Prevailing Wage FAQ

Prevailing Wage

Can a worker recover attorney fees and costs in addition to unpaid wages?

Yes. In California, statutes allow a worker to seek to recover monies in addition to wages owed including and in certain situations penalties, interest, attorney fees and costs.

How long do I have to bring a claim for non-payment of prevailing wages?

The time to bring a claim is governed by statutes of limitations. In California, there are various statutes of limitations that may be applicable in a prevailing wage claim. Some time limits may be short, so it is important that you consult an attorney as soon as possible if you have a potential claim. Failure to bring a claim may result in the reduction or complete denial of your claim, so it is important that you see an attorney immediately if you have a claim.

I am working on a public works project and being paid in cash “under the table.” My boss says if I want to be paid the legal rate I have to give back part of my wages. What can I do?

That sounds like your employer may be violating the Labor Code by failing to pay the required wage. By consulting a lawyer, you can get a better idea of what to do at this point. There may be important time limitations to bringing a claim for your back wages. If your complaint goes unanswered, you and your attorney may be able to file a lawsuit against your employer for this wrongdoing.

Is Saturday work straight time or overtime?

On a public work, Saturday work is overtime and must be paid at one-and-a-half times the straight time basic rate. The prevailing wage rates published include a rate for Saturday. Even if the worker did not work forty hours Monday through Friday, the Saturday work must be paid at the prevailing wage overtime rate. Sunday and Holiday rates are higher. To review the specific rates for your specific classification click here and then navigate to your region and classification.

What are prevailing wages?

In California, contractors who bid on ‘public works’ are required to pay wages at rates set by the state of California. The wage rates are specified by the type of work (for example Carpenter, Electrician, etc). Under the law, all bidders are expected to use the same wage rates. California law requires that not less than the general prevailing rate of per diem wages be paid to all workers employed in execution of a public works project. A contractor who does not pay the minimum required prevailing wage rates may be liable to workers on the project.

What are record keeping requirements for public works?

Contractors who work on a public work must maintain payroll records of all workers on the project. The contractor must maintain and record all hours worked, the hourly rate of pay, the amounts paid and the work classification (for example, operating engineer) for each hour worked. The contractor is required to maintain and to certify the payroll records which may be obtained by the worker or other interested parties. Workers are not required to keep record of all hours worked and all work performed however, workers on public works are advised to do so.

What hours are permitted to be worked on a public work?

Under the law, work on public works is limited to eight hours per day. If workers work more than eight hours per day or on Saturday, Sunday, or Holidays they must be paid at higher overtime prevailing wage rates.

What if a worker can not afford an attorney?

We may represent a worker on a contingency fee basis which would mean the worker is not required to pay attorneys fees. In that situation, the attorneys’ fees will be obtained from the recovery.

What if a worker has not kept records?

Workers are not required to maintain records of the hours worked. Even if a worker does not have records of his hours a worker may still bring a claim for non-payment of prevailing wages. In situations where a worker can show that he was not paid the correct rate the burden is on the employer to produce records proving the time worked and wages paid. If the employer can meet its burden, the worker may recover wages even if they are only “estimated.”

What if the contractor is unable pay the wages owed?

On most public works projects, the contractor is required to provide a labor and material payment bond issued by a surety company to guarantee the wages of all workmen on the project. A payment bond is guaranteed by a surety company and must provide that if the contractor fails to pay for the work performed, the worker may submit a claim and if necessary bring an action against the payment bond company.

What is a ‘Public Work’?

Generally, a ‘public work’ is work that is paid in whole or in part with public funds. ‘Public works’ includes construction, alteration, demolition or repair work done under contract and paid for in whole or in part out of public funds. This would include projects such as roads, bridges, schools, prisons, fire stations, City and County buildings, and similar types of construction. Under the law, the project does not need to be funded entirely by public funds. Even a small amount of public funds may trigger compliance with prevailing wage laws. Many projects, including low income housing or redevelopment projects, may be public works.

What is included in the prevailing wage rate?

The prevailing wage rate includes the basic straight time hourly rate and employer payments for fringe benefits including health and welfare, retirement, vacation pay and training. The DIR also sets rates for overtime and holiday in addition to straight time.

What is misclassification?

Misclassification occurs when a contractor pays a worker a rate that is not the correct rate for the work performed. For example, if an electrical contractor pays its Electricians the rate of pay of a lower paid Laborer and classifies the workers as laborers, but the work is electrician work, the workers have been misclassified. The contractor has failed to pay the correct prevailing wage rate for the work performed.

Who determines the general prevailing wage rate?

The general prevailing rate of per diem wages is determined by the Director of the Department of Industrial Relations (“DIR”) of the State of California. The DIR publishes the general prevailing wage rates twice per year in February and August. The prevailing wage rates may be referenced on the DIR website.

Who is covered by prevailing wage laws?

All workers employed on public works projects costing more than $1,000 must be paid not less than the general prevailing rate for their classification. This would include workers employed on the project. In certain circumstances the prevailing wage laws may cover individuals who performed work off site if the work was in execution of the public works contract.

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