Simplifying Davis-Bacon Compliance for Contractors

Government contracts appeal to contractors due to their consistent payments from government agencies, which can help reduce employee turnover and offer experiences that provide a competitive edge. However, these opportunities require navigating government regulations, specifically the Davis-Bacon Act, for federal construction projects. This Act not only sets wage requirements but also mandates weekly reporting. Before pursuing these lucrative opportunities, contractors must understand how the Davis-Bacon Act impacts their operations.

Understanding the Davis-Bacon Act

What is the Davis-Bacon Act?

The Davis-Bacon Act, enacted in 1931, was designed to ensure fair competition in the construction industry. Lawmakers aimed to protect laborers from being exploited by owners who won government jobs by submitting low bids achievable only through reduced wages. The Act mandates that contractors and subcontractors on federally funded projects pay their laborers a prevailing wage, which is no less than what other workers receive for similar projects in the same area. This guarantees that employee wages are maintained even when a job is awarded.

Scope and Requirements

The Davis-Bacon Act generally applies to any contract over $2,000 for the construction, alteration, or repair of public buildings and public works. It requires contractors or subcontractors to display the wage scale prominently at the job site. Under certain conditions, the Act's requirements apply to all laborers and mechanics employed by contractors and subcontractors performing manual job duties, including watchmen, guards, and foremen. Recent updates state that work conducted off-site or at secondary locations where a significant portion of the work is completed can also be covered.

Prevailing Wage

Definition and Importance

Under the Davis-Bacon Act, contractors and subcontractors on federal projects must pay their workers at least the local prevailing rates for similar jobs in the project area. The prevailing wage, determined by the U.S. Department of Labor, is the minimum wage for construction laborers working on public or federally funded projects.

Wage Determination and Compliance

Davis-Bacon projects often involve various trades and job classifications, each with its prevailing wage rate. The correct wage rate is assigned to each worker based on their job duties. The same government agency determines wages for each job but varies by trade. To ensure compliance, government agencies frequently audit Davis-Bacon projects.

Certified Payroll

Requirements and Reporting

Certified payroll involves a special weekly payroll report that contractors must complete and submit to prove they are paying workers the prevailing wage. Contractors demonstrate compliance by completing and submitting Form WH-347 each week. This form requires detailed employee information, including:

  • Names
  • Social Security numbers
  • Gross and net wages
  • Benefits
  • Hours
  • Job Classification
  • Withholdings

A Statement of Compliance, signed by the contractor, subcontractor, or an authorized officer, must also be submitted to confirm that each employee has been paid the prevailing wage.

Record Retention

Once certified payroll reports are completed and filed, the records must be retained for the required period. For federal jobs, certified payroll reports must be kept for at least three years after the project completion date, while state projects may have varying retention timeframes.

Challenges of Davis-Bacon Compliance

Accurate Classification and Record-keeping

The Davis-Bacon Act requires contractors to accurately classify workers, determine appropriate wage rates, and comply with changing regulations. Non-compliance can result in severe consequences, including fines, contract termination, and debarment from future government contracts. Contractors must maintain detailed payroll records, which can be challenging on larger projects with substantial workforces.

Complex Payroll Scenarios

Contractors may have employees working simultaneously on Davis-Bacon and non-government jobs, making payroll tracking essential. Davis-Bacon projects can involve union and non-union workers with unique compensation structures. Contractors must meet specific requirements for both types of workers. Prevailing wage rates are subject to regular updates, often annually, so keeping up with these changes is crucial for ensuring correct wages are paid.

Simplifying Payroll Management

Outsourcing Payroll

To simplify prevailing wage compliance, contractors should consider investing in a payroll service, such as eMars, designed to handle Davis-Bacon project requirements. A construction-specific payroll service can automate prevailing wages, manage fringe benefits, and generate necessary certified payroll reports, saving time and ensuring accurate reporting to government agencies.

Mobile Tools

Adopting technology can also simplify certified payroll processes. Implementing mobile time and attendance systems allows contractors to:

  • Enter, edit, and submit timecards using mobile devices
  • Clock in and out electronically for more accurate labor hours
  • Reduce manual data entry errors
  • Approve timecards instantly
  • Obtain employee signatures for compliance quickly
  • Access reports immediately at the job site

Training and Education

Even when outsourcing certified payroll, training staff on Davis-Bacon regulations, wage determinations, and reporting requirements is crucial. Keeping staff updated on changes and conducting regular internal audits of payroll records can help prevent errors and ensure compliance.

Prioritizing Accuracy

Accuracy in certified payroll reports is essential for maintaining compliance. Working with legal experts or consultants specializing in construction and Davis-Bacon can provide guidance on interpreting regulations and addressing complex situations. Developing standardized procedures, comprehensive documentation, and open communication with subcontractors, unions, and government agencies can further streamline payroll management.


Navigating Davis-Bacon jobs involves adhering to compliance and regulations, which should not deter contractors from pursuing these opportunities. Partnering with a construction-specific payroll service, such as those offered by eMars, can be transformative for contractors managing the complexities of prevailing wage laws. eMars simplifies certified payroll, streamlines administrative processes, and helps avoid costly errors, enabling contractors to take on more Davis-Bacon jobs confidently.

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