PAGA lawsuit is specific to California and isn’t actually a lawsuit but a statute. The purpose of PAGA is to help workers file lawsuits against their employers.
Schmidt & Clark lawyers have extensive experience dealing with PAGA claims. Ever since PAGA was introduced 16 years ago, our lawyers have helped countless workers across California get damages due to them. Today, we’ll explain everything you should know about PAGA.
Summary of the Key Findings
- PAGA is a statute enforced in California by the Labor and Workforce Development Agency. Its purpose is to help workers sue employees in cases of labor violation.
- PAGA claims have to be filed online, and a $75 filing fee has to be paid.
- PAGA penalties are divided between the State of California and the aggrieved employees.
What is PAGA?
PAGA is a California statute that helps workers sue their employers for labor violations. PAGA stands for Private Attorney General Act and was enacted in 2004. This statute was brought to life because state agencies had issues enforcing California labor laws.
“The Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) authorizes aggrieved employees to file lawsuits to recover civil penalties on behalf of themselves, other employees, and the State of California for Labor Code violations. Those who intend to pursue PAGA cases must follow the requirements specified in Labor Code Sections 2698 - 2699.5.” California Department of Industrial Relations
Employees act as private attorneys general in a PAGA lawsuit, thus the name Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA). Essentially, employees can pursue civil penalties on behalf of the California attorney general .
PAGA isn’t a normal lawsuit, but it’s a lawsuit for compensation and a type of law enforcement action.
Who Can File a PAGA Lawsuit?
Wronged employees can file a PAGA lawsuit. A wronged employee is a worker who suffered from one or more of the employer's labor violations.
Note: Employees can get damages for all of the employer’s labor violations, not only the violation that directly affected them.
Aggrieved employees could file a PAGA lawsuit even if their contract waived their right to sue. Many California employers ask workers to take the disputes through arbitration, and most employment contracts have a clause asking workers to waive their right to join a class-action lawsuit.
However, neither of these waivers is enforceable if you want to file a PAGA. Unless the state of California gives its consent, the court can’t force the arbitration agreement when you file PAGA. Plus, waivers of workers’ rights aren’t enforceable in court, as they violate public policy.
Related Article: Litigation vs Arbitration: What's the Difference?
What Violations Lead to PAGA?
Three violations lead to a PAGA claim according to the Private Attorney General Act:
- Violations of the California Labor Code specified in the PAGA statute
- Violations of California’s health and safety regulations
- Other violations of California’s labor laws
Here are some of the most common examples of California Labor Code violations:
- Wage theft
- Forcing workers to work off the clock
- Not paying for rest breaks
- Not providing rest breaks
- Interrupting rest breaks
- Not providing meal breaks
- Interrupting meal breaks
- Demanding that employees stay on premises during rest breaks
- Not paying overtime
- Not providing lactation breaks
- Not paying wages on time
- Not paying minimum wages
- Not providing paystubs
- Not paying an unused vacation or personal time off
- Demanding employees not record overtime work
- Not providing adequate seating
- Not recording the actual time the employee worked
- Falsifying time records
- Not providing second or third meal breaks
- Not paying for drive time
- Not paying for work-related cell phone usage
- Not imbursing business expenses
- Not keeping personnel files
- Not providing personal protective equipment
- Not paying for on-call time
- Not correctly calculating overtime rates
- Requiring that managerial employees work more than half of their time on the same duties as hourly employees
- Not following California Labor Code
Related Article: What is Considered Harassment at Work?
How to File a PAGA Claim?
You have to file a PAGA claim through the Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA) official website. You have to pay a fee of $75 for a new PAGA notice and any employer response at the time of submission . This means all new PAGA claims have to be filed online.
The claim needs to contain very specific information, such as:
- Basic facts about the California labor code violation
- Which laws were violated exactly
- Which employees were affected by the labor code violation
You have to send a copy by certified mail to the employer. Employer responses also have to be filed online.
LWDA has to review the notice within 30 to 60 days of filing, and all PAGA claim settlements have to be approved by the court, no matter if the settlements include a PAGA award or a penalty.
In case the state labor commissioner doesn’t take action within 60 days after you filed PAGA claims, you can file a lawsuit within one year of the last subsequent violation.
Note: This is a representative lawsuit, which means you represent yourself and all other employees that suffered harm.
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Monetary Penalties in a PAGA Claim
If your PAGA claim is successful, you can get penalties. Here’s how the civil penalty is distributed:
- 75% of penalties go to the state of California, according to California Supreme Court
- 25% of penalties go to the aggrieved employee who filed the claim. In case several employees were affected by the labor violation, they split the money.
Also, the employer is required to pay court costs and all attorney's fees.
Note: You can’t recover lost wages, pay overtime work, or other damages in PAGA.
The first labor violation has a penalty of $100 per pay period per employee. All subsequent violations are $200 per employee, which accumulates quickly, so you can stand to get a fair amount of money if the violation has been going on for a while .
How Long do Employees Have to File PAGA?
Employees have one year from the last labor code violation to file PAGA. PAGA has a one-year statute of limitations. If you miss this deadline for PAGA lawsuits, you won’t be eligible for any damages.
What does the California Department of Labor do?
The California Department of Labor makes sure employers follow the California Labor Law, promotes economic justice, and helps aggrieved employees recover civil penalties .
Hire an Experienced Attorney to Help You With PAGA Claims
PAGA gives employees a lot of power. If you’ve been wronged by your employer, you should file a PAGA claim.
However, it’s difficult to understand the filing procedure if you aren’t a lawyer, and there’s a chance you may file a document incorrectly. Plus, you’ll have to represent yourself and all other wronged employees. That’s why you should hire a lawyer.
Schmidt & Clark lawyers have years of experience in PAGA claims. We can guide you through each step of the process and help you get penalties due to you.
Contact us today for a free case evaluation.