Prevailing Wages on Public Works Contracts
Privately employed workers who perform work under a public works contract are paid prevailing wages, which is a special kind of minimum wage. The prevailing wage rate varies depending on the type of craft and the local area where the work is performed. The prevailing wage rate is an hourly rate plus an amount for benefits, and if the employer does not provide benefits, then the amount for benefits established by the prevailing wage determination must be paid as wages. Prevailing wage determinations are calculated differently twice a year, and determinations are given out on February 22 and August 22 of each year. Each determination goes into effect ten days after it is given out, so they go into effect on March 3 or 4 depending on the leap year, and September 1. Information about prevailing wages and determinations can be found here.
Employers such as contractors and subcontractors performing work for a prevailing wage job must keep accurate payroll records so that it is available upon request for inspection by employees or their representatives, the body that awarded the prevailing wage contract, or labor commissioner representatives. These payroll records are also available to the public through the California Department of Industrial Relations’ online database.
Employers who violate state law and do not want to pay their employees prevailing wages may try these tactics: 1) falsely claiming that the employees performed lower-paying unskilled trades work rather than higher-paid skills work, 2) underreporting how many hours their employees worked, or “shaving hours,” and/or 3) having employees “kick back” a portion of their wages back to their employer. In a kickback situation, the employers give employees a check with the full amount of prevailing wages, have their employees sign the checks, then require their employees to pay a portion of the wages back to them.
Employees who have been underpaid by employers violating prevailing wage laws can contact our firm to file a lawsuit against their employer to collect wages and penalties.