Davis Bacon Act – Background, Summary of Key Provisions and Amendments

  • By: Staff Editor
  • Date: August 16, 2011
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The Davis Bacon Act is a Depression-era law that was passed to ensure that laborers and mechanics working on the large number of federally funded construction projects taking place around the country were paid proper wages.

The goal of the act, named after its sponsors Senator James J Davis and Representative Robert L Bacon, was to outlaw wage law exploitation as public works contracts usually go to the lowest bidder.

The Davis Bacon Act also contains the provision that it may be suspended by the President during national emergencies in order to facilitate faster rebuilding and restoration of services.

  Want to learn more about complying with Federal wage and hour laws? Then attend any of the following ComplianceOnline webinars:  

Key Provisions


The Davis Bacon Act applies to the following public contracts:

  • The contract must be for an amount in excess of $2000
  • The contract must be for the construction, alteration, or repair, including painting and decorating
  • The contract must be performed on public buildings and public works of Federal, State or Local governments
  • The contracts should involve mechanics or laborers working on the site.


The Davis Bacon Act states that contractors and subcontractors must:

  • Pay workers the prevailing local wage as determined by the Secretary of Labor
  • Pay workers their wages unconditionally
  • Pay workers weekly
  • Not deduct anything from the wages
  • Maintain job classification, wage and hour records for each employee and the costs of any benefit programs
  • Maintain these records for at least three years following the completion of the contract
  • Post the scale of wages to be paid in a prominent and easily accessible place at the site of the work

Penalties for non-compliance

Contractors found violating the Davis Bacon Act may face the following penalties:

  • Termination of the contract, with the non-compliant contractor held liable for excess costs
  • The Comptroller General will pay aggrieved laborers and withhold funds from contract payments
  • Criminal prosecution if violations are willful
  • Non-compliant contractors will be named in a list distributed to all departments of the Federal Government.
  • These contractors will be barred from being awarded further government contracts for a three-year period
  • Contracting agencies can seek restitution for aggrieved workers if the violation is not willful.

Suspension of the Davis Bacon Act

The Davis Bacon act includes the provision that it may be suspended by the President during a national emergency. Historically the Act has been suspended four times, most recently by President George W. Bush immediately after Hurricane Katrina. The Act was suspended in areas of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi struck by the hurricane. The suspension was repealed more than a month later.


The Davis Bacon Act has been amended thrice. These include:

  • In 1935 the Act was amended to ensure that contractor did not lower wages in order to lower their bid value.
  • In 1964, the Act was amended to include fringe benefits in the calculation of prevailing wages
  • In 1994, the Act was amended to include construction, repair and alteration of buildings used by Head Start programs under its provisions.

Additional Resources

-    Read the full Davis Bacon Act

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