What Is a PAGA Claim and How Do I File One?
California has strict labor laws governing matters such as hours, wages, and workplace safety. Unfortunately, it is practically impossible for the state government to effectively identify and prosecute all potential violations of these laws. For this reason, the state legislature enacted a separate law known as the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA). PAGA allows individual employees who have been harmed by Labor Code violations to essentially prosecute their employer on behalf of the State of California. In other words, private citizens are allowed to act as if they were the Attorney General, hence the name “Private Attorneys General Act.”
Any employee “aggrieved” by a violation of the California Labor Code or health and safety (OSHA) violations may bring a claim under the PAGA. To start the process, the aggrieved employee must notify the employer and file a formal claim with the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA). The claim itself must typically be filed within one year of the date of the alleged violation.
Once a claim is filed, the State of California then has the first crack at bringing a lawsuit directly against the employer. But if the State does not take action within 65 days of receiving the employee’s claim, then the employee may proceed with their own PAGA lawsuit. If the lawsuit is successful, 75 percent of any penalties recovered go to the State of California, with the remaining 25 percent going to the employees.
Note that PAGA claims can only recover civil penalties against employers, not any back wages owed to specific employees. These civil penalties are $100 per employee per pay period for an initial violation, and $200 per employee per pay period for any subsequent violations. The employer can also be held liable for the employee’s attorney fees and court costs.
Is a PAGA Claim the Same Thing as a Class Action?
Although a PAGA claim is brought on behalf of all aggrieved employees, it is not a class action. There are a number of key differences between the two procedures:
- A class action must meet certain strict requirements for “certification,” which do not apply to PAGA claims.
- Federal law allows employers to “remove,” or transfer, class actions to federal court; since PAGA claims are brought under state law, there is no removal option.
- Employers often require employees to sign contracts that require them to waive the right to file class actions; the California Supreme Court has held such waivers cannot apply to PAGA claims, as that would be contrary to the state’s public policy.
- Employees typically have much broader rights to pre-trial discovery from employers in PAGA claims versus class actions.
There are other potential benefits to PAGA claim depending on your situation. If you have reason to believe that your employer is not following the law and want to learn more about how filing a PAGA claim could help, contact a qualified California employment law attorney today.