Introduction to PAGA for California Employees
The Private Attorneys General Act, commonly referred to as PAGA, affords employees in California the right to file lawsuits against employers who violate the California Labor Code. PAGA authorizes wronged employees to file lawsuits to recover civil penalties on behalf of either themselves, other employees, or the state of California. In effect, PAGA grants employees to sue as a representative the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency (“LWDA”).
PAGA was initiated in order to encourage private individuals to comply with state labor laws by providing the individuals with the financial incentive to recover civil penalties that normally only the state could recover.
Today, a large number of employers requires their employees to sign arbitration agreements that prevent them from initiating class or representative lawsuits. However, under current California law, arbitration agreements cannot waive an employee’s rights to bring legal action under a PAGA claim, at least individually under most circumstances.
Examples of PAGA claims can include:
- Wage theft
- Unpaid commissions
- Forced to work off the clock
- Unreimbursed business expenses
- Failure to provide rest or meal breaks
- Barring employees from recording overtime
- Misclassifying employees as independent contractors to avoid overtime compensation
Unlike a class action lawsuit, not all aggrieved employees have to experience the same violation in order for a PAGA suit to commence (commonality requirement). Rather, to have standing as a PAGA suit, an employee must only show:
- They are a currently employed or previously employed by the alleged violator of the Labor Code, AND
- They suffered 1 or more Labor Code violations.
PAGA penalties can include $100 per employee per pay period for initial violation and $200 for each subsequent violation. When an employee recovers under a PAGA claim, 75% of the collected penalties are distributed to the LWDA and 25% is distributed among the aggrieved employees. Further, the employee who brought the action is entitled to attorney fees and costs.
If you have any questions about the PAGA Amendments, new rulings with the Court on PAGA, or have issues with unpaid wages, commissions, company charges to your wages, business expenses, off the clock work, or any issues with your pay at your current employer, please feel free to contact: