The statute of limitations or window of time in which a person can bring a PAGA claim is generally 1 year from the date of the last labor violation on which the claim is based.
The Private Attorney General Act lets California workers file lawsuits against their employers for violating labor laws. To do so, the workers have to follow pre-filing requirements. This all has to be done before the statute of limitations has expired.
If the statute of limitations runs out, the PAGA claim will be dismissed.
What is a PAGA claim?
A PAGA claim is a lawsuit for labor violations. It can be brought by aggrieved workers in California. It is filed against employers for violating state labor laws. Workers filing a PAGA claim pursue penalties as if they were a state agency.
The Private Attorney General Act is a California law. It lets workers file a lawsuit on behalf of the Attorney General.1 It was enacted in 2004 to better enforce California’s labor laws.2
These lawsuits are qui tam claims. They do not pursue compensation for losses sustained by the aggrieved worker. Instead, the claims pursue the civil penalties that the employer would have to pay for the labor violation.
Employees who have suffered from a labor violation can bring a PAGA claim against their employer. They can file the claim, even if they have signed away their right to sue in their employment contract.
To file a PAGA claim, aggrieved employees have to satisfy notification requirements. These requirements have to be satisfied within 1 year of the alleged labor violation.
What are these notification requirements?
To start a PAGA claim, aggrieved employees have to file a PAGA notice.
A PAGA notice is a complaint with the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency. It has to be filed online with the Agency. It has to be sent to the employer through certified mail.
The notice has to include:
- a summary of what happened,
- the provisions of California’s labor laws that were violated, and
- a list of aggrieved employees.3
- factual outline of what happened nor
- the list of aggrieved employees
has to be complete.4
However, the PAGA notice has to be more than a list of violations with no factual support.5
The PAGA notice that gets sent to the employer by certified mail puts them on notice of the claim.
The PAGA notice sent to the Agency gives them the opportunity to intervene. The Agency can investigate the claim. It has 65 days to decide.
If they decide not to intervene, the aggrieved employee can file their own lawsuit. That lawsuit would move forward as a representative claim. This is similar to a class action.
At this point, the aggrieved employee has 60 days to amend his or her claims.6 He or she can add other labor violations.7
How long do I have to file a PAGA lawsuit?
Aggrieved employees have 1 year to file their PAGA notice. This is the statute of limitations for PAGA claims. The year begins on the day of the last labor violation mentioned in the claim.8
This 1 year does not include the 65 days for the Agency to consider an intervention. It also does not include the 60 days that aggrieved workers have to amend the complaint.
The PAGA notice is effective on the day it is filed online.9
Example: Carlos is fired in violation of California labor law on July 1, 2019. He has until June 30, 2020, to file the PAGA notice online. If he files it on the last day, the Labor and Workforce Development Agency would have until September 3, 2020, to decide whether to intervene.
If they do not decide until September 3, Carlos can pursue the case as a representative claim. He has until November 2 to amend his lawsuit.
What happens if the statute of limitations has already passed?
If aggrieved employees do not file the PAGA notice within 1 year, the lawsuit will easily be dismissed.
As discussed in the previous section, this 1-year statute of limitations is tolled (paused) during the 65 days after the employee notifies the Agency. Then after the statute of limitations expires, the “relation back doctrine” gives employees 60 additional days to amend their complaint without their PAGA claim being time-barred.10
Note that there is a narrow exception where workers may be able to bring PAGA claims for labor violations that occurred more than one year ago: It is when when the worker is still currently employed and is still governed by an unlawful employment agreement.11
- California Labor Code 2698 et seq.
- Williams v. Superior Court, (2017) 398 P.3d 69.
- California Labor Code 2699.3(a)(1)(A). See also Green v. Bank of America, N.A., (9th Cir. 2015) 634 Fed. Appx. 188.
- Cardenas v. McLane Foodservices, Inc., (C.D. Cal., 2011) 796 F. Supp. 2d 1246.
- Alcantar v. Hobart Service, (9th Cir., 2015) 800 F.3d 1047.
- California Labor Code 2699.3(a)(2)(C).
- Caliber Bodyworks, Inc. v. Superior Court, (Cal. App., 2005) 134 Cal.App.4th 365.
- California Code of Civil Procedure 340(a). See also Brown v. Ralphs Grocery Co., (Cal. App., 2018) 28 Cal.App.5th 824.
- California Labor Code 2699.3(a)(2)(A).
- Same. Esparza v. Safeway, Inc. (Cal. App. 2d Dist. June 10, 2019), 247 Cal. Rptr. 3d 875, 36 Cal. App. 5th 42; Robles v. Schneider Nat’l Carriers, Inc. (C.D. Cal. Aug. 15, 2017), 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 132065.
- Johnson v. Maxim Healthcare Servs., Inc., (Cal. Ct. App. 2021) 281 Cal. Rptr. 3d 478. Ambuehl v. Collins, (Los Angeles Superior Court, 2021) Case No. 20STCV13565. Green v. Von Dutch, LLC, (Riverside Super. Ct., 2021) Case No. CVRI2101925.