Currently, aside from private lawsuits, California labor law gives the Labor Commissioner sole authority to file lawsuits to enforce most wage-and-hour laws in the state. However, starting in 2024, Assembly Bill No. 594 (AB 594) will expand this enforcement scope, moving away from the sole purview of the Labor Commissioner's office.
Effective next year, AB 594 will empower "public prosecutors," including the Attorney General, district attorneys, city attorneys, county counsels, and other city or county prosecutors, with the autonomy to independently prosecute civil or criminal actions for violations of specified Labor Code provisions within their geographic jurisdiction.
AB 594 explicitly clarifies that agreements between employees and employers, seeking to limit class actions or mandate private arbitration, hold no sway over actions initiated by a public prosecutor or the Labor Commissioner to enforce the Labor Code.
Furthermore, the bill not only authorizes public prosecutors to address wage-and-hour violations but also grants them the power to tackle misclassification issues, specifically instances where employees are inaccurately classified as independent contractors.
In successful actions, funds recovered are prioritized for payments to affected workers before being directed to the state's General Fund. AB 594 additionally mandates that courts award reasonable attorney's fees and costs, including expert witness fees, to prevailing plaintiffs in specific circumstances, promoting enhanced access to justice and fostering compliance with wage and hour laws.
The authority granted to public prosecutors has limitations, excluding certain actions related to private schools, such as those under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA), matters falling under the Department of Industrial Relations (e.g., workplace safety standards set by Cal/OSHA), or those associated with workers' compensation.
However, AB 594 has faced criticism, particularly from business organizations like the California Chamber of Commerce, who argue that the bill might lead to inconsistent decisions and uneven enforcement across jurisdictions, presenting challenges from paystub information to meal-and-rest breaks. The Chamber also expresses concerns about potential double litigation and recovery, underscoring the need for careful consideration when navigating the bill's provisions.
Given the complexities and potential implications, individuals and businesses impacted by AB 594 are strongly advised to seek competent legal counsel. This will ensure a comprehensive understanding of the legislation's nuances and facilitate compliance with the evolving labor standards in California.