In California employment lawsuits, what “group” actions are available?

Class actionsand representative actions recently have been lethal plaintiffs’ counsels’ weapons in California, especially in wage and hour actions.

The “class action” is an interesting creature found in both state and federal law that gives short shrift to the classic legal idea that everyone should have his or her own “day in court.” Rather than make each individual alleged victim prove their own case, a “representative” plaintiff can prove their own case on behalf of themselves and many others at the same time.

In employment lawsuits this means an employer can be held liable to an entire “class” of employees, perhaps 10’s, 100’s or 1000’s, in a single lawsuit. This of course is over simplifying the matter, but you get the point

Under federal law, class actions are available in employment and labor lawsuits in every state. In sunny California, its citizens can take advantage of California class actions which resemble federal class actions. However, California employee attorneys have the additional weapon of an “unfair competition” representative action (“UCL” actions).

Recently enacted California law for all intents and purposes closes the gap between “class actions” and UCL actions. UCL employee must now follow class action “certification” procedures.

Statute of limitations: One key difference in UCL actions is the statute of limitations period. The “statute of limitations” period is legal jargon for how back the employer must pay money on the claim to the employee. For UCL actions the statute of limitations is four years. Most statute of limitations in employment claims are one to three years. The UCL statute of limitations as a practical matter increases the statute of limitations in the appropriate circumstance to four years.

Common class actions:Other common class actions in the employment and labor arena include: discrimination class actions (all women are denied a benefit provided to men), wage and hour class actions (a class of “exempt” employees is misclassified, overtime is incorrectly calculated, or rest and meal periods.