California employers face numerous lawsuits under the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219, and comparable state law claims. The FLSA prescribes standards for minimum wage and overtime pay for non-exempt employees. Like many employment laws, the FLSA prohibits retaliation against employees that engage in protected activity in asserting their FLSA rights including complaints of unpaid overtime. The California Labor Code provides separate rights for employees similar to the FLSA. This area of the law is commonly referred to as “Wage & Hour” litigation.

Wage & Hour lawsuits, filed under the FLSA and/or California Labor Code, often involve claims for failure to pay overtime or minimum wage and improper employee exemption classification. For example, certain executive, administrative, professional and other employees paid on a salary basis may be exempt from the FLSA and/or California Labor Code. However, these and other exemptions have specific requirements applied to the particular circumstances of each employee, her responsibilities and the actual duties performed. The fact that an employee is paid on a salary basis does not automatically exempt that employee from coverage.

Meal and rest break, waiting time, time-rounding, itemized wage statement, and record keeping claims are prevalent in California. California Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) and unfair business act claims under California Business and Professions Code § 17200 are also common in California Wage & Hour lawsuits.

Many Wage & Hour lawsuits assert a “collective” or “representative” action. These cases are filed by a plaintiff individually, and on behalf of all other similarly situated current and former employees. Employees that prevail may recover “liquidated” or double the damages for certain claims under the FLSA.

The Private Attorneys General Act or PAGA essentially authorizes employees who are subject to illegal labor code violations to act as private attorneys general with the goal of recovering civil penalties from their employers who have violated the state’s labor code. You as the worker have the power to bring a case against your employer, just as the state’s Attorney General might, when your employer acts in violation of California wage and hour laws.

PAGA addresses a number of common employment law violations including minimum wage violations, unpaid overtime, missed meal breaks and rest breaks, worker misclassification, unreimbursed business expenses and miscalculated pay rates. While opponents of PAGA claim it’s just a way for attorneys to make money, they leave out the fact that it generates revenue for the state and most importantly for aggrieved workers who have been denied fair wages. PAGA helps everybody and offers protections for vulnerable workers. PAGA is also one of the reasons California’s economy has grown and thrived over the year as well. 

PAGA was passed in 2004, at a time when the state of California lacked the resources to go after companies that violated the state’s labor laws. The state’s legislature passed PAGA as a response to more and more employers brazenly shortchanging their employees and not paying them fair wages.

In order to file a PAGA lawsuit, an employee who is wronged must file a claim with the state of California. This claim must provide details of all the facts that support the California Labor Code and/or California Wage Order violations made by the company. The state of California has 65 days in order to provide notice to the employee regarding the state’s intention to launch an investigation. If the 65 days have passed and the state does not provide notice, then the employee can go ahead and file a PAGA lawsuit, which is a representative action on his or her behalf or on behalf of other aggrieved employees.

Under PAGA, an “aggrieved employee” is the employee of a company that has violated California’s wage and hour laws or the laws set forth by the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Typically, an employee who has been wronged files a PAGA lawsuit on behalf of himself or herself and other aggrieved employees of that company. 

However, it is important to understand that PAGA actions are different from class actions, primarily because the statutory suits are essentially law enforcement actions. In addition, class actions must satisfy other legal requirements that PAGA cases don’t. Therefore, it is simpler to bring a PAGA case than it is to bring a class-action lawsuit.