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What is Certified Payroll?

Certified payroll is a specialized form of payroll reporting that is required primarily on construction projects funded by the federal government or other public entities. This specific process involves the submission of a weekly payroll report, known as Form WH-347, which meticulously details the wages paid to each worker. The core purpose of certified payroll is to ensure compliance with laws that mandate minimum wage rates for different types of labor and trades on government-funded construction projects.

Essentially, certified payroll reports serve as a written affirmation that contractors and subcontractors working on public works projects are paying their employees in accordance with the prevailing wage rates and fringe benefits as determined by the Department of Labor under the Davis-Bacon Act. These reports include comprehensive information about the hours worked, the wages paid, the job classifications, and other relevant labor details.

The Importance in Federal Contracts and Labor Laws

The significance of certified payroll cannot be overstated, especially in the context of federal contracts and labor laws. These reports are not just formalities; they are crucial tools for enforcing fair labor standards and preventing wage theft. By mandating certified payroll, the government aims to protect workers from being underpaid and exploited, especially in sectors where this risk is high.

Furthermore, certified payroll reports play a vital role in maintaining a level playing field in the competitive bidding process of public works projects. By ensuring that all contractors pay similar wage rates as determined by the prevailing wage laws, the government mitigates the risk of contractors underbidding projects by cutting labor costs unethically. This approach not only promotes fair competition but also contributes to higher quality workmanship by incentivizing the hiring of skilled labor.

Moreover, these reports provide transparency and accountability in government spending. They allow oversight agencies and the public to see exactly how and where taxpayer dollars are being spent in public construction projects. This transparency is key to maintaining public trust and ensuring that public funds are used effectively and responsibly.



History and Legal Basis

Origins of Certified Payroll Requirements

The concept of certified payroll has its roots in the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, a watershed moment in American labor law. During the Great Depression, the construction industry was rife with low wages and poor working conditions. This act was introduced as a response to these challenges, particularly to the practice of contractors importing cheaper labor from other areas to undercut local wage standards on federal projects.

The Davis-Bacon Act mandated that workers on federal construction projects be paid at least the locally prevailing wages and fringe benefits for similar projects. This requirement was designed to protect local wage standards and prevent the government from driving down labor costs in a race to the bottom. The Act required contractors on federal construction projects to submit weekly certified payroll reports, ensuring compliance with the prevailing wage laws.

Evolution of Labor Laws

Over the years, the scope and impact of the Davis-Bacon Act have significantly evolved. Initially, the Act applied only to federal contracts over $2,000, but subsequent amendments have expanded its reach. The most notable changes include:

  1. Coverage Expansion: Amendments to the Act have expanded its coverage to include more types of construction projects and increased the threshold for applicability. This expansion means that more workers are now protected under these wage standards.

  2. Related Legislation: Building on the principles of the Davis-Bacon Act, additional legislation like the Copeland Anti-Kickback Act and the McNamara-O'Hara Service Contract Act further strengthened wage protections. These acts extended similar requirements to federally assisted construction projects and service contracts with the government.

  3. Adjustments in Wage Determination: The process for determining prevailing wages has also evolved. The Department of Labor regularly conducts wage surveys to update and maintain accurate prevailing wage determinations, ensuring that the wages reflect current economic conditions.

  4. Technological Advancements: The advent of digital reporting and compliance tools has streamlined the process of submitting certified payroll reports. This technological shift has made it easier for contractors to comply with the requirements and for authorities to monitor and enforce compliance.

  5. Enhanced Enforcement: Over the years, enforcement mechanisms have been strengthened. This includes stricter penalties for non-compliance and more rigorous auditing processes. These measures ensure that the intent of the Davis-Bacon Act and related legislation is effectively realized.

Current Implications

Today, the Davis-Bacon Act and its related legislation remain central to protecting workers on federally funded construction projects. These laws ensure that workers are paid fairly, promoting local employment and contributing to the economic stability of communities. The evolution of these laws reflects a continued commitment to fair labor standards, adapting to changing economic landscapes while upholding the principle of fair wages for labor.


When Certified Payroll is Required?

Certified payroll is a critical component of compliance for contractors and subcontractors working on certain types of government-funded construction projects. Understanding when this requirement kicks in is essential for maintaining compliance and avoiding penalties.

Federal Requirements

The cornerstone requirement for certified payroll comes from the Davis-Bacon Act, which applies to contractors and subcontractors performing work on federally funded or assisted contracts in excess of $2,000 for the construction, alteration, or repair (including painting and decorating) of public buildings or public works. Here are the key conditions under which certified payroll is mandatory at the federal level:

  1. Contract Threshold: Certified payroll is required on any federal construction project with a contract amount exceeding $2,000.

  2. Type of Work: The Act covers construction, alteration, or repair work, including painting and decorating.

  3. Funding Source: The project must be funded at least in part by federal dollars. This includes not only projects fully funded by the federal government but also projects partially funded by federal grants, loans, or guarantees.

State-Specific Variations

Many states have enacted their own versions of the Davis-Bacon Act, commonly referred to as "Little Davis-Bacon" acts. These laws often mirror the federal requirements but can have key differences:

  1. Lower Contract Thresholds: Some states have a lower contract amount threshold, meaning certified payroll requirements kick in for smaller projects than at the federal level.

  2. Broader Scope of Projects: State laws may apply to a broader range of projects, including those that do not receive federal funding but are solely funded by state or local governments.

  3. Different Wage Determinations: States may have their own processes for determining prevailing wage rates, which can differ from federal wage determinations.

  4. Additional Reporting Requirements: In addition to the federal Form WH-347, some states may require their own forms or additional information for certified payroll reports.

Examples of State Variations

To illustrate, let's look at a few state-specific examples:

  • California: California's prevailing wage laws are among the most stringent. The state requires certified payroll records on all public works projects, regardless of funding source, and has its own electronic reporting system.

  • New York: New York requires certified payroll on public works projects and uses its own wage rate schedules, which can be higher than federal rates.

  • Texas: Unlike many states, Texas does not have a prevailing wage law that mirrors the Davis-Bacon Act for state-funded projects, though federal requirements still apply to federally funded projects in Texas.

Certified payroll requirements are a crucial aspect of compliance in the construction industry, especially for projects with government funding. Understanding the nuances of both federal and state requirements is essential for contractors and subcontractors to ensure they are in full compliance with the law. This not only protects workers by ensuring they receive fair wages but also protects businesses from potential legal and financial penalties.


Understanding the Requirements

Navigating the intricacies of certified payroll reports is crucial for compliance. These reports, which are typically submitted weekly, are more than just a record of wages paid; they are a detailed account of each worker's labor on a project. Understanding what information must be included is key to ensuring compliance with the Davis-Bacon Act and related legislation.

Key Components of Certified Payroll Reports

  1. Employee Details: Every report must include basic employee information, such as full name, address, and Social Security Number (or worker identification number). This data helps in verifying the identity of workers and ensuring that each one is legally eligible to work on the project.

  2. Classification of Workers: Each worker must be classified according to their trade or job title (e.g., electrician, laborer, plumber). This classification determines the prevailing wage rate applicable to each worker.

  3. Hours Worked: The report must detail the number of hours each employee worked each day during the reporting period, including start and end times. This includes regular hours and any overtime worked.

  4. Wage Rates: The report must specify the wage rates paid to each worker, including base hourly rates and any fringe benefits. These rates should comply with the prevailing wage rates set by the Department of Labor or the respective state agency.

  5. Gross Wages Earned: The total gross wages earned by each worker for the reporting period must be clearly stated. This includes all earnings before deductions.

  6. Deductions and Net Wages: All deductions made from a worker's wages, such as taxes, insurance, and union dues, should be itemized. The report should also show the net wages paid after these deductions.

  7. Project Information: Details of the project, including the contract number, project name, and location, must be included. This ties the labor to the specific project for tracking and auditing purposes.

  8. Certification: A statement of compliance must be signed by the contractor or payroll administrator. This is a legal attestation that the information provided is correct and that the workers are paid in accordance with the prevailing wage laws.


Form WH-347: The Standard Federal Form

The U.S. Department of Labor provides Form WH-347, a standardized form used for the submission of certified payroll reports on federally funded projects. This form encompasses all the key components listed above and is designed to simplify the reporting process. The form includes instructions for each section, ensuring clarity in what information is required.

Equivalent State Forms

While Form WH-347 is standard for federal projects, many states with "Little Davis-Bacon" acts have developed their own forms or electronic reporting systems. These state-specific forms often mirror the federal form but may include additional fields or requirements unique to the state’s prevailing wage laws. Contractors working on state-funded projects must familiarize themselves with the specific forms and reporting requirements of that state.


The Process of Completing and Submitting Certified Payroll Reports

Completing and submitting certified payroll reports can be a meticulous process, but with a clear understanding and methodical approach, it can be managed efficiently. Here's a step-by-step guide, along with tips to avoid common mistakes and information on submitting these reports.

Step-by-Step Guide to Completing Certified Payroll Reports

  1. Gather Necessary Information: Before starting the payroll report, ensure you have all necessary information including employee details, classification, hours worked, wage rates, project information, and any deductions made.

  2. Choose the Correct Form: Use Form WH-347 for federal projects. If your project is state-funded, determine if there is a state-specific form or electronic system that you need to use.

  3. Fill in Project and Contractor Information: Start by filling in the project name, number, and location, along with your company’s name and address.

  4. Enter Employee Information: List each employee, their address, and Social Security or worker identification number. Ensure the spelling of names is correct to avoid issues in verification.

  5. Classify Workers: Accurately classify each worker based on their job duties. Misclassification is a common error, so double-check classifications against the prevailing wage determinations.

  6. Record Hours and Wages: Enter the hours worked by each employee for each day of the week, including overtime hours. Record the wage rates paid, ensuring they meet or exceed the required prevailing wages.

  7. Calculate and List Deductions: Itemize all deductions from each worker’s wages, such as taxes, insurance, and union dues, and calculate the net wages paid.

  8. Review for Accuracy: Double-check all entries for accuracy. Common mistakes include incorrect wage rates, misclassification of workers, and mathematical errors in hours or wages.

  9. Sign and Date the Certification: A company official must sign and date the certification part of the form, attesting to the accuracy of the information.

Submitting the Reports

  1. Determine the Submission Method: Understand if the submission is to be done electronically or by mail. For federal projects, electronic submission is often required. State projects may have different requirements.

  2. Know the Deadlines: Submit the payroll reports on a weekly basis. Be aware of the specific deadlines for submission to avoid penalties.

  3. Maintain Copies: Keep copies of all submitted payroll reports and any supporting documentation. These may be required for audits or if any discrepancies arise.

Tips to Avoid Common Mistakes

  • Consistency in Reporting: Ensure consistency in the classification of workers and wages across weeks. Inconsistent reporting can raise red flags.

  • Accurate Time Tracking: Keep accurate records of hours worked, including overtime. Inaccurate time reporting is a frequent issue.

  • Regular Updates: Stay updated on prevailing wage rates and adjust payroll as required. Wage rates can change, and it's crucial to stay compliant.

  • Training and Software Use: Consider training for staff responsible for payroll reporting and utilize specialized software to streamline the process and reduce errors.


Compliance and Penalties

Adhering to certified payroll requirements is not only a legal obligation for contractors and subcontractors working on government-funded projects but also a fundamental aspect of ethical business practice. Understanding the potential penalties and consequences for non-compliance is crucial.

The Importance of Compliance

Compliance with certified payroll requirements serves several important purposes:

  1. Protecting Workers' Rights: Ensuring workers receive fair wages and benefits as per the prevailing wage laws.

  2. Maintaining Fair Competition: Compliance ensures a level playing field in bidding for government contracts.

  3. Upholding Public Trust: Demonstrating responsible use of taxpayer dollars in public projects.

  4. Avoiding Legal Complications: Non-compliance can lead to legal disputes, project delays, and damage to business reputation.

Potential Penalties and Consequences for Non-Compliance

Non-compliance with certified payroll requirements can lead to severe penalties and legal consequences. These include:

  1. Financial Penalties: Fines and penalties can be significant, often based on the severity and duration of the compliance breach. Contractors may be required to pay back wages or damages to affected workers.

  2. Contract Termination and Debarment: Serious or repeated violations can lead to termination of the current contract and debarment from future government contracts, which can have a long-lasting impact on a contractor’s business.

  3. Criminal Charges: In cases of willful violation, contractors and company officials can face criminal charges, leading to potential jail time.

  4. Civil Lawsuits: Workers affected by wage theft or other violations of prevailing wage laws can file civil lawsuits against the contractor, leading to additional financial and reputational damages.

  5. Reputation Damage: Non-compliance can tarnish a company’s reputation, affecting its ability to secure future projects, both public and private.

Strategies for Ensuring Compliance

To ensure compliance, contractors and subcontractors should:

  1. Understand Legal Requirements: Keep up-to-date with federal and state prevailing wage laws and reporting requirements.

  2. Implement Rigorous Record-Keeping: Maintain accurate and detailed payroll records, as these are crucial for demonstrating compliance.

  3. Use of Compliance Software: Leverage technology solutions designed for certified payroll to streamline reporting and reduce errors.

  4. Regular Training for Staff: Ensure that staff responsible for payroll and reporting are well-trained and aware of the compliance requirements.

  5. Seek Legal and Professional Advice: Consider consulting with legal experts or compliance specialists, particularly when handling complex projects or working in multiple jurisdictions.


Technology in Certified Payroll Reporting

In the complex world of certified payroll reporting, leveraging technology can greatly streamline the process, ensuring accuracy and compliance. Modern software solutions, such as those offered by, are revolutionizing how contractors manage and submit their certified payroll reports.

Introduction to Modern Software Solutions

Today's technology offers robust software solutions designed specifically for certified payroll reporting. These tools are tailored to handle the intricacies of prevailing wage laws and the detailed reporting requirements that come with government-funded construction projects. By automating and simplifying many aspects of the payroll reporting process, these solutions offer a more efficient, accurate, and compliant way to manage payroll obligations.

Benefits of Using Payroll Software Solutions

  1. Time-Saving Features:

    • Automation: Automate the entry of repetitive data, reducing the time spent on manual entry.
    • Integration: Seamlessly integrate with existing payroll systems, allowing for real-time data transfer and report generation.
    • Batch Processing: Handle large volumes of data simultaneously, ideal for contractors handling multiple projects.

  2. Enhanced Accuracy:

    • Error Reduction: Minimize human errors with automated calculations and validations.
    • Consistency: Maintain consistent data across all reports, a crucial aspect of compliance.
    • Up-to-Date Information: Stay current with the latest prevailing wage rates and regulations, as many software solutions are regularly updated.

  3. Compliance Support:

    • Customizable Reports: Generate reports that meet federal and state-specific requirements.
    • Audit Trails: Keep detailed records of all payroll activities, providing a clear audit trail in case of inspections.
    • Alerts and Notifications: Receive alerts for missing information or potential compliance issues, allowing for proactive corrections.

  4. Security and Data Management:

    • Secure Data: Ensure the confidentiality and security of sensitive payroll data with robust encryption and security protocols.
    • Cloud Storage: Benefit from cloud-based solutions for easy access and backup of payroll data.

  5. User-Friendly Interfaces:

    • Intuitive Design: Navigate easily through the software, making it accessible for users with varying levels of technical expertise.
    • Training and Support: Access to comprehensive training materials and customer support for troubleshooting and guidance.

Case in Point:’s Solutions

Platforms like provide a comprehensive suite of tools tailored for the construction industry's specific needs. These include features such as:

  • Direct submission capabilities to government agencies.
  • Compatibility with a wide range of payroll systems.
  • Customizable modules to fit the unique needs of different contractors.



Certified payroll is a fundamental aspect of compliance in government-funded construction projects. This comprehensive guide has navigated through the essential facets of certified payroll, from its legal basis to the practicalities of reporting and compliance.

Key Points Recap

  • What Certified Payroll Entails: It is a specialized form of payroll reporting required for workers on federally funded or assisted construction projects, ensuring they are paid prevailing wages and benefits.

  • Legal Background: Rooted in the Davis-Bacon Act, certified payroll requirements are designed to uphold fair labor standards and equitable competition among contractors.

  • Mandatory Conditions: Certified payroll is necessary for most federal construction projects over $2,000, with variations in state-specific laws.

  • Reporting Requirements: Detailed information such as employee details, hours worked, wage rates, and deductions must be accurately reported, typically using Form WH-347 or state equivalents.

  • Submission Process: Careful and timely submission of these reports is essential, with technology playing a crucial role in streamlining and ensuring accuracy.

  • Compliance and Penalties: Adherence to these regulations is crucial, as non-compliance can lead to severe penalties including financial fines, legal actions, and reputational damage.

  • Technological Advancements: Modern software solutions, like those from, significantly aid in simplifying and ensuring compliance, marking a vital shift in managing certified payroll.

The Importance of Compliance

Understanding and adhering to certified payroll requirements is not merely a legal obligation but a commitment to ethical business practices and fair labor standards. This compliance ensures the protection of workers' rights, fosters fair competition, and maintains the integrity of public spending. It reflects a contractor’s dedication to upholding high standards in the construction industry.

For contractors and subcontractors, navigating the complexities of certified payroll is a crucial part of their operation. The integration of technology has provided a valuable tool in managing this process, reducing the potential for errors, and maintaining compliance with ease. As the industry evolves, staying informed and adaptable to changes in laws and technology will be key to continued success.


FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions

Certified payroll can be a complex topic with many nuances. Here, we address some of the most common questions to provide clarity and guidance.

Q1: What is Certified Payroll? A: Certified payroll is a process where contractors and subcontractors on federally funded construction projects must submit weekly payroll reports. These reports ensure that workers are paid according to the prevailing wages and fringe benefits established by law.

Q2: When is Certified Payroll Required? A: Certified payroll is required for all laborers and mechanics working on federal or federally assisted construction projects that exceed $2,000. Some states have similar requirements for state-funded projects.

Q3: What Information Must be Included in a Certified Payroll Report? A: A certified payroll report must include detailed information about each worker, including full name, job classification, hours worked, wage rates, gross earnings, deductions, and net wages. The report must also include a statement of compliance signed by the employer.

Q4: What is Form WH-347? A: Form WH-347 is a standardized form issued by the U.S. Department of Labor for contractors to report certified payroll. It’s used to submit the required information for federal projects, though some states may use different forms for state-funded projects.

Q5: Are There Penalties for Not Complying with Certified Payroll Requirements? A: Yes, failure to comply with certified payroll requirements can result in severe penalties, including hefty fines, contract termination, debarment from future contracts, and even criminal charges in cases of willful violations.

Q6: How Can Technology Help with Certified Payroll Compliance? A: Technology, such as specialized payroll software, can automate much of the reporting process, reduce errors, ensure compliance with prevailing wage laws, and streamline the submission of reports. This can save time and reduce the risk of non-compliance.

Q7: What Happens if There are Mistakes in the Payroll Report? A: Mistakes in the payroll report should be corrected promptly. Continual errors or failure to correct mistakes can lead to penalties. It’s crucial to maintain accurate records and make amendments as necessary.

Q8: Can Contractors Face Legal Action for Certified Payroll Violations? A: Yes, contractors can face legal action, including civil lawsuits from underpaid workers and criminal prosecution for intentional violations of labor laws.

Q9: How Often Must Certified Payroll Reports be Submitted? A: Certified payroll reports are generally required to be submitted on a weekly basis. However, contractors should confirm the specific requirements for each project.

Q10: Are Subcontractors Also Required to Submit Certified Payroll Reports? A: Yes, subcontractors working on qualifying projects must also submit certified payroll reports. It's the responsibility of the prime contractor to ensure that all subcontractors are in compliance.

Q11: Does Certified Payroll Apply to All Types of Construction Work? A: Certified payroll typically applies to construction, alteration, and repair work, including painting and decorating, done under federally funded or assisted contracts. However, some types of work may be exempt, and it’s important to understand the specific requirements of each contract.

Q12: What are Prevailing Wages, and How are They Determined? A: Prevailing wages are the hourly wage, usual benefits, and overtime paid in the largest city in each county to the majority of workers, laborers, and mechanics. These rates are determined by the Department of Labor and vary by location, type of work, and skill level.

Q13: Is Training Available for Certified Payroll Reporting? A: Yes, many organizations and software providers offer training on certified payroll reporting. These can include online courses, webinars, and in-person training sessions, which can be invaluable for understanding compliance requirements.

Q14: How Long Must Contractors Keep Certified Payroll Records? A: Contractors are required to keep certified payroll records for three years from the date of project completion. These records should be readily available for inspection.

Q15: Are There Exceptions to Certified Payroll Requirements? A: Certain types of projects or contracts may be exempt from certified payroll requirements. It’s crucial to consult the specific regulations or legal counsel to understand if any exemptions apply to your project.

Q16: How Does Certified Payroll Differ from Regular Payroll? A: Certified payroll differs in its reporting requirements, primarily due to the need to comply with prevailing wage laws. It requires more detailed reporting of wages, hours, and worker classifications specific to federally funded projects.

Q17: Can Electronic Submission of Payroll Reports be Rejected? A: Electronic submissions can be rejected if they contain errors or incomplete information. It’s important to carefully review all submissions for accuracy before sending them.

Q18: Do Prevailing Wage Rates Change, and How Can Contractors Stay Updated? A: Prevailing wage rates can change. Contractors should regularly check the Department of Labor's website or subscribe to updates from software providers or industry associations to stay informed about current rates.

Q19: What is the Role of a Compliance Officer in Certified Payroll? A: A compliance officer's role typically includes overseeing the payroll process, ensuring adherence to prevailing wage laws, auditing records, and addressing any compliance issues that arise.

Q20: Are There Different Certified Payroll Requirements for State and Federal Projects? A: Yes, state projects may have additional or different requirements from federal projects. Contractors must familiarize themselves with the specific regulations of each state in which they operate, in addition to federal requirements.



Additional Resources

For those seeking further reading and a deeper understanding of certified payroll and its requirements, a wealth of resources is available. Below is a list of useful links and references:

  1. U.S. Department of Labor – Wage and Hour Division:
  2. Form WH-347 and Instructions:
  3. Electronic Code of Federal Regulations:
    • Website: eCFR — Code of Federal Regulations
    • This online resource offers access to the current text of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) which governs federal prevailing wage law.

  4. National Prevailing Wage Center (NPWC):
  5. Federally Assisted Construction Contracts – Guide:
  6. State Labor Departments:
  7. Professional Associations and Industry Groups:
  8. Educational Webinars and Workshops:
    • Many industry experts and software providers offer webinars and workshops on certified payroll and compliance.

  9. Legal Journals and Publications:
    • Publications like "The Construction Lawyer" and "Journal of Construction Accounting and Taxation" often feature articles and discussions on prevailing wage and certified payroll issues.

  10. Compliance Software Providers:
    • Providers such as offer not just software solutions but also educational resources and customer support for navigating certified payroll requirements.


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