claims?
Three specific types of labor violations can lead to a PAGA claim. These include:
- Violations of the California Labor Code, and other applicable laws, including but not limited to the following:
- Wage theft
- Failure to provide face masks
- Forced to work off the clock
- Failure to provide rest breaks
- Failure to pay for rest breaks
- Short, late, interrupted or missed rest breaks
- Failure to provide meal breaks
- Short, late, interrupted or missed meal breaks
- Requiring employees to stay on company premises for rest breaks
- Failure to pay overtime
- Failure to provide lactation breaks
- Failure to timely pay wages
- Failure to timely pay final wages
- Failing to pay for on-duty meal breaks
- Failing to pay out unused vacation or PTO (Personal Time Off)
- Failure to pay meal break or rest break penalties
- Failure to pay for bag checks / coat checks / security checks
- Prohibiting employees from recording overtime
- Failure to provide adequate seating
- Failure to approve overtime
- Failure to pay minimum wages
- Understaffing / unreasonable expectations which requires employees to work off the clock
- Requiring employees to record only scheduled hours
- Failure to record the actual time worked by employees
- Illegally shaving time worked or falsifying time records
- Failing to provide second meal breaks
- Failing to provide third rest breaks
- Failure to pay for required drive time
- Failure to pay for required cell-phone usage
- Unreimbursed business-related expenses
- Failure to provide personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Auto-deducting meal breaks without providing them
- Failure to record the start and end times of meal breaks
- Requiring employees to waive first or second meal breaks without legally compliant waivers
- Failing to pay for on-call time
- Delaying the payment of wages
- Failure to provide complete and accurate paystubs
- Failure to maintain the required personnel files
- Failure to provide reporting time pay
- Failure to pay split shift premiums
- Failure to provide water to employees
- Failure to pay prevailing rates
- Failure to pay waiting time penalties
- Failure to record meal breaks
- Failure to properly calculate the overtime rate
- Illegally rounding time worked for compensation purposes
- Misclassifying non-exempt positions as exempt to avoid overtime compensation
- Requiring exempt / managerial employees to spend more than 50% of their time on the same duties as hourly paid employees
- Failure to follow the requirements of the California Labor Code and/or Wage Orders
How Long Do Employees Have to File a PAGA claim?
Generally, a one-year statute of limitations applies to filing a PAGA claim. An experienced attorney will help you calculate all of the applicable deadlines. But in short, your rights don’t last forever, and therefore it’s always vital that you contact an attorney immediately because if you miss the applicable statute of limitations, you are generally barred from any and all recovery.
How Does PAGA Benefit California Employees?
The primary purpose of PAGA is to protect employees’ rights and enforce the state’s labor laws. It also permits workers to seek monetary penalties. In addition to current employees, it benefits future employees of a company as well, as employers may feel significant pressure to stop continuing to violate California’s worker protection laws.
Contact Lawyers for Justice, PC
If you feel your rights as an employee have been violated under the California Labor Code, get in touch with Lawyers for Justice, PC today. Our California labor law attorneys are closely familiar with PAGA and related state laws protecting California workers.. They can assess your losses, determine each violation the company committed, and maximize the compensation you, the other employees, and the state receives. To speak with an employment law attorney and receive a free consultation, contact our California law firm today at (818) JUSTICE or (818) 587-8423.