California’s “Bounty Hunter” law provides employees with wide latitude to file employment claims. The law, formally known as the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), assesses hefty penalties on employers for wage and hour and other labor code violations. As long as the employee was wronged, or “aggrieved,” they can file suit under section 2699 of the California Labor Code.
Section 2699 at a Glance
Section 2699 provides aggrieved employees with the ability to recover $100 for each pay period for each employee for an initial violation and $200 per employee for each pay period for subsequent violations. Under California Labor Code section 2699, there is no cap on the amount of penalties an employer can be ordered to pay. Because of this, there is huge potential for damages against the employer. And under the bounty hunter law, employees keep 25% of the financial penalties recovered. The rest goes toward public funding for education on employers’ and employees’ rights and responsibilities under the California Labor Code.
Why Section 2699 Scares Employers
Employers have continued nervousness about the bounty hunter law—and for good reason. In 2018, the Labor and Workforce Development Agency received more than 5,700 PAGA claims, which represented a 15% increase over the number of claims filed in 2017. Also, an employee cannot “sign away” the right to file a PAGA claim. If an employment agreement requires the arbitration of employment disputes or expressly states that the employee has waived the right to bring a PAGA action, such provisions are not enforceable under California law.
It’s quite possible that employers could be hit with claims under the bounty hunter law from many different angles. In addition to providing employees with the authority to file PAGA claims for wage and hour violations, they may file these claims for virtually any other alleged employer wrongdoing.
Other Reasons Section 2699 Benefits Employees
The California Labor Code includes many technical requirements that employers must follow—from how they track timekeeping records to the typeface on mandatory workplace postings. Even if an alleged violation seems trivial, employees may rely on the bounty hunter law to seek a remedy.
When an employer’s workplace policies or practices violate a provision in the Labor Code and a PAGA claim is filed, that employer could be in for a high level of scrutiny. When faced with a PAGA lawsuit regarding wage and hour claims, for example, employers can anticipate employee-by-employee comparisons of pay practices to determine whether and how any wage and hour violations may have occurred. Given the exposure to significant financial penalties for such violations, employers may be more likely to settle.