Understanding PAGA Claims in California

In California, an employee can file a normal lawsuit against an employer after the employer violates labor laws. Another option available to employees is filing a PAGA claim. PAGA, which stands for Private Attorneys General Act, is a California law enacted in 2004. PAGA was enacted because state agencies could not adequately ensure that labor laws were being enforced. So, what exactly is PAGA? Below, we explain the meaning of PAGA, who can file a PAGA claim, labor violations that warrant a PAGA claim, the process of filing a PAGA claim, and the penalties recoverable in a PAGA claim.

What is PAGA?

This law allows California employees to file labor violation claims against an employer or former employer. PAGA allows employees to file a claim on behalf of the state of California for themselves and/or other employees. With a PAGA claim, the employee acts as a private attorney general. A private attorney general is an attorney who files a lawsuit claiming that the lawsuit is in the public interest. In other words, they claim that the outcome of the case will benefit not just them but also the general public. As a private attorney general, the employee can pursue civil penalties as though they were a state agency.

A PAGA claim is different from a normal lawsuit. With a normal lawsuit, the employee’s main aim is to recover compensation. On the other hand, a PAGA claim is a type of law enforcement action. PAGA claims aim to enforce California labor laws.

Who Can File a PAGA Claim?

A PAGA claim can be filed by an aggrieved employee. But who is an aggrieved employee? This is a worker who has suffered a labor violation. However, when an aggrieved employee files a PAGA claim, they can recover civil penalties for all violations, not just those that affected them.

You may wonder if you can file a PAGA claim if your employment contract waives your right to sue. So, can you? Yes, you can file a PAGA claim even if you have waived your right to sue in your employment contract. When you file a PAGA claim, the waiver can be disregarded. Waivers of your right to file a PAGA claim are unenforceable as they go against public policy.

Labor Violations That Warrant a PAGA Claim

An employee who has been impacted by the violation of any of the following has the right to file a PAGA claim;

  • The state’s labor codes listed in the PAGA statute
  • The state’s health and safety regulations
  • Other California labor laws

The Process of Filing a PAGA Claim

The first step is to file a PAGA claim with the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA). You must include specific information about your grievances and why you are filing the claim in your filing documents. At a minimum, your filing documents should detail the facts of what happened, which labor laws have been violated, and the names of other aggrieved workers. Once the claim is filed, it proceeds as a representative lawsuit. Representative lawsuits do not have to be certified.

Penalties Recoverable in a PAGA Lawsuit

In a PAGA claim, aggrieved workers receive 25% of the penalties, and the other 75% goes to the state. For employers, initial violations can carry a penalty of $100 for each worker per pay period. A subsequent violation can carry a penalty of $200.

Contact a California Employment Lawyer

Contact a California employment lawyer near you if you need more information or help with a PAGA claim.