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California Paid Sick Leave Claims May Be Enforced Under PAGA
Wednesday, July 19, 2023

On Feb. 24, 2023, in Wood v. Kaiser Found. Hosps.the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth District held that claims for paid sick leave in California may be brought under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA). Paid sick leave is available to California workers under the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014. PAGA permits an aggrieved employee to recover civil penalties for Labor Code violations that otherwise would be sought by state labor law enforcement agencies.

Employers should be aware of the Wood decision in assessing compliance with and the scope and impact of potential enforcement actions related to California’s paid sick leave requirements. This blog post summarizes:

  • The Wood court’s holding that California paid sick leave law violations may be enforced under PAGA.

  • Cases that have cited the Wood decision in the months following its publication.

The Wood Court’s Holding

In Wood, the court addressed the relief available to private plaintiffs for California paid sick leave law violations. The Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act states that enforcement of paid sick leave requirements by “any person or entity” is limited “only to equitable, injunctive, or restitutionary relief.” Cal. Lab. Code § 248.5(e) (emphasis added). Courts had previously concluded that because of this limitation, claims for paid sick leave violations in California could not be enforced through PAGA because it provides for civil penalties.

The Wood court noted that while California appellate courts are not bound by existing federal court decisions, they look to analytically sound reasoning in federal opinions as persuasive. The court went on to explain that the existing cases considering whether claims for paid sick leave violations in California may be enforced under PAGA had not analyzed the language in the PAGA statute. Nor had the existing cases reviewed and discussed the legislative history of the intended enforcement scheme of the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act, which was enacted after PAGA.

The Wood court declined to follow existing caselaw for the above reasons. Instead, it read the equitable, injunctive, or restitutionary relief limitation in the California paid sick leave law to apply specifically to claims brought under California’s Unfair Competition Law, and to not preclude claims for civil penalties brought under PAGA.

Cases Citing the Wood Decision

To date, two cases, both in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, have discussed the Wood ruling. Neither case relies on nor challenges the holding that claims for paid sick leave violations in California may be enforced under PAGA. Rather, both cases rely on Wood to support the previously established proposition that plaintiffs have a private right of action to pursue equitable, injunctive, or restitutionary relief under the Unfair Competition Law for California paid sick leave law violations.

In Lingle v. Centimark Corp. (Apr. 17, 2023), Wood is cited in support of the statement that private plaintiffs may seek equitable remedies for paid sick leave law violations in California under the Unfair Competition Law. Similarly, Benyamin v. Topgolf Payroll Servs. (June 16, 2023) relies on Wood in support of the statement that there is a private right of action under the Unfair Competition Law to seek restitution for paid sick leave law violations in California.

As noted previously and given recent case activity, employers should be aware of the Wood decision in assessing compliance with and the scope and impact of potential enforcement actions related to California’s paid sick leave requirements. Further litigation on this issue may be forthcoming.

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