California Prevailing Wage Laws For Employees
Many people in California are employed in a public works industry, such as construction. Others may provide services to government entities, such as security or fire guards. If the project or building is funded in whole or in part by the government, you may be entitled to prevailing wages. This is the minimum wage that a contractor or subcontractor must pay an employee. This rate is a predetermined, fixed hourly rate. It is assigned to certain eligible occupations that are carried out by certain workers. It is called the “prevailing wage” because it is a set amount that is comparable to the existing wages for similar work in other industries. The rate is set to entice employers and employees to accept this line of work.
Employers who fail to pay their eligible employees the required prevailing rate may face penalties and labor-related claims. If you are employed to work on a government-funded project or service, and your employer did not pay you the full prevailing wage, you should contact Ferraro Vega San Diego Employment Lawyers. Our knowledgeable and experienced team has filed and litigated many claims successfully on behalf of our clients. We fight for their rights and seek to recover the compensation that they deserve.
Table of Contents
Public Works Projects
“Prevailing wages” is a concept that applies to a wide range of public works jobs. To qualify for prevailing wages, the project or service must be wholly or partly funded by the government. Examples of public works projects include:
- Public housing, including HUD housing
- Recreational facilities
- Healthcare facilities, including some hospitals
- Government buildings, such as courthouses and jails
- Public education facilities, such as schools, colleges, and universities
- Projects on bridges and roads
- Power facilities
The type of work done in these projects helps to determine whether you qualify for prevailing wages. Generally speaking, jobs that qualify provide:
- Repair work
However, employees who work directly for a public utility company may not be eligible.
Employees who work on these types of projects are eligible for prevailing wages based on where they work and the type of work they do. The more common types of workers that qualify include, among others:
- Asbestos workers
In some situations, apprentices may be employed. However, they have a separate scale for prevailing wages. Contractors and subcontractors who employ them must also employ journeymen who are in the same craft or trade as the apprentices.
California Law vs. Federal Law
California Labor Code 1774 states that all workers who are employed to work on public works projects are eligible for prevailing wages if that project is valued at over $1000. This code applies whether your role is listed or not. The rate that contractors and subcontractors must pay their eligible employees is set by the California Department of Industrial Relations. Employees that qualify must not be paid less than the amount dictated.
If the project or service is for the federal government, prevailing wages must still be paid. However, the Davis-Bacon Act increases the value of the qualifying project from $1000 to $2000. These funds must also be from the federal government and not the local or state municipality.
Prevailing Wages and Overtime
Even when workers qualify for prevailing wages, they may still earn overtime pay for any work completed outside of an 8-hour day or a 40-hour work week. Overtime is stipulated in California Labor Code 510. This rule also applies to employees earning prevailing wages. Much like in the private sector, employees are entitled to earn 1.5 times their rate of pay. This is for each hour over the standard 8 hours worked on a given day. If they work more than 12 hours in a single day, or work over 8 hours on the seventh day, they are eligible to receive double their standard rate of pay.
Prevailing Wages and Travel
For some employees, part of their job may be to pick up materials for use on a public works job site. To do this, they are required to travel between a designated location and their current project site. They may be eligible for travel payments along with their prevailing wage payment. As an example, an employee is to begin work at the job site at 8 a.m. However, they must first go to their company’s facilities to pick up materials at 7 a.m. The hour spent loading the materials and traveling to the job site to begin by 8 a.m. is compensable.
In addition, if an employee works at multiple public works job sites on the same day, they would be eligible for travel pay. This could happen if you are a heavy machine operator who is required to operate a crane at one location in the morning and another location in the afternoon. The travel time between locations would be paid.
While many government-related jobs have a set travel rate, that rate is not what is used in these situations. When an employee is paid the prevailing wage, their travel time is paid at the same rate as their job requires. If an employer attempts to pay a per diem rate, they would be in violation of prevailing wage laws.
Employees who travel straight from home to a job site do not qualify for travel pay.
Prevailing Wage Rate Determination
The director of the Department of Industrial Relations determines eligibility for prevailing wage rates. These rates are set through collective bargaining agreements. They are predetermined for federal public works within the locality and nearest labor market. The law for this is laid out in California Labor Code 1773.
The director uses information from local labor organizations, employers, and employer associations to help determine the correct prevailing wage. Collective bargaining and worker associations are also involved in the process. However, employees are not required to be members of a union to qualify for prevailing wages.
Employers that are involved in public works projects must document almost everything related to their employees. Included in these records are the classifications for their employees. These classifications are outlined by the prevailing wage determinations. This information dictates the rate that employees are to be paid. The employer must submit a certified payroll record to the Labor Commissioner. Because the money used for public works projects is partially or wholly funded by the government, the spending must be accounted for. This includes employee labor.
Certified payrolls contain information on the exact labor hours worked for a project or service. They are to be submitted weekly and require a legally valid signature. The submissions must come from all employers whose workers are employed on the site. This includes:
- The lead contractor
- All subcontractors
All information on the payroll submission must be correct and accurate. If it is not, the signator could be charged with perjury for providing false information.
Prevailing Wage Violations
Employers who are required to pay their employees the prevailing wage may fail to do so, either intentionally or unintentionally. It is important to understand the ways that employers may fail to pay prevailing wages. This can give you the information you need to bring the violations to your employer’s attention. They may fix the issue if the lack of payment was an unintentional oversight. If they do not address the problem, it could provide the necessary grounds to file a claim against your employer. Common violations include:
- Misclassifying types of employees or the job they are performing, resulting in an ineligible classification.
- Simply failing to pay the wages owed in the full amount. This includes any fringe benefits or overtime that is owed.
- Improper record keeping, resulting in the miscalculation of hours worked.
- Miscalculating the number of hours an employee works in various classifications. These can change depending on the type of work being performed.
- Failure to submit appropriate payroll records.
Penalties for Violations
If an employer is found in violation of prevailing wages, they could face a number of penalties. These include:
- Compensation for owed wages plus interest
- Payment to workers for any liquidated damages
- A monetary fee imposed for each employee payment violation
- Reimbursement to the Department of Industrial Relations for any investigation time and resources spent
- Potential criminal charges if the violations are deemed willful
- Disqualification from future public works projects for a specified time period (often years)
The consequences that an employer faces are based on the circumstances of their specific infractions. The number of infractions, the number of impacted employees, or other misappropriations will determine the specific penalties to be assessed. California Labor Code 1775 explicitly states that employers face fines of up to $200 per employee, per day. This is for any unpaid or incorrect payments of prevailing wages.
Filing a Prevailing Wages Claim
If you feel that your employer has violated your prevailing wage compensation rights, you may file a public works complaint or a wage claim. Working with your attorney can help determine which process is correct for your case. Your complaint can be filed with the Division of Labor Safety Standards, which will then review your case. You should submit evidentiary documents as well. This could include falsified timecards, improper payroll certifications, or proof that your labor code was misclassified.
Once your complaint is submitted, there will be an investigation, and a determination will be made. Your employer will be obligated to follow that determination. Any further legal action, such as criminal charges, may also be filed.
When gathering evidence, know that all certified payroll records are accessible by any entity. When requested, a contractor or subcontractor must respond within 10 days. Otherwise, they risk losing their ability to take on public works projects.
FAQs About California Prevailing Wage Laws
Most employees who work on projects and services funded by the government are eligible to receive prevailing wages. However, there are exceptions. Employees such as architects, clerical staff, and security guards are not eligible to receive prevailing wages. Additionally, employees of suppliers who provide materials for the project are not eligible unless the materials are made on-site.
California is quite strict on prevailing wages. The state believes in ensuring public funding is appropriately spent and that those who benefit from it do so fairly. Because of this, the law dictates that the wage be set at the prevailing rate for similar work in the locality where the public work is performed. It must also not be less than the general prevailing rate.
The prevailing wage rate is not consistent statewide. Rather, it is determined by the rates for similar work in local municipalities. It is also influenced by the type of labor you provide. The State of California Department of Industrial Relations provides information by county and by trade for the prevailing wage rate.
The law sets wage requirements for services or projects that are partially or wholly funded by the California state government. These rates apply to any employees of a company that is contracted for a minimum of $1000. These employees must be paid the prevailing wage set forth in their collective bargaining agreement. This payment must be equal to the wages in the location of the service or project and for the type of work being performed.
Contact San Diego Prevailing Wage Lawyers Today
If you feel that you have been denied the prevailing wage you are owed for your work on a public works project, you should reach out to an experienced and knowledgeable San Diego prevailing wage attorney who can help. At Ferraro Vega San Diego Employment Lawyers, our team of attorneys can look at the circumstances of your case. We can help you understand your options. Our focus on employment law means that we understand each of the labor codes that impact your source of income. Contact our offices today and let our attorneys help you recover the compensation you may be entitled to.