The Private Attorney General Act of 2004 (PAGA) allows private citizens the right of action to recover civil penalties for violations of the Labor Code on behalf of the State’s labor law enforcement agency, the Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA). As the PAGA gives private citizens the right to seek fines that would normally be available only to the state of California, it in essence allows private citizens to act as private attorney generals enforcing the law.
Employees may now seek civil penalties for such diverse violations as an employer’s failure to pay appropriate overtime or an employer’s failure to provide adequate meal and rest breaks. An aggrieved employee, as a Private Attorney General, may assert a claim on behalf of him or herself and other current or former employees.
PAGA requires that lawsuits be brought within 1 year of the Labor Code violation. Before pursuing a claim under PAGA, an employee must exhaust his or her administrative remedies by providing written notice in the form of a certified letter to the LWDA and the employer detailing the alleged violations, including facts and theories supporting the claim. If the LWDA decides not to pursue the claim or fails to respond within 33 days, then the employee may file suit. Since it is possible for a PAGA claim to be dismissed for failure to follow procedural steps, meeting with an attorney experienced in these matters is recommended to ensure PAGA claims are brought forth properly.
For those violations of the labor code which carry no specified penalty, PAGA authorizes an aggrieved employee to recover $100 for the first pay period in which a violation has occurred and
$200 per pay period for each subsequent violation. The recovered damages are split 75 percent with the state and 25 percent to the employee. Finally, a plaintiff who wins his or her case is entitled to attorneys fees.
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