Calculating the Correct California Prevailing Wage Rate

November 3, 2011

Last updated on July 19, 2023

While contractors often use creative ways to calculate the proper prevailing wage rates for public work projects, California law is clear.  Calculation of wages due is covered by Labor Code §1774 which requires payment of not less than the “specified prevailing rates of wages” for all hours worked.  The specified rates are the rates found in the Director’s wage determinations and correspond to the type of work performed by individual workers.

Contractors are required to select the applicable wage determination based on the work actually performed by a worker for each hour of work on the project. Contractors also must identify one of the Director’s classifications (such as “carpenter” or “drywall installer” or “cement mason”) for each of the hours worked by an individual worker.  Note that if a carpenter on a project operates a fork lift for 3 hours and then returns to carpenter work then the wage rate needs to reflect the rates for both the carpenter classification for the number of hours worked as a carpenter and operator for the number of hours worked as an operator.  The total of the wages for the respective hours would calculate the wages for that day’s work.

If the workers are paid less than the applicable prevailing wage rate, they are owed the difference between what they should have been paid and what they were actually paid.  The difference becomes wages owed and is recoverable in a wage and hour action against the contractors and possibly against the applicable payment bond on the project.

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