Understanding Prevailing Wage Determinations: A Primer for Construction Professionals

March 26, 2024


In the world of public works, prevailing wage regulations guarantee that workers involved in state or federally funded projects are fairly compensated. For prime contractors and subcontractors, complying with prevailing wage requirements, including prevailing wage assistance, is important in order to avoid underpayment penalties. This introductory guide aims to clarify prevailing wage determinations and provide advice for construction experts seeking to grasp and follow these guidelines.

What Do Prevailing Wages Mean?

Prevailing wages refer to the minimum hourly rates and benefits that must be paid to workers on public works projects. The goal of prevailing wage laws is to maintain a level playing field for contractors bidding on public works projects.

Significance of Prevailing Wage Determinations

Prevailing wage rates have a variety of different wage determinations subject to the project’s location and when the project was first advertised out to bid. The awarding body and/or prime contractor is obligated to relay your projects wage determinations.

In order to identify the California State DIR prevailing wage determination applicable to your project yourself, you’ll need to know the DIR issues two wage determinations each year (“-1” on February 22nd and “-2” on August 22nd). It’s important to know these rates do not go into effect until 10 days after their issue dates.

Examples: 2023-1, 2023-2, 2024-1, 2024-2

It is always recommended to confirm with your prime contractor when trying to self-identify the prevailing wage determination to ensure compliance.

This wage determination will be good throughout the life of the project however you will need to pay attention to predetermined increases and dates applicable to your determination/classification as these will affect the prevailing wage rate you are required to pay your employees.

How Are Prevailing Wages Established?

Typically prevailing wage rates are determined through surveys on wages and benefits conducted by either the DOL or a state labor department. These surveys take into account factors such as the nature of the job, the location, and average pay.

Importance of Compliance

Following prevailing wage requirements is not a choice but a legal and contractual obligation for contractors and subcontractors on prevailing wage mandated projects. Failure to comply can lead to penalties like underpayment fines, payment holds, or even being banned from future job contracts.

Navigating the Challenges

The intricacies of prevailing wage laws and wage decisions can be overwhelming. Here are some tips to help navigate:

Stay Updated: Keep yourself informed about any changes in prevailing wage laws and wage decisions in your region. Prevailing resources such as the California DIR is filled with FAQ’s and guidance on understanding prevailing wage requirements.

Maintain Records: Keep records of wages paid, hours worked, and job classifications for each employee.

Get Expert Advice: Consider seeking guidance from a labor compliance consultant or construction law attorney to ensure adherence to prevailing wage rules.


Having a grasp of prevailing wage determinations is vital for construction professionals working on prevailing wage mandated projects. These rules guarantee that workers receive their required fair pay and uphold standards in the construction sector. By understanding what a wage determination is, how to identify your project’s wage determination, and seeking advice from experts when needed, contractors can effectively navigate prevailing wage requirements to ensure their projects are profitable, compliant and beneficial to the communities they serve.

Although understanding prevailing wage laws can be complex, with the right knowledge and resources contractors can meet compliance requirements and contribute to the achievements of public works projects.

At Prevailing Wisdom, we are here to help with your prevailing wage labor compliance needs. Feel free to contact us anytime for more information or to schedule a consultation. Our experienced team of qualified professionals are ready to provide you with the utmost customer service.


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