Prevailing wages do not apply to every job. Instead, they only apply to projects funded by the public and sponsored by the government. To better define prevailing wages and when they should be used, California created what is referred to as the prevailing wage law. This law details what prevailing wages are, when they should be implemented, and how they should be decided.

If you are worried that you are not receiving the prevailing wage for your job, it is then important to learn more about when California workers are entitled to prevailing wages and if you can receive them.

Understanding California’s Prevailing Wage Law

California’s prevailing wage law was implemented in the early 1930s. While it has been modified multiple times since its original creation, the basic rules of the initial law are still in place. Those rules state that all trade workers who are hired for a public works project must be paid fairly and according to the assigned prevailing wages for their duties.

The prevailing wage for every trade job is defined by California’s Director of the Department of Industrial Relations. It is the director’s job to assess a range of factors to form a fair hourly wage. The Department of Industrial Relations implements an “expiration date” for each prevailing wage, which simply means that the wage may change after the date passes. The elements that have the greatest effect on your prevailing wage include the type of job that you are performing and the county where you were hired to work in. The length of time for which you are hired may also cause your prevailing wage to change.

Who Is Eligible to Receive Prevailing Wages?

According to state law, all employees who are hired to perform a task on a public works project qualify to be paid their job’s prevailing wage. A public works project generally refers to the construction or maintenance of a publicly-funded undertaking that the government manages. It can also include any duties that involve creating, demolishing, and maintaining infrastructure. Common public works projects include local road construction and maintenance, constructing government buildings, and maintaining electrical wires and phone lines. If you or a loved one has been contracted to assist with a public works plan, ensure that you are being paid the wages that you deserve. Employees who are often hired for public works and paid prevailing wages include but are not limited to:

  • General construction workers
  • Boilermakers
  • Blacksmiths
  • Carpenters
  • Carpet layers
  • Electricians
  • Painters
  • Plumbers
  • Roofers

What If You Can’t Find a Determination for Your Job’s Prevailing Wage?

Sometimes, a worker may be asked to join a public works project, but when they go to see their prevailing wages in the state’s directory, they do not exist. When this happens, that employee cannot begin work until a determination for their prevailing wage has been made. If you cannot find your specific job type or craft listed within the Department of Industrial Relations directory, you or your employer will have to request a “special prevailing wage determination.” This request must be sent in at least 45 days before the Bid Advertisement Date to give the state enough time to make a determination before work begins. The Bid Advertisement Date is simply the date when a public notice of the project is put out and advertised for people to bid on.


Q: Does Every Employee Who Receives Prevailing Wages Also Receive Fringe Benefits?

A: The state’s prevailing wage law also includes instructions on how employers must allocate fringe benefits to their employees. In most cases, you should receive some form of fringe benefits in your public works contract, if not multiple. Because prevailing wages use a basic hourly wage, fringe benefits can be added to that hourly wage and ultimately increase it. For example, your prevailing wage hourly may be $21, but with the addition of fringe benefits, you may see an increase of $10 or more an hour.

Q: What Can a Prevailing Wage Lawyer Do?

A: Prevailing wage lawyers have experience, insight, and a comprehensive understanding of California laws. This helps us understand your case and determine what legal steps you need to take. Prevailing wage attorneys can help you find out if you’re eligible for prevailing wages and what your specific prevailing wages are. They can even assist in filing a wage claim against an employer who underpaid you. If you have concerns with your prevailing wage, talk to a Prevailing Wage Lawyer in San Diego, CA.

Q: Are There Exemptions for Prevailing Wages in California?

A: There are a few kinds of workers that may be hired to assist with a public works project and be exempt from prevailing wages. These individuals can include members of nonprofits and certain professional or support employees. For example, architects, volunteer artists, and security guards are all exempt from being paid prevailing wages. If that employee would like to receive fair payment, it’s crucial that they form a contract and agree on wages with the employer beforehand.

Q: How Do You Hold Your Employer Accountable When They’re Not Paying Prevailing Wages?

A: It is against the law to underpay an employee who is involved with a public works project. If your employer is ignoring the state’s prevailing wage guidelines, you should find a prevailing wage attorney in San Diego, CA, immediately. After discussing your situation with a lawyer, if they believe that you have a case, you can work together to file a wage claim against the employer who underpaid you. If you win your claim, the state will return all the wages you lost.

Ferraro Vega San Diego Employment Lawyers: Assistance for Prevailing Wage Employees

Understanding prevailing wage laws and your rights in a public works project can be complicated. However, the assistance of our employment lawyers can help bring you some clarity. At Ferraro Vega San Diego Employment Lawyers, our firm’s priority is protecting the rights of California workers. If you are asked to work on a public works project, it’s important that you know your job’s prevailing wage to ensure that all contracts that you’re presented with are fair. To see if you are eligible for prevailing wages, or for assistance with employment claims, contact our staff at Ferraro Vega San Diego Employment Lawyers.

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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.