Recent Amendments to PAGA’s Cure Provisions Should Have Limited Impact

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Many employers and defense attorneys are heralding recent amendments to Labor Code §§ 2699, 2699.3, and 2699.5 (collectively referred to as the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004, or “PAGA”)—precipitated by Assembly Bill (“AB”) 1506, Chapter 445 (available here)—as a key shift in wage statement litigation in California. However, their sentiments are premature and overstate the effect of this amendment, which will likely be minimal.

California Labor Code section 226(a) provides that employees’ wage statements must include nine specific pieces of information that allow employees to determine if they are being paid correctly. “The purpose of the wage statement requirement is to provide transparency as to the calculation of wages. A complying wage statement accurately reports . . . the information necessary for an employee to verify if he or she is being properly paid in accordance with the law.” Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”) Opn. Letter No. 2006.07.06 (July 6, 2006). The nine items include “the inclusive dates of the period for which the employee is paid,” (Labor Code § 226(a)(6)), and “the name and address of the legal entity that is the employer . . .” (Labor Code § 226(a)(8)). Labor Code section 226(e) allows employees to obtain damages for failing to correctly state the required items on wage statements. Specifically, an employee can collect the greater of (1) all actual damages or (2) $50 for the initial pay period in which the violation occurred and $100 for each subsequent violation for an aggregate penalty not to exceed $4,000. These remedies remain unchanged by the amendment.

Employees may also recover civil penalties on behalf of the state of California for these violations under PAGA. Under PAGA, employers are given 33 days to cure certain violations of the Labor Code before a civil action may be commenced. Previously, employers did not have the right to cure wage statement violations. AB 1506 will amend PAGA’s cure provision to allow employers to cure certain types of wage statement violations. However, the expanded cure provisions will not apply to all wage statement violations, but only those based on either missing or inaccurate inclusive dates of the pay period or the name and address of the employer. Although theoretically available, it may well prove extremely difficult for an employer to utilize the cure provision in practice. This is especially so because these two violations “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.” In other words, the employer must provide proof that, within 33 days, it located and provided fully compliant wage statements to all employees who had received violative wage statements over the prior three years.

The amendment also likely has no retroactive effect, and therefore will not help any employer currently involved with PAGA litigation based on wage statement violations. Neither the amendment nor the legislative history provides for retroactive application, strongly supporting the notion that the amendments do not have any retroactive application. See Myers v. Philip Morris Companies, Inc., 28 Cal. 4th 828, 841 (2002) (quoting INS v. St. Cyr, 533 U.S. 289, 320-321, n.45 (2001)) (“[A] statute that is ambiguous with respect to retroactive application is construed . . . to be unambiguously prospective.”).

In short, the fact that the “cure” provision would be extremely difficult to perform in the limited time provided, and the fact that AB 1506 has no retroactive effect, means that the recent PAGA amendment should not affect the status quo regarding PAGA litigation.

Authored by:
Arnab Banerjee, Associate