Mexican-American farm workers are hoeing between rows of potatoes on this large Central California farm.
(Photo: Shutterstock)

By Valley Ag Voice Staff 

A new agreement was reached to reform the Private Attorneys General Act after several months of discussion involving Governor Newsom’s administration, legislative leaders, labor advocates, and a coalition of businesses. 

The agreement, which aims to balance workers’ rights and reduce exploitative lawsuits, will be introduced in legislation and considered by the legislature. If passed, the reform would allow workers to bring forth labor claims and receive fair compensation as well as limit lawsuits that hurt employers and employees. 

“This package provides meaningful reforms that ensure workers continue to have a strong vehicle to get labor claims resolved, while also limiting the frivolous litigation that has cost employers billions without benefiting workers,” Jennifer Barrera, President & CEO of California Chamber of Commerce said in a press release. 

Key aspects of the reform include increasing the share of penalties employees receive from 25% to 35% — plaintiffs would also be required to have personally experienced the alleged violations within the past year.  

For employees who take steps to comply with the labor code before receiving notice, the maximum penalty that can be awarded is 15%. Employers that seek to fix policies and practices after receiving a PAGA notice will have a penalty cap of 30%. Minor violations and wage statement errors that do not result in harm will also have reduced penalties.  

The right to cure — wherein one party in a contract who defaulted under a contract provision is allowed to take steps to ensure compliance or cure the default — will also be expanded in the PAGA reform. Small employers will receive increased protection through a robust process with the state labor department, and larger employers will receive early resolution opportunities in court.  

The California Department of Industrial Relations will also expedite hiring to improve enforcement of labor claims. The reform will allow courts to limit the scope of claims and evidence at trial and introduce injunctive relief. 

The reform was proposed as a result of a current ballot measure, the California Employee Civil Action Law Initiative, which would repeal PAGA and replace it with a new law — the “Fair Pay and Employer Accountability Act.” The law would double statutory and civil penalties for violators and require that 100% of monetary penalties — rather than 25% — be awarded to harmed employees. 

If the legislation reflecting the reform agreement is passed and signed into law by Governor Newsom, proponents of the PAGA ballot initiative agreed to withdraw their measure. The deadline for initiatives to be withdrawn from the ballot is June 27, 2024. 

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