By Labor Law Attorney, Deborah Wilder
Just like 9/11 changed security in this country and around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic will change how we do business. For us in the construction industry, we were lucky that disruptions were minimal, and for the most part, work was only halted in areas that had the worst outbreaks. In many states, construction was deemed essential and projects were allowed to continue, albeit with new safety protocols in place, like face coverings and safe distancing.
In addition to unprecedented safety guidelines, this crisis also introduced new methods in which to conduct labor compliance. This new “normal” will force us to re-evaluate our outlook and embrace different systems and methods to meet these new compliance standards.
Staying on Top of New Changes
As we move forward from this pandemic and adapt to the new world of construction, the first step to take is actually one that goes back to the basics. With prevailing wage laws and regulations constantly shifting (and seemingly getting more complicated each year), contractors and agencies must review contract language regularly and make sure that pre-construction markers are met.
The best approach is to have an expert spearhead the process. An agency or contractor should have a resource (an employee or a consultant) who knows the ins and outs of labor compliance and is current on regulations. This expert will be able to guide you on compliance specifics, such as reviewing your bidding protocol, ensuring your bid packet is complete, and making sure you have all the necessary prevailing wage language. In addition, it also critical to check your contractor licensing, registration, subcontractor listing requirements, and any other items required by your funding source or state. Fortunately, most of this is now available electronically and easy to confirm. However, it is best that you consult with your prevailing wage expert at least once a year to see if new changes have been made.
Conducting Pre-Construction Conferences
With new safety protocols in effect, conducting some compliance activities are a little more challenging, like pre-construction conferences. However, there are ways to still conduct these meetings without violating safe-distancing protocols.
Honestly, conducting a 15-minute, in-person meeting to discuss prevailing wage requirements is not the most effective model to begin with. Instead, consider having the labor compliance consultant or employee host an online webinar. Invite parties involved in the certified payroll process from each of the contractors and subcontractors on the project. It is also important to have at least one field personnel from each of the subcontractors join. Many states have peculiar prevailing wage rules and sometimes the field representative needs to be reminded of unique exceptions, such as premium rates for the Friday before Labor Day if you have Carpenters in Northern California working on the project.
Depending on the experience of the subcontractors, the meeting could extend anywhere between 20 minutes and 2 hours. The biggest mistake that agencies and contractors typically commit is not making it a requirement for all subcontractors to attend the labor compliance pre-construction training. From my experience, those contractors who do not attend this meeting are more inclined to having errors, which take months to correct. However, had they attended the pre-construction training, the situation would have been addressed before it became an issue.
Using Electronic Delivery of Labor Compliance Documents
Even before the pandemic hit, we were already trending to more electronic, online methods. Electronic systems that process and store labor compliance documentation – from certified payrolls (CPRs) to fringe benefit forms, and from proof of training contributions to apprenticeship approvals – have been around for almost two decades now. While this was a novel approach in 2002, it is absolutely essential today.
Filling out and mailing hardcopy CPRs is like doing your accounting on 12-column ledger paper. With an electronic system, there are only two outcomes: either the documentation was submitted, or it was not. There is no more chasing a facsimile or email that was allegedly sent and never received. Plus, there is no need to have stacks of boxes full of paper. Instead, you have all your files saved on the cloud at the end of the project.
Agencies who are not using a system, such as LCPtracker or a similar product, especially during these times of remote work locations and staggered work shifts, are behind the curve. Likewise, contractors who are not using an electronic platform to collect and review CPRs and other documents from their subcontractors may not be operating in the most efficient fashion. Even the federal government now accepts electronic delivery of labor compliance documents to comply with Davis-Bacon requirements.
Hiring an Experienced Labor Compliance Consultant
Whether you hire a consultant for the purpose of auditing your projects or to train your in-house staff, find someone who not only knows prevailing wage requirements, but can tell you how to spot patterns of non-compliance and suggest best practices. Keep in mind that with a higher level of know-how, these individuals are not always the lowest bidders. Sometimes a little extra investment goes a long way, especially for someone who is qualified and is a subject matter expert in this field. When selecting consultants, be sure to check references, look to their reputation as an author or speaker, and review past trainings that he or she has conducted.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of training your staff on labor compliance regulations. Realize there is a cost consideration to get your staff trained, but the cost pays for itself in the form of maintaining compliance and avoiding hefty penalties. For customized training from a contractor or agency perspective, you can hire a prevailing wage expert to conduct a virtual meeting using a web conference platform. These sessions are tailored to your organization and can last anywhere from 1 to 4 hours. For more general training or to simply build a foundation of labor compliance knowledge, there are online programs available offered by companies like LCPtracker. These programs not only provide education and training on state and/or federal Davis-Bacon prevailing wage requirements, but also offer certifications that are recognized industry-wide.
While the world has changed, your ability to stay on top of prevailing wage requirements actually has gotten easier and more convenient. The technology and solutions are already available, and with greater implementation of these resources, we can stand in the face of this and any future crisis with greater resolve and minimal disruptions to the way we do business.
To get expert advice on labor compliance for your prevailing wage projects, please visit http://www.ccmilcp.com/.
To learn more about LCPtracker solutions and online prevailing wage training, please visit http://www.lcptracker.com.
About the Author
Deborah Wilder is the President of Contractor Compliance and Monitoring, Inc., a nationally recognized labor compliance consulting company. She is also a licensed attorney and the author of 3 books on prevailing wages.