How do California class action employment lawsuits work?
When a California employee finds out that they were wronged by their employer, chances are they are not alone. An employment class action lawsuit is a good way for a small number of employees, or even just one person, to get justice for every employee who was harmed.
In a class action one or more employees (the “class representatives”) bring a lawsuit on behalf of all employees who were harmed by their employer in the same way. For example, an employer may refuse to allow its workers to take meal and rest breaks; or not pay overtime; or allow racial discrimination against a large group. In a class action, a small number of representative employees advance claims for all the injured employees. In return, the representatives usually get some extra compensation for their service.
Class action lawsuits offer many benefits, including:
- Allowing recovery for employees with smaller dollar-amount claims;
- Allowing just one or more current or former employees to represent all the affected employees;
- More efficient litigation; and
- Increased bargaining power.
Sometimes workers do not want to sue their current employer for fear of retaliation. However, if no one is willing to step up, then the employer will keep getting away with its illegal practices. In a class action all the employees can band together – or they can find just one or two employees to take the lead. It can even be someone who is no longer with the company, as long as they suffered the same mistreatment within a recent enough period under the law—for example, usually up to four years for wage or meal and rest break violations.
Class action lawsuits are often very high-stakes, and employers take them very seriously. As a result, these cases can be exceptionally complex and should be handled by an experienced California employment attorney.
However, not all employment cases can be brought as a class action. A class must first be certified by the court before a class action lawsuit can be filed. A court will certify a class of plaintiffs if they can meet certain criteria, including:
- All the employees in the class must have suffered a similar harm;
- There must be enough employees to make hearing each case individually impractical (usually a few dozen at least); and
- The class representatives must represent the interests of all other employees—meaning they will be willing to spend time on the case; can speak to what the employer did that was wrong; do not have serious conflicts with other class members; or felony fraud convictions.
Through an employment class action, you can obtain more substantial compensation, such as:
- Unpaid wages and overtime, or commissions
- Extra penalties for not paying workers all due wages and overtime
- Penalties for failure to provide meal or rest breaks
- Penalties for misclassifying employees as independent contractors
- Extra penalties for not paying all wages due by the time of termination
- Penalties for providing inaccurate wage statements, or no statements at all
- Emotional distress and punitive damages for discrimination, harassment or wrongful termination