Q. My former employer did not pay me for overtime hours and missed breaks. Many fellow employees experienced the same thing but they are afraid because they think if they complain, they’ll be fired. I understand their fears and want to help them. Is there a way that I can claim wages on their behalf so they don’t have to?
A. Yes, there is. You can file a class action, and/or make a claim under the Private Attorney General Act (PAGA). Class actions and PAGA claims are collective actions where one employee can make a claim not only for him- or herself, but also on behalf of fellow employees who experienced the same employment violations.
Filing a collective action minimizes the risk of retaliation against an employee member of the class. The employee who sued may stand for other employees who are not named in the lawsuit so that they can also recover their wages.
A collective action is also a relatively inexpensive way to resolve wage claims that may be prohibitive if pursued only as an individual action. Employees or class members do not pay out-of-pocket fees to attorneys. It is only upon the resolution of the class action and after court approval that the attorneys are paid for their work.
A PAGA claim is especially unique to California. This law was enacted to maximize compliance with California’s labor laws. Instead of the State of California pursuing penalties against an employer, the law gives a private citizen the right to recover these penalties. It allows a private citizen to act as an attorney general and seek to stop violations that other current or former employees suffered. This is shown in the story of Michael Williams below:
Williams worked for Marshalls, a retail chain, at its Costa Mesa store for about a year. Williams sued Marshalls under PAGA, alleging that the store failed to provide him and other employees meal and rest breaks and failed to pay them for these missed breaks. Williams alleged that managers are directed to erase meal break violations from its time records so that missed breaks did not have to be paid. Under PAGA, Williams asked for the violations to stop and that Marshalls pay civil penalties, to be shared between Williams, the other employees, and the State of California.
During the litigation, Williams asked Marshalls to supply the name, address, and telephone number of employees in its other stores. Marshalls admitted there are 16,500 employees throughout the state, but refused to provide their information. The dispute reached the California Supreme Court.
The high court ruled that Williams was entitled to the names and contact information of other employees to enable him to gather evidence to support their claims. The employees’ privacy interest can be protected by giving them a chance to opt out of the disclosure of their information.
Private attorney general cases and class actions can be complicated and should be handled by experienced attorneys. Despite the challenges, filing these cases can stop employment violations and help employees obtain just compensation under the law. n
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The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no-cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.com or our Facebook page Joe Sayas Law. [C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. is an experienced trial attorney who has successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, consistently selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, and is the recipient of PABA’s Community Champion Award for 2016.]