PAGA Claims Now Allowed for Sick Leave Law Violations… But Only in the Fourth Appellate District
Employees now have an added weapon in their arsenal in claiming violations against their employers. Since 2014, the mandatory sick leave law in California was interpreted to allow only the Labor Commissioner or the Attorney General to bring claims against employers for violations. Earlier this year though, the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Wood v. Kaiser Foundation Hospitals found that the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families (HWHF) Act impliedly permits individuals to bring Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) claims against their employers for breaches in the sick leave law.
Labor Code section 2699 establishes the employer-unfriendly notion of the PAGA claim which is aimed at giving an employee the opportunity to effectively “become” an Attorney General to enforce a claim on his own behalf and all other “aggrieved employees.” Civil penalties would then be divided between the government and the employees, with hefty compensation for plaintiff attorneys as well.
Now the Wood court has extended PAGA claims through the HWHF Act. The court arrived at its decision by looking at the HWHF Act’s legislative history. It found that even though the Act on its face appeared to remove an employee’s ability to sue directly, Labor Code section 245 left the door open to where it does “not diminish, alter, or negate any other legal rights, remedies, or procedures available to an aggrieved person,” language consistent with the directives in PAGA.
In reaching his conclusion, Justice Dato stated that “[g]iven the perceived necessity for mandating minimum paid sick leave, coupled with its documented understanding that traditional government institutions would be unable to adequately assure compliance, it seems inconceivable that the Legislature intended to prohibit PAGA actions to enforce the Act.”
Although employers should be aware of this new, potentially broader exposure to PAGA liability, it is important to note that this ruling is limited. Federal district courts need not follow this precedent and published decisions from one California court of appeal district are not binding in other districts or on different panels of justice within the same district or division. Nevertheless, these types of decisions are important reminders for employers to take care that their paid sick leave policies are compliant with all aspects of the HWHF Act such as accrual rates, permissive use and carryover of time, among other provisions.
If you have any questions about California’s mandatory sick leave law and whether your workplace is in compliance with the HWHF Act, please contact Rosasco Law Group for help.