Most of us know attorneys general as a public position, a jurisdictions highest law enforcement officer. An attorney general is usually the one who keeps large offenders in check by bringing civil or criminal cases against them, federal statutes for US and US district Attorneys General and state laws for state attorneys general. As of 2003, however, California has had on the books a statute, The Private Attorney General Act (PAGA), that allows for regular complainants and plaintiffs to act as a “private” attorneys general and bring an action on behalf of public law enforcement agencies against employers for violations of the California Labor Code.
There are two main components of PAGA that affect employers. The first is that PAGA gives employees the authority to sue employers for violations of the Labor Code and recover monetary penalties for any found violations. The second component is that it assigns monetary fines to virtually every provision in the California Labor Code. If no fine is listed in the Code then PAGA imposes a $100 fine for each violation and a $200 for each subsequent violation of the same provision. These fines can be assessed for each employee, for each pay period. If there already is an assigned penalty amount, then the employee can sue on behalf of other similarly aggrieved employees.
It is no surprise then that the floodgates of PAGA suits has opened with Plaintiffs employment attorney’s hunting around for even the most minor violation and then every employee this violation might have touched. It would be easy to advise employers to make sure that their businesses are in full compliance of the 2018 California Labor Laws but the complexity of all the provisions easily provides opportunities for mistakes and oversights. Chairs not provided, hyphens on paystubs dropped, labor law posters not posted in the correct location? All of these can end up costing California employers big money.
And if all of this is not enough to depress you, a California appeals court recently ruled that employee’s may even bring PAGA suits for labor or employment law violations that did not even affect them but may have affected other employees. In the wake of such a ruling we can expect a torrent of discovery requests from employment attorney’s hunting for violations or compliance with California wage and hour laws. The possible implications are truly massive.
We talk a lot about this on this blog but employment but keeping up to date on labor and employment laws is paramount as is considering a complete audit of your practices and policies to make sure your business is in compliance.