How far back do PAGA claims go?

A PAGA claim is generally one year from the date of the last employment law violation on which the PAGA claim is based.

Author: Brad Nakase, Attorney

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How Far Back Do PAGA Claims Go?

A PAGA claim is generally one year from the date of the last employment law violation on which the PAGA claim is based. For example, Ollie is a business owner of a small retail company in San Diego, California. In 2022, California’s minimum wage was $15 per hour and San Diego’s minimum wage is $16.30 per hour. Ollie was unaware that San Diego’s minimum wage is higher than California’s minim wage. Kristina is an employee was supposed to earn minimum wage. However, when going over old paychecks, Kristina discovers that her employer had been paying her less than minimum wage. She decides to file a PAGA claim against her former employer Ollie, which would subject him to penalties for paying below the state minimum wage. However, Kristina is worried that she has missed the one year statute of limitations for PAGA claims. After all, it has been 11 months since she left her old job. Ollie and Kristina contacts their respect San Diego employment lawyer for a consultation in PAGA claims.

What Is the Statute of Limitations on PAGA Claims?

 The statute of limitations refers to the period of time during which an individual may file a lawsuit related to a particular subject. To file a PAGA claim, an individual in general has one year from the date of the most recent labor violation.

Thanks to the Private Attorney General Act, workers in California may file lawsuits against their employers if the employers violate labor laws. To file a claim against their employer, a worker must follow pre-filing requirements. These steps must be completed prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations. If the statute of limitations expires, then the courts will dismiss the PAGA claim.

What Is a PAGA Claim?

 A PAGA claim is a lawsuit that is filed over labor violations. Aggrieved workers are able to bring a PAGA claim against their employer in the state of California. The claim is filed against employers who violate the state’s labor laws. Workers who file a PAGA claim are looking to bring penalties against the employer, in the manner of a state agency.

The Private Attorney General Act, or PAGA, is a California law. The law allows workers in the state to file a lawsuit on behalf of the Attorney General. The law was enacted in 2004 as a way of better enforcing the state’s labor laws.

PAGA lawsuits are known as qui tam claims. This means that they are not looking for compensation for losses endured by the aggrieved worker. Rather, this kind of claim pursues civil penalties against the employer. The employer would have to pay these penalties for whatever labor violation they committed.

Employees who have experienced a labor violation at the hands of their employer may bring a PAGA claim against that employer. The employee may file the claim even if they signed away their ability to sue in their employment contract. To file a PAGA claim, an employee must first fulfill the notification requirements. The requirements must be met within one year of the alleged labor violation.

What Are PAGA Notification Requirements?

 To begin the filing of a PAGA claim, an aggrieved employee must first file a PAGA notice. A PAGA notice is a complaint that goes to the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency. This notice must be filed online with the agency. It must also be sent via certified mail to the employer in question. The notice must include the following information:

  • A summary of what occurred
  • The provisions of California’s labor laws that were violated
  • A list of aggrieved employees

It is not necessary to complete the factual outline of what occurred or the list of aggrieved employees. It is acceptable to submit these items partially completed.

That said, the PAGA notice needs to be more than a list of violations without any factual support. The PAGA notice that is sent to the employer via certified mail is meant to give the employer notice of the in-progress claim. The PAGA notice that is sent to the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency allows the agency to intervene if they want. The agency may choose to investigate the claim, though it has 65 days to make a decision on this score.

If the agency decides not to intervene in the case, then the aggrieved employee is free to file their own lawsuit against the employer. The lawsuit would then progress as a representative claim, which is similar in form to a class action lawsuit.

At this point in time, the aggrieved employee has 60 days to amend their claim. He or she may add other labor violations if relevant.

How Long Does an Employee Have to File a PAGA Lawsuit?

 An aggrieved employee who has suffered a labor violation has one year to file a PAGA notice. One year is therefore the statute of limitations for PAGA claims. The year-long period beings in the day of the most recent labor violation mentioned in the claim. The one year does not include the 65 days that the agency has to consider pursuing an intervention. The period also does not include the 60 days that aggrieved workers have to alter the complaint.

The PAGA notice is effective as of the day that it is filed online.

For example, if an employee is fired in violation of California labor law on August 1, 2022, then he or she has until September 30, 2023, to file a PAGA notice online. If he or she files on the last day, then the Labor and Workforce Development Agency has a further 65 days to decide whether to intervene. If they do not decide until the 65 days elapses, then the employee may then pursue a representative claim.

What Happens If the Statute of Limitations Has Already Passed?

If an aggrieved employee does not file a PAGA notice within a year of the most recent labor violation, then the lawsuit will be dismissed. As discussed above, the 1-year statute of limitations is paused during the 65 days after the employee notifies the agency. After the statute of limitations expires, the “relation back doctrine” grants employees an additional 60 days to alter their complaint without the PAGA claim being time-barred.

It should be noted that there is a slim exception where employee may be allowed to bring PAGA claims for labor violations that happened over a year prior. This occurs when the worker is still employed and is still under the control of an unlawful employment agreement.

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