Ever since the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) became law in 2004, it has caused employers headaches and sparked recent questions in California courts about the manageability of certain mass tort claims. Also called the Hero Labor Law, PAGA claims have effectively tackled major labor law wage theft cases. In 2019, awards from these cases allowed California to collect over $88 million in fines from corporations that were breaking wage and hour laws.
Many of these cases have focused on:
- Minimum wage and overtime
- Earned sick leave
- Rest and meal breaks
- Gender pay parity
In spite of recent court setbacks, PAGA remains the best avenue for workers to recover penalties after confronting an employer who violates provisions of the California Labor Code. Because PAGA claims are often class action lawsuits, it helps to level the playing field, especially when workers are going up against powerful corporate entities. Before filing such a claim, however, it is wise to get more information on all that is involved, including filing procedures, fees and deadlines.
How does PAGA work?
PAGA is a state law that essentially deputizes private citizens to act as private attorneys general, allowing them to pursue a civil suit as if they were a state agency. A worker who, as an aggrieved employee, has suffered from labor violations committed by the company that employees them, may file suit on behalf of themselves, other employees, and the State of California for damages.
There are three types of labor violations that can lead to a PAGA claim:
- Labor Code violations as listed in the PAGA statute
- Health and safety regulations violations
- Any Labor Code violations
In addition, any and all employees who have also suffered from the same violations may join the claim. The aggrieved employee may seek damages not only for violations they have personally suffered, but also for those that current and former employees have suffered.
How are penalties split?
When the court awards civil penalties in a PAGA lawsuit, they go both to the employee filing the suit and the State of California Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA). When the employee is representing other employees, the fines will be for all workers affected. The LWDA will receive 75% of the award, while the remaining 25% will go to the aggrieved employees.