AB 594 – Authorizes A Public Prosecutor To Enforce Certain Labor Code Violations Until January 1, 2029, And Provides That Employment Arbitration Agreements Do Not Limit A Public Prosecutor Or Labor Commissioner’s Enforcement Authority

CATEGORY: Client Update for Public Agencies, Fire Watch, Law Enforcement Briefing Room, Nonprofit News, Private Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Nonprofit, Private Education, Public Employers, Public Safety
DATE: Nov 06, 2023

Effective January 1, 2024, Assembly Bill 594 (AB 594) authorizes, until January 1, 2029, a public prosecutor, as defined, to prosecute an action, either civil or criminal, for a violation of specified provisions of the Labor Code or to enforce those provisions independently and without specific direction from the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE).  A “public prosecutor” means the Attorney General, a district attorney, a city attorney, a county counsel, or any other city or county prosecutor.  A public prosecutor is limited to redressing violations occurring within the public prosecutor’s geographic jurisdiction, unless the public prosecutor has statewide authority or certain enforcement authority.  As relevant to private schools, the authority granted to public prosecutors does not extend to certain actions, such as those under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA), those falling under the Department of Industrial Relations (e.g., workplace safety standards set by Cal/OSHA), or those relating to workers’ compensation.

Any moneys recovered by public prosecutors will be applied first to payments, such as wages, damages, and other penalties, due to the affected workers, while civil penalties recovered by a public prosecutor will generally be paid to the California General Fund.   A public prosecutor may also seek injunctive relief to prevent continued violations.  A court may award a prevailing public prosecutor its reasonable attorney’s fees and costs, including expert witness fees and costs to the extent the Labor Commissioner would be entitled to such fees and costs.  Generally, the Labor Commissioner has the right to intervene in any court proceeding brought by a public prosecutor under this law.

Importantly, AB 594 provides that any individual agreement between a worker and employer that purports to limit representative actions or to mandate private arbitration (e.g., employment arbitration agreement) have no effect on the authority of the public prosecutor or the Labor Commissioner to enforce the Labor Code.  Further, any appeal of a denial of a motion to compel arbitration or other court filing to impose an arbitration agreement does not stay enforcement actions by the public prosecutor or the Labor Commissioner.

AB 594 also amends existing law to authorize a public prosecutor or the Labor Commissioner to enforce the law prohibiting willful misclassification of an employee as an independent contractor, through specified methods, including by issuing a citation or filing a civil action.  If a public prosecutor or the Labor Commissioner recovers damages payable to an affected employee, the employee may either recover these damages or enforce the penalties under PAGA, but not both for the same violation.

(AB 594 amends Sections 218 and 226.8 of, adds Chapter 8 (commencing with Section 180) to Division 1 of, and repeals Section 181 of, the Labor Code.)

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