What is PAGA?
California adopted the Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”) in 2004 to help workers hold companies accountable when they break the law by cheating workers out of wages, fail to comply with workplace safety regulations, or otherwise violate labor laws. The law allows workers to sue companies on behalf of the California Labor Commissioner in order to enforce the law. Under PAGA, workers can recover stolen wages and collect penalties for the State of California and other employees.
If workers have legitimate claims, why doesn’t the California Department of Labor hold employers accountable?
Lack of resources. Many labor law violations can only be enforced by the California Labor Commissioner. Each week, hundreds of thousands of workers find wages stolen from their paychecks, but the Department of Labor has just a fraction of the resources needed to enforce the law across the state. Before the Private Attorneys General Act, employers knew they were unlikely to ever be held accountable because there were not enough state investigators to watch their conduct. Since PAGA was enacted, workers can be “deputized” to do the enforcement work of the Labor Commissioner. Importantly, the Labor Commissioner retains the power to control any case brought by a private worker to ensure that it has merit.
Does the Private Attorneys General Act make employers targets of frivolous lawsuits?
No. PAGA gives workers a fair shot at recovering stolen wages they have earned and holding law-breaking employers accountable for violating labor laws. There are many checks and balances in place to prevent frivolous lawsuits, including the Labor Commissioner and the Court. By the time a PAGA case goes to court, employers have had every opportunity to correct their wrongdoing. Plus, all settlements must be reported to the Labor Commissioner and approved by a judge, including the amount of fees paid to the lawyers who represent workers.