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The Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act

Background and Scope

Congress passed the Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act to guarantee premium overtime pay and safe working conditions to a number of employees of federal contractors.

The Act covers:


  • Contractors and subcontractors with federal service contracts worth more than $100,000,
  • Contractors and subcontractors with federally funded construction contracts worth more than $100,000, and
  • Contractors and subcontractors with federally-assisted construction contracts subject to Davis-Bacon related Act wage standards, except where the government assistance is merely a loan guarantee.

The Act specifically excludes from coverage the following types of contracts:


  • Transportation by land, air, or water;
  • Transmission of intelligence;
  • Purchase of supplies, materials, or articles ordinarily available in the “open market;” and
  • Work required to be done according to provisions of the Walsh-Healey Public Contracts Act.



The Act requires covered contractors and subcontractors to pay their laborers and mechanics one and one-half times their regular pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a particular week. The Act also requires the covered employers to ensure that their construction employees are not exposed to unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous working conditions.



The Act is enforced by the Wage and Hour Division of the Employment Standards Administration of the Department of Labor. Employees who believe that their employers have violated their rights under the Act may file a complaint with the Division.

If the Division determines that a violation of the Act has occurred, a covered contractor or subcontractor may be subject to fines or imprisonment. Overtime wage violations may result in the assessment of liquidated damages. The Act provides that accrued contract amounts may be retained by the government to satisfy any liability on the part of the contractor or subcontractor for unpaid wages or liquidated damages. A contractor or subcontractor may not allege that its employees accepted wages that were less than the guaranteed amount. If the Division finds a wilful violation of the Act, the violator have its contract terminated. It may also be barred from obtaining another federal contract for a period of up to three years.

Employers may challenge any disciplinary action under the Act before an administrative law judge and then, if necessary, before a federal court.