Every employee deserves to be paid a fair rate for the work that they perform. This applies to all contracted projects across California, including ones that are funded by the public. In California, employers who are in charge of handling public works projects must adhere to the state’s prevailing wage law. This law requires that employers pay their workers the prevailing wage for the specific job that they perform.

If your employer refuses to pay you the prevailing wage for your craft, or you just recently found out that you were underpaid, you have the right to file an unpaid wage claim. An attorney can help you learn more about prevailing wages and whether you qualify for legal compensation.

When You Are Due Overtime

Because wage and tax laws operate a bit differently for contractors, California created additional legislation to ensure that independent contractors and workers receive proper payment for all their projects. California’s prevailing wage law states that all individuals who are hired to work on a public works proposal must be paid the prevailing wage for their craft. This law applies to any public work project that costs at least $1,000 to construct. Prevailing wages are created by the Department of Industrial Relations, which implements an hourly rate that all publicly-funded projects and their employers must comply with. In California, prevailing wages are based on:

  • The type of job/craft being performed
  • The average hourly rate for that job in the state
  • The location of the public project

Can You File a Claim Against Your Employer for Not Paying Prevailing Wages?

California takes drastic measures to ensure that employees receive the rights that they deserve while going to work. According to state employment law and the prevailing wage law, an employee can file a claim against their employer if they were not paid the prevailing wage for their job. If you were not given prevailing wages while working on a publicly-funded project, this is considered an act of wage theft in California. Wage theft violates an employee’s federal and state rights, allowing them to hold their employer accountable in a court of law. If you know that your employer did not pay you or others the prevailing wages for your duties, discuss your case with our team to see if you may be eligible to file an unpaid wage claim.

What Is the Difference Between the Prevailing Wage and Minimum Wage in California?

Many people confuse the phrase “prevailing wage” as another term for minimum wage. However, the state’s minimum wage and prevailing wage are two distinct concepts that discuss the payment of different employees. The minimum wage is the lowest hourly amount an employer is allowed to pay their nonexempt employee. Multiple state and federal laws discuss minimum wage and how it should be assigned. Generally, the federal minimum wage is much lower than any of the states’. For example, California has one of the highest minimum wages in the country, landing at $15.50 an hour. The federal minimum wage is only $7.25 per hour.

While minimum wages dictate the lowest amount that you can pay a nonexempt worker, prevailing wages are most often used to dictate the amount contracted workers should be paid hourly. The hourly wages vary depending on the job, but they are all determined by the Director of California’s Department of Industrial Relations. Workers who commonly receive prevailing wages include construction workers, ironworkers, electricians, and more.


Q: Who Can Receive Prevailing Wage Rates in California?

A: According to California’s prevailing wage law, any employee who is hired to work on a publicly funded project or duty must receive prevailing wages. For example, when a new government building is being built, plumbers, construction workers, electricians, pavers, and any other employees who helped would all be paid the prevailing wage for their specific craft.

Q: Do I Need an Attorney to File a Wage Claim Against My Employer?

A: While it is not legally required, it is highly recommended that workers seek the help of employment lawyers when attempting to file claims against those who have underpaid them. Employment attorneys, like the ones at our firm, hold vast knowledge of state and federal employment laws. This allows them to help you build a case that clearly represents how your rights were violated and demonstrates why you should be compensated. Our employment lawyers can protect you in court and negotiate for the compensation you’re rightfully owed.

Q: What Is a Wage Claim, and How Does It Work in California?

A: In California, an employer can violate the rights of their employees in several ways. Because of this, there are multiple kinds of claims that an employee can file to hold their employer accountable. For example, if an employee is being harassed or assaulted at work, they may file a harassment or discrimination claim. In cases where employees were not paid the proper wages, they will most likely file a wage claim. A wage claim holds an employer liable when they underpaid or took advantage of their employee. A San Diego, CA, Prevailing Wage Lawyer can help you file a claim today.

Q: How Do You Know the Prevailing Wage for Your Job in California?

A: The prevailing wage for each job is subject to change as the Director of the Department of Industrial Relations sees fit. That’s why these wages often have “expiration dates.” These expiration dates simply mean that the current rate can be changed as circumstances change. To find out the current prevailing wage for your craft, visit the state government’s website or talk to one of our San Diego employment lawyers.

We Defend Those Who Were Underpaid for a Public Works Project in San Diego

Just because a project is publicly-funded does not mean that workers should be paid less. According to California’s prevailing wage law, no employee can be paid less than the prevailing wage while working on a public works project anywhere in the state. To understand your options in an unpaid wages case, it’s smart to consult our team to learn more about your rights. To file a wage claim against your employer, and fight for the compensation that you are owed, contact Ferraro Vega San Diego Employment Lawyers to get started with your case today.

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About The Author

Nicholas J. Ferraro

Nicholas J. Ferraro is a skilled labor and employment lawyer and the founder of Ferraro Vega Employment Lawyers, Inc. Based in San Diego, he focuses on representing employees in class action and collective litigation cases. Education: Mr. Ferraro attended the University of San Diego School of Law, where he was a member of the San Diego Law Review. Experience: Over a decade of legal practice, representing more than 100,000 employees. Court Admissions: Mr. Ferraro represents his clients throughout the State of California and the State of Washington. He is a member of the State Bar of California. Community Involvement: Active member of the California Employment Lawyers Association and the San Diego County Bar Association.