Private Attorney General Act
Employees may, under The Private Attorney General Act (“PAGA”), bring a private right of action against employers to collect penalties on the state’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency (“LWDA”)’s behalf within one year of the alleged violation. Code of Civ. Pro. section 340(a). In a successful action, the LWDA collects 75 percent of the penalties, with the remaining 25 percent paid to the aggrieved employees. California Labor Code section 2699(i), section 2699(g).
Employees may bring PAGA claims based on almost any underlying section 2699.5 labor code violation, like meal and rest break premiums under section 226.7 and employing employees “under conditions prohibited by the wage order,” like failing to maintain comfortable temperatures at work. See e.g., Bright v. 99¢ Only Stores, 189 Cal.App.4th 1472 (2010); California Labor Code section 2699.5. However, employees must first give written notice, by certified mail, to the employer and the LWDA, describing the “specific provisions…alleged to have been violated, including the facts and theories to support the alleged violation” and the LWDA either declines to investigate or fails to respond to the notice within the time allotted to do so. Section 2699.3(a).
Employees may also bring PAGA claims for health and safety violations under Labor Code sections 6300 et seq. but must also send notice to the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, which is then required to investigate the claim. Labor Code section 2699.3(b). If the Division fails to issue a citation, the aggrieved employee may bring a claim in superior court.
Thus, if you suspect that your employer is violating any labor codes or engaging in health and safety violations, you may be able to bring a PAGA claim to recover a portion of the penalties and potentially stop the violation, after first giving notice to the relevant state enforcement agencies.