California Labor Code § 2699 allows employees whose labor rights have been violated to bring Private Attorney General Act (PAGA) claims against their employer. If the employee wins the PAGA claim, the court will order the employer to pay civil penalties of up to $100 for an initial violation and up to $200 for each successive violation. 75% of these civil penalties goes to the state, and 25% goes to the employee.
The full text of the statute reads as follows:
2699. (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any provision of this code that provides for a civil penalty to be assessed and collected by the Labor and Workforce Development Agency or any of its departments, divisions, commissions, boards, agencies, or employees, for a violation of this code, may, as an alternative, be recovered through a civil action brought by an aggrieved employee on behalf of himself or herself and other current or former employees pursuant to the procedures specified in Section 2699.3.
(b) For purposes of this part, “person” has the same meaning as defined in Section 18.
(c) For purposes of this part, “aggrieved employee” means any person who was employed by the alleged violator and against whom one or more of the alleged violations was committed.
(d) For purposes of this part, “cure” means that the employer abates each violation alleged by any aggrieved employee, the employer is in compliance with the underlying statutes as specified in the notice required by this part, and any aggrieved employee is made whole. A violation of paragraph (6) or (8) of subdivision (a) of Section 226 shall only be considered cured upon a showing that the employer has provided a fully compliant, itemized wage statement to each aggrieved employee for each pay period for the three-year period prior to the date of the written notice sent pursuant to paragraph (1) of subdivision (c) of Section 2699.3.
(e)(1) For purposes of this part, whenever the Labor and Workforce Development Agency, or any of its departments, divisions, commissions, boards, agencies, or employees, has discretion to assess a civil penalty, a court is authorized to exercise the same discretion, subject to the same limitations and conditions, to assess a civil penalty.
(2) In any action by an aggrieved employee seeking recovery of a civil penalty available under subdivision (a) or (f), a court may award a lesser amount than the maximum civil penalty amount specified by this part if, based on the facts and circumstances of the particular case, to do otherwise would result in an award that is unjust, arbitrary and oppressive, or confiscatory.
(f) For all provisions of this code except those for which a civil penalty is specifically provided, there is established a civil penalty for a violation of these provisions, as follows:
(1) If, at the time of the alleged violation, the person does not employ one or more employees, the civil penalty is five hundred dollars ($500).
(2) If, at the time of the alleged violation, the person employs one or more employees, the civil penalty is one hundred dollars ($100) for each aggrieved employee per pay period for the initial violation and two hundred dollars ($200) for each aggrieved employee per pay period for each subsequent violation.
(3) If the alleged violation is a failure to act by the Labor and Workplace Development Agency, or any of its departments, divisions, commissions, boards, agencies, or employees, there shall be no civil penalty.
(g)(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), an aggrieved employee may recover the civil penalty described in subdivision (f) in a civil action pursuant to the procedures specified in Section 2699.3 filed on behalf of himself or herself and other current or former employees against whom one or more of the alleged violations was committed. Any employee who prevails in any action shall be entitled to an award of reasonable attorney’s fees and costs, including any filing fee paid pursuant to subparagraph (B) of paragraph (1) of subdivision (a) or subparagraph (B) of paragraph (1) of subdivision (c) of Section 2699.3. Nothing in this part shall operate to limit an employee’s right to pursue or recover other remedies available under state or federal law, either separately or concurrently with an action taken under this part.
(2) No action shall be brought under this part for any violation of a posting, notice, agency reporting, or filing requirement of this code, except where the filing or reporting requirement involves mandatory payroll or workplace injury reporting.
(h) No action may be brought under this section by an aggrieved employee if the agency or any of its departments, divisions, commissions, boards, agencies, or employees, on the same facts and theories, cites a person within the timeframes set forth in Section 2699.3 for a violation of the same section or sections of the Labor Code under which the aggrieved employee is attempting to recover a civil penalty on behalf of himself or herself or others or initiates a proceeding pursuant to Section 98.3.
(i) Except as provided in subdivision (j), civil penalties recovered by aggrieved employees shall be distributed as follows: 75 percent to the Labor and Workforce Development Agency for enforcement of labor laws, including the administration of this part, and for education of employers and employees about their rights and responsibilities under this code, to be continuously appropriated to supplement and not supplant the funding to the agency for those purposes; and 25 percent to the aggrieved employees.
(j) Civil penalties recovered under paragraph (1) of subdivision (f) shall be distributed to the Labor and Workforce Development Agency for enforcement of labor laws, including the administration of this part, and for education of employers and employees about their rights and responsibilities under this code, to be continuously appropriated to supplement and not supplant the funding to the agency for those purposes.
(k) Nothing contained in this part is intended to alter or otherwise affect the exclusive remedy provided by the workers’ compensation provisions of this code for liability against an employer for the compensation for any injury to or death of an employee arising out of and in the course of employment.
(l)(1) For cases filed on or after July 1, 2016, the aggrieved employee or representative shall, within 10 days following commencement of a civil action pursuant to this part, provide the Labor and Workforce Development Agency with a file-stamped copy of the complaint that includes the case number assigned by the court.
(2) The superior court shall review and approve any settlement of any civil action filed pursuant to this part. The proposed settlement shall be submitted to the agency at the same time that it is submitted to the court.
(3) A copy of the superior court’s judgment in any civil action filed pursuant to this part and any other order in that action that either provides for or denies an award of civil penalties under this code shall be submitted to the agency within 10 days after entry of the judgment or order.
(4) Items required to be submitted to the Labor and Workforce Development Agency under this subdivision or to the Division of Occupational Safety and Health pursuant to paragraph (4) of subdivision (b) of Section 2699.3, shall be transmitted online through the same system established for the filing of notices and requests under subdivisions (a) and (c) of Section 2699.3.
(m) This section shall not apply to the recovery of administrative and civil penalties in connection with the workers’ compensation law as contained in Division 1 (commencing with Section 50) and Division 4 (commencing with Section 3200), including, but not limited to, Sections 129.5 and 132a.
(n) The agency or any of its departments, divisions, commissions, boards, or agencies may promulgate regulations to implement the provisions of this part.
Employees can bring PAGA claims against their employer for violating California labor laws. Common examples include:
- Paying workers less than minimum wage;
- Not providing workers meal breaks;
- Not compensating employees for overtime; and/or
- Making employees work in a hazardous environment.1
The employer’s first labor violation is punishable by a civil penalty of $100 per employee, per pay period. Any subsequent violations are punishable by $200 per employee, per pay period. Twenty-five percent of these penalties go to the employees bringing the PAGA lawsuit. The remaining seventy-five percent goes to the Labor and Workforce Development Agency. In addition, employees are entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs.2
Note that PAGA lawsuits do not compensate employees for unpaid wages. Only a traditional wage and hour lawsuit can do that. Therefore, employees typically bring both PAGA claims (in pursuit of a quarter of any civil penalties) as well as a wage and hour lawsuit (in pursuit of unpaid back wages). Though in some cases, employees are required to submit to arbitration rather than bring a traditional wage and hour lawsuit.3
- California Labor Code 2699 – Recovery of civil penalty for Labor Code violation through civil action brought by aggrieved employee; Amount of penalty; Attorney’s fees and costs; Limitations; Distribution of penalties recovered; Provision of specified items to agency; Approval of settlement by superior court; Applicability; Regulations. Kaanaana v. Barrett Business Services, Inc. (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 2018), 240 Cal. Rptr. 3d 636, 29 Cal. App. 5th 778. See also California Labor Code 2698.
- California Labor Code 2699. Zakaryan v. The Men’s Wearhouse, Inc. (Cal. App. 2d Dist., 2019), 245 Cal. Rptr. 3d 333, 33 Cal. App. 5th 659.