What is a PAGA Claim and How Do I File One?
Nick Ferraro | August 24, 2021 | Employment Law
California workers are protected by a variety of federal and state labor and employment laws. The Private Attorney General Act (PAGA) is a state law that gives employees the right to file lawsuits against their employers for labor law violations.
A PAGA claim is different from other lawsuits. The employee is not suing their employer for compensation of damages. Rather, the employee acts as a private attorney general and sues their employer to enforce labor laws.
Who Can File a PAGA Claim?
Employees who were wronged because an employer violated the California Labor Code may file a PAGA claim. The employee files the lawsuit on behalf of themselves, other employees, and the State of California.
The following labor law violations might give rise to a PAGA claim:
- Vacation and PTO disputes
- Unpaid tips and gratuities
- Unpaid overtime
- Bonus and commission disputes
- Wage deduction errors
- Unpaid wages
- Minimum wage violations
An employer may claim that an employee waived their right to sue in their employment contract. Most employment contracts require employees to settle disputes through arbitration instead of through the courts.
However, these waivers do not apply to PAGA claims. Moreover, an employment contract that expressly waives an employee’s right to file a PAGA claim is void against public policy.
PAGA claims do not solely benefit an aggrieved employee. The claims benefit the public because the employee is seeking to enforce a labor law on behalf of the state.
What Types of Damages Can Employees Receive for PAGA Claims?
As stated above, an employee does not receive compensation for damages when filing a PAGA claim. Instead, the court may order the employer to pay civil penalties for labor code violations.
However, the employee filing a PAGA claim can recover some money for filing the claim. The employee receives 25 percent of the penalties ordered by the court. The money is split between the affected employees. The remaining 75 percent of the civil penalties are paid to the state.
The penalty for the first violation of California’s labor and employment laws is $100. After that, there is a $200 penalty for each subsequent violation.
These penalties do not sound like much. However, the penalties apply to each affected employee for each violation. Therefore, depending on the number of employers and violations, an employer could be ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties.
How Long Does an Employee Have to File a PAGA Claim?
As with other actions, there is a statute of limitations on PAGA claims. The deadline for filing a claim under the Private Attorney General Act is one year from the date of the last alleged labor code violation. If you do not file your PAGA claim by the deadline, you lose the right to pursue the claim.
How Do I File a PAGA Claim?
All PAGA claims must be filed according to the requirements in Labor Code §§2698 – 2699.5. New PAGA claims must be filed online.
A copy of the filing must be sent to the employer by certified mail. Responses to the PAGA claim by the employer or cure notices must be filed online and a copy sent to the employee or the employee’s representative.
You must pay the filing fee of $75 when you file your claim notice. However, the filing fee may be waived in some cases if the court determines that you do not have the funds to pay the filing fee (in forma pauperis).
The claim must include specific information. You must include basic facts about how the employer violated labor laws. You need to list which provisions of California’s Labor Laws were violated and list the employees wronged by the labor law violations.
The Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA) has 60 days to review the notice. If the LWDA does not decide to pursue the case after their investigation, you can file a PAGA lawsuit in civil court.
PAGA lawsuits can be complicated. Employers have teams of lawyers to fight PAGA lawsuits. Therefore, before proceeding with a PAGA claim, you may want to seek legal counsel from an experienced California labor law attorney.
You May Have Several Options to Seek Justice for Violations of Employment Laws
Filing a PAGA claim is just one way that employees might seek justice after their employers violate labor laws. If your employer has wronged you, make sure you understand your legal rights as a California employee.
Weigh the pros and cons of each option with a San Diego employment law attorney. An attorney can help you determine which option gives you the best chance of receiving compensation for violations of labor laws.