Prevailing Wage: For work on a project in California paid for by the public, you must be paid “prevailing wage,” a special kind of minimum wage that is higher than the state minimum wage.

Fringe Benefits: In addition to prevailing wage rates, you may receive fringe benefits such as medical insurance, compensation for job-related injuries and illness, a retirement plan, vacation and holiday pay, and safety trainings. Some contractors may have to pay you the benefits in wages instead of providing fringe benefits.

Overtime: If you work more than 8 hours per day on a weekday or work on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday on a public works project, you must be paid a higher overtime or premium prevailing wage rate. Limited exceptions to this rule can be found in section 4.1.7 of the public works manual, available online at

Meal and Rest Breaks: Most workers in California must receive an uninterrupted 30-minute unpaid meal period for every 5 hours worked and a paid 10-minute rest period for every 4 hours worked. You may be entitled to a rest break even if you work less than 4 hours.

Deductions from Pay: Except for wages that are withheld as required by law (such as social security tax), your employer may not withhold or deduct wages from your pay. For example, employers cannot deduct wages for uniforms and tools required for the job.

Reimbursement of Expenses: You must receive reimbursement for expenses, including supplies and tools needed for your job and the cost of mileage if you are required to use your personal car for work (other than commuting to and from your job site). However, if you earn at least twice the minimum wage, your employer can require you to provide certain hand tools customarily used in your occupation.

Travel and Subsistence: Your employer may also be responsible to pay for travel to a project and “subsistence,” or cost of living. Email to inquire about whether you should be paid for travel and subsistence on your job.

Reporting Time Pay: If you report to work expecting to work your usual schedule, but receive less than half of your usual hours, you must still be paid for at least half of your usual hours (for a minimum of at least 2 hours).

Posting Requirement: The director of the California Department of Industrial Relations determines the prevailing wage rates payable for different crafts and work classifications in each part of the state. All employers on public works projects must post required laws and notices in a prominent place where they can be viewed easily. These notices inform all employees about wage and hour, health and safety, and family leave laws.

Record Keeping and Pay Stubs: Employers must keep records for each employee of daily hours worked and rate of pay. Whether you are paid by check, in cash, or otherwise, your employer must provide a pay stub or wage statement that details the total hours worked, wages earned, deductions, and your employer’s name and address.

Shift Differential Time: Additional prevailing wage rates may need to be paid if your work start time begins after 11:00 a.m. You may be entitled to a higher rate for swing shift hours, such as beginning your day after 11:00 a.m., or for “graveyard hours,” such as working after 4:00 or 5:00 p.m.


Who is covered by prevailing wage laws?

In general, prevailing wages must be paid to all workers employed on a public works project worth over $1,000. Some projects under $25,000 may receive special permission from the director of the Department of Industrial Relations to pay less than prevailing wage.

How do you know what the prevailing wage is and how it is calculated?

All contractors must post required prevailing wage laws and notices in a prominent place where they can be viewed by all employees. The director of the Department of Industrial Relations calculates each prevailing wage rate based on the amount paid to a majority of workers engaged in that same craft, classification or type of work in a given geographical area. If there is no single rate paid to a majority, the rate paid to the greater number of workers determines the prevailing wage rate.

Can you file a report if you are classified as an independent contractor?

California’s labor laws do not apply to independent contractors. However, you may file a report if you believe that you have been improperly classified as an independent contractor. Some employers misclassify employees as independent contractors in order to avoid paying legally required wages and to avoid paying for costs such as workers’ compensation insurance. The Labor Commissioner will consider many factors when determining whether workers have been misclassified as independent  contractors.

When will you receive your unpaid prevailing wages?

Investigations and assessments take anywhere from 30 days to several months. The Public Works Unit will send you the wages it recovers on your behalf. If the contractor refuses to pay, your payment will be delayed while the Labor Commissioner tries to collect the amount from the awarding body.

What if your boss fires, demotes or punishes you for reporting a public works violation?

California law prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for exercising workplace rights. In addition, it is against the law for your employer to report or threaten to report your citizenship or immigration status because you have exercised your labor rights. If your employer retaliates against you, you can file a retaliation complaint with the Labor Commissioner’s Retaliation Investigation Unit. 

What if the filing deadlines to file a public works complaint has passed?

If 18 months have passed since the project’s completion, the Labor Commissioner’s Office cannot investigate the employer or issue an assessment. However, NCECI will assist you in filing a civil lawsuit in superior court if you would like and the evidence is solid. We must file a civil lawsuit for statutory violations of prevailing wage, minimum wage,  overtime, illegal deductions from pay, or unpaid reimbursements within three years.

Page Last Updated: Jul 06, 2023 (11:44:01)

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