Workers, Wages and Wage Assessments: California Labor Commissioner Cracks Down on Prevailing Wage Violations

by Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean LLP

Miss. MasqueDon’t mess with the California Labor Commissioner.



Julie Su, California’s Labor Commissioner, has been making headlines recently as California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”) has cracked down on prevailing wage violations. In a report issued this past month, the DLSE reports that it assessed over $25 million in back wages and civil penalties on public works projects in 2012, the highest recovered since 2002.

And 2013 may be another record breaking year.

This past month the Labor Commissioner assessed over $1.8 million in prevailing wage violations against three subcontractors on public works projects in Southern California (Pow!), in early June she assessed nearly $750,000 against four general contractors on public works projects in Central and Southern California (Bam!), and just over a week later assessed over $8 million against another general contractor on a hotel project which had received rent credits from a public entity (Kaboom!).

Prevailing Wages

Prevailing wages, like state and federal minimum wages, set a minimum wage rate that employers must pay to workers. However, unlike minimum wages, prevailing wages do not apply to all employers, but only to employers who work on public works projects (or, under certain federal contracts), and the prevailing wage that must be paid by an employer depends on the classification or type of work performed by each worker.

California’s Prevailing Wage Law, like the federal prevailing wage law, the Davis-Bacon Act, dates back to 1931. Enacted during the Great Depression, California’s Prevailing Wage Law and the federal Davis-Bacon Act, require that employers working on public works contracts pay their workers wage rates “prevailing” in the local area, the idea being that it would limit the incentive for employers to recruit lower-wage workers from outside the area.

The Davis-Bacon Act

The federal Davis-Bacon Act, codified at 40 U.S.C. §§3141 et seq., provides that contractors and subcontractors performing work on federally-funded or -assisted contracts in excess of $2,000 for the construction, alteration or repair of public buildings or public works pay their workers no less than the locally prevailing wages and fringe benefits for corresponding work on similar projects in the area as set by the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”).

Contractors and subcontractors are required to pay covered workers weekly and submit weekly certified payroll records to the contracting agency. In addition, contractors and subcontractors are required to post Davis-Bacon Act wage determinations and a Davis-Bacon Act poster on the job site.

Failure to pay prevailing wages may be grounds for withholding contract payments, contract termination, and liability for costs to the government and debarment from future contracts for up to three years.

Further information on the Davis-Bacon Act and the DOL’s prevailing wage determinations can be found at the DOL’s website.

California’s Prevailing Wage Law

California’s Prevailing Wage Law, codified at California Labor Code sections 1720 et seq., provides that contractors and subcontractors performing work on state, municipal or local public works projects with a value of over $1,000 pay their workers not less than the general prevailing rate of per diem wages for work of a similar character in the locality in which the public work is performed as set by the California Department of Industrial Relations (“DIR”).

However, charter cities may exempt a public works project within the city limits from prevailing wage requirements if 100% of the funding comes from local city funding sources. In addition, for small public works projects, if an entity has an approved labor compliance program, prevailing wages are not required to be paid on public works projects of $25,000 or less involving new construction, or public works projects of $15,000 or less involving alteration, demolition, repair or maintenance.

Failure to pay prevailing wages may be grounds for assessment of back wages and civil penalties.

Further information on the Prevailing Wage Law and DIR’s wage determinations can be found at the DIR’s website.

A Warning to Contractors

In a press release issued by the DIR earlier this month, Labor Commissioner Su warned contractors, “Failure to pay the proper prevailing wage is a form of wage theft. We will crack down on not only the subcontractors who steal workers’ wages and fail to pay apprenticeship training contributions, but also on the general contractors so we put proper incentives on them to deal only with honest, law-abiding businesses in California.”

You’ve been warned.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean LLP

Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.