Monthly Archives: October 2019

What’s Buried Under Your Construction Site?

Finding toxic waste or hazardous materials isn’t the only disturbing thing you might find as you dig into a construction site. In many parts of the country, people start work on a construction project only to learn that it was a sacred burial ground long ago. There may be laws you have to follow when you discover such things, especially if they involve human remains. Here’s a few tips that will help you keep your head and your project on schedule.

Consider Testing Before You Dig
You can often avoid a lot of problems simply by doing some research in advance of the project. If you’re subcontracting, you might not have as much say in the process before you start. Otherwise, consider getting a sense for what might be under the surface. Soil testing helps to reveal possible contaminants or toxins that could cause problems once they come out of the ground. If you’re worried that you might be disrupting an old graveyard or burial ground, look at old surveys of the property. You might even be able to see old pictures to give you more information.

Research Local Rules
In California, this practice is common enough that there may be state and local guidelines in place to guide your actions. In September 2019, workers participating in a project to widen the 405 in Orange County found remains they believed to come from Indigenous Americans. The law dictates that they were unable to release information about the location or what they found except to local authorities. Investigate state laws concerning finding human remains, and see if the city or county has a task force that helps to handle the situation. This will help ensure that you can manage things without making yourself liable.

Create a Plan of Action
No one expects to dig into the ground and find bones unless they’re working in a field like archeology or anthropology. This means that you and your employees might be surprised or even shocked by the presence of remains. It’s best to start with a plan of action. Tell your employees that if they find remains, they should:

  • stop work at the site immediately
  • alert local authorities
  • avoid telling anyone about the site

This can happen in almost any part of the state. Dry areas can preserve bones for millennia, which means that you may have no idea what is lurking beneath 10 or even 15 feet of dirt.

Avoid Disturbing the Site
Really old remains look quite different from bones of those who died a few years ago. Besides that distinction, you may have no idea exactly what you have found. That is why you should leave it alone as soon as you find it, until authorities have a chance to investigate. It may not be human remains. It could be a burial ground. It might be evidence of a crime. Leaving the remains as they are allows investigators to determine the most information, including whether or not they should do additional digging to search for other remains.

Keep Information Discreet
Once you’ve alerted the authorities, it is not necessarily obvious what will be the next course of action. You may need to let the client know that there has been a delay, although local guidelines will determine how much information you can give them. Officials usually like to keep these finds quiet at first, as a way to avoid further disruption of the site. Although it may be difficult not to go rushing to the newspapers with the story, you may find it makes sense. For your own workflow, you don’t want a flood of tourists arriving to traipse through your worksite once you get clearance to continue.

There are lots of things hiding under the surface that you might not know about. Research in advance can help flush out a few possibilities, but you won’t know everything until you dig. Making a plan helps you avoid finding more than you bargained for. To dig into a construction career you’ll enjoy for years to come, visit CSLS today!

Are Unlicensed Contractors Stealing Your Business? Here’s What to Do

It’s so hard to do the right thing when you’re surrounded by people who don’t. You go to the effort of studying and taking the time to get your license so you can operate honorably. Then you see unlicensed contractors driving through neighborhoods and business districts, offering services to people who might be your customers. California does allow unlicensed contractors to do certain types of projects, but there are strict limitations. Here’s a few tips to make sure that you’re not losing work to people who shouldn’t be taking those projects in the first place.

Know the Rules for the Project
The rules for projects that may or may not need a licensed contractor depend on the state. In the state of California, anyone who wants to do a project that costs $500 or more for labor and materials needs a contractor’s license. This limits the legal work that unlicensed contractors can do, since $500 for the full project doesn’t go very far. Keep in mind that state licensing requirements don’t usually transfer unless the state has a reciprocity agreement. This means that someone who has an active license in Nevada may be able to do work in California, but someone licensed in Illinois might not.

Understand the Risks of Unlicensed Contract Work
If you ever felt inclined to ignore this problem in your area, you should know there’s several reasons to pay attention. It’s not just that unlicensed contractors might be taking your clients with promises of lower costs or quicker turnarounds. They often do work of lower quality, especially if they don’t have the same amount of experience that a licensed contractor does. They’re less likely to follow building conventions, like obtaining the right permits for the job. They may even scam property owners with fake offers of work for an advance payment. This can turn into an expensive headache for you, when property owners call you in to fix a mess.

Gather Information About Unlicensed Contractors
Doing work as an unlicensed contractor outside the legal limits is a criminal act punishable by fines and/or prison time. As with any other criminal case, the state needs evidence to prosecute and hope to get a conviction. Most unlicensed contractors know this, so they’ll try to avoid putting too much in writing. Your job is to gather everything that they leave behind, like estimates, receipts for payment, or advertising materials falsely claiming that they have a license.

Report Violations
Once you have some information on unlicensed contractors in your area, you need to report them. Doing this consistently may not feel like a triumph, but you should keep in mind that you’re saving a lot of people trouble by doing it. The Contractors State Licensing Board (CSLB) has two ways you can report violations. You can fill out a form to file a complaint that someone is advertising illegally. You can also submit a lead referral to the Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT). The more information you can provide, the better the state organizations can follow up on the report.

Make Showing Your License a Part of the Process
It’s unfortunate but true that most property owners learn about this the hard way. Too many people say that they didn’t think to ask for or verify a license because they assumed the contractor had it covered. You can do your part to cut down on the problem by making it a point to show your license in every consultation with a prospective client. When they see you take this step, they’ll come to expect it from everyone they consult. This erodes the market for unlicensed contractors, making it a less-profitable way to earn a living.

Unlicensed contract work is a serious problem in California, and the state needs licensed contractors to help root it out. To discover more benefits of earning your contractor’s license, contact CSLS today!

What Are Prevailing Wage Laws, and How Do They Affect Your Contracting Business?

If you’re accustomed to working in the private sector, you may think that businesses get to set the wages they pay their employees, with few limitations. For the public sector and a wide variety of public works projects, prevailing wage laws are the order of the day. This regulation dictates how much you have to pay your employees in order to secure a public works project. Here are the basics of prevailing wage laws, and how they may relate to your contracting business.

What Are Prevailing Wage Laws?
A prevailing wage is a set hourly wage dependent on the area, including benefits and overtime. About 100 years ago, the wages that contractors and subcontractors might be paid for public works projects depended heavily on the state. Although this is still true to some degree, federal legislation establishes specific controls. The Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 ruled that on these types of projects over a certain amount of money, contractors had to be paid a specific wage that was considered average for the area. Many states like California have added their own laws to this federal legislation, providing clarification as they saw fit. These are considered prevailing wage laws.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Prevailing Wage Laws?
If you think about the Great Depression and the lack of worker protections that people were facing in the 1920s, it may not be difficult to think about what people hoped to achieve with prevailing wage laws. Someone who has hired people who are willing to work for far less money may be able to underbid other companies for the same job. This can lead to a race to the bottom as every business tries to survive on less.

On the other hand, many experts argue that setting wages for projects like this can hinder innovation and development. They claim that if someone is willing to work for a certain wage, they should be allowed to use that secure contracts. Higher wages set by the state can increase costs to the point that a business struggles to survive. Even the early proponents of the policies argued that oversight was difficult to guarantee, and that the laws may not provide enough of a penalty to discourage businesses from violating the rules.

How Can Prevailing Wage Laws Affect Your Contracting Business?
If you want to bid on a public works project in the state of California, you must show that you pay a specific per diem set by the state. This also applies to certain types of residential construction, if the funds to build are paid partially out of public funds. State officials use the most common wage that workers in a particular trade or classification are paid in the area. The state sets these numbers twice a year, on February 22 and August 22. These numbers may be set by the county or for a larger area. You can always pay your workers more for the work than the prevailing wage, but you may not pay less.

What Can Business Owners Do to Ensure Compliance?
If you’re interested in these types of projects, you need to be ready to prove you are compliant with prevailing wage laws. This is particularly important for businesses that have contracts in multiple states, which all have their own forms and specific criteria companies have to follow. If you’re trying to cut costs and do it the old-fashioned way, make sure you’ve got the right numbers for the area and the time of year. These rates expire every six months. For simplicity, you might try using software that will specifically handle prevailing wage paperwork. This can make it easier to ensure that you are up-to-date on the rules and less likely to have a bid rejected because you used obsolete wage rates.

Payroll is one of the biggest parts of your business overhead, and prevailing wage laws can make it more complicated. By understanding what they are and how to ensure your business meets the requirements, you can better ensure a successful bid on public works projects. To discover other benefits of starting your own business as a licensed contractor, contact CSLS today!

California’s New Independent Contractor Law and How It May Affect Your Contracting Business

These days, independent contractors are a popular hiring approach for all kinds of businesses. Companies like Uber rely largely on staff with no benefits and little rights within the company. With the recent passage of California’s AB 5 law, the way an independent contractor works in the state is about to change. Here’s what you can expect from the new law, and a few ways it might affect your contracting business.

What Is the Difference Between an Employee and an Independent Contractor?
Independent contractors have been a prominent feature of the construction industry for decades, so it may be difficult for people in the industry to understand why California passed this new law. After all, an independent contractor has a lot of flexibility that a regular employee of a business does not. If you want to set your own hours and select the projects you think will be the best fit for you, being independent helps you achieve that. It’s why a lot of people start a contracting business in the first place. However, being your own boss also means that you lose a lot of the protections that state and federal laws guarantee employees. These include:

  • minimum wages
  • tax withholding
  • access to health insurance
  • retirement planning

When you’re not someone’s employee, it’s on you to provide these things for yourself. You may even pay higher taxes as a result.

What Triggered AB 5’s Passage?
Nationwide, companies have been switching from a workforce primarily made of employees to one mostly made up of contractors. For people who want the benefits of running their own businesses and working for a variety of clients or organizations, this can be a benefit. However, a number of businesses have recently been called out for abusing this system as a way to pay lower wages while still confining their workers to employee-like conditions. Businesses that rely on a large workforce to provide remote services, like Uber, are the primary targets of this new legislation.

What Is the AB 5 Law?
The AB 5 law was passed in September 2019 and will take effect in California January 1st, 2020. Although the law only carries weight in the state of California, it may affect companies located in other places that hire contractors based in California. Basically, the law requires that businesses that use independent contractors be able to prove that the people they hire in this capacity function as independent contractors. In order to classify as an independent contractor, people must:

  • be able to select their own work and generally control how it is done
  • perform work other than that which the business generally does
  • have an independent line of work or their own business

This means that someone who runs a business as an independent contractor wouldn’t be classified as an employee under this law. However, someone who works under the dictates of the business owner and performs tasks related to the core of the business may be ruled an employee under AB 5.

What Does AB 5 Mean for Construction Businesses?
When you first start out as an independent contractor, it makes sense to establish yourself as a separate business. This will provide an easy form of proof against any claims when you work as a subcontractor under someone else. Once you get to the point of hiring employees, make sure that anyone you bring on as an independent contractor can meet these requirements. Companies that treat regular workers as contractors when they really should be employees can get hit with a higher tax liability and penalties.

Being an independent contractor is part of what many people love about the construction industry. You get to control your own destiny. Just make sure that you know what the local laws are, so you can do it right. To get started on the path to building your future, visit CSLS today!