Nearly all California employment wage and hour class action lawsuits assert a cause of action under California Labor Code Section 226 as plaintiffs’ attorneys almost always automatically include such cause of action when there are other alleged underlying wage violations, i.e. failure to pay overtime. By asserting this cause of action in their class action complaint, the plaintiffs are provided with the ability to access written itemized wage statements (more commonly known as pay stubs) of (a) a sample of putative class members regardless of whether or not a class action is certified and (b) the entire class if a class action is ultimately certified. At first glance, disclosing pay stubs does not seem problematic except for the time and expense associated with providing the same to the plaintiffs’ attorneys. However, once the plaintiffs’ attorneys are in possession of the pay stubs, they will analyze them to determine if they are non-compliant on their face, which can create large penalties for an employer.
Employers are required to provide employees with pay stubs, which can be a stand-alone document or a detachable part of a pay check. In California, Labor Code Section 226 governs pay stubs. Under Labor Code Section 226, the following items must appear on every pay stub:
Gross wages earned;
- Total hours worked by each employee (except for salaried employees who are exempt from the state overtime rules);
- The number of piece-rate units earned and any applicable piece rate (if the employee is paid on a piece rate basis);
- All deductions;
- Net wages earned;
- The inclusive dates of the period for which the employee is being paid;
- The employee’s name and only the last four digits of the employee’s social security number or an employee identification number other than a social security number;
- The name and address of the legal entity that is the employer (and if the employer is a farm labor contractor, the name and address of the legal entity that secured the services of the employer); and
- All applicable hourly rates in effect during the pay period and the corresponding number of hours worked at each hourly rate by the employee.
Temporary service employers are also required to provide on pay stubs the rate of pay and the total hours worked by each temporary employee for each temporary services assignment. It should also be noted that in California, the amount of paid sick leave available to an employee is also required to be on the face of the pay stub or provided to the employee in a separate document with the employee’s wages on the designated pay dates.
If any of the items enumerated above are missing, employees may be entitled to penalties. Under Labor Code Section 226, an employee may recover the greater of all actual damages or $50 for each initial violation per employee, and $100 per employee for each subsequent violation, not to exceed an aggregate penalty of $4,000 for a period of one year preceding the filing of a lawsuit. When such penalties are applied to each member of a class, the financial exposure for the employer can be considerable. In addition, employees may recover costs and reasonable attorney’s fees. Moreover, if there is a violation on the face of the pay stub, a plaintiffs’ motion for class certification will more than likely be granted, at least with respect to a Labor Code Section 226 claim.
Although this post relates to California’s itemized wage statement requirement, this issue is not unique to California. In fact, the majority of states have requirements for what must be included on a pay stub as well as applicable penalties for the failure to comply.
 Note that pursuant to Labor Code Section 226.2, additional rules apply to employees paid on a piece rate basis.