Many construction companies turn to government contracts to help grow their business. Taking government contracts can be a great way to keep your crews busy, but there are some things you’ll need to know first. For example, to bid on federal jobs you have to register with the Federal Contractor Registry, among taking other steps.

If you want to bid on state contracts, you will have to take similar steps as outlined by each state’s Department of Labor, or similar oversight agency. In the state of California, you have to be become a public works contractor in order to bid on state jobs. To do so, there are several things you need to understand and steps you must take, including registering with the state as a public works contractor.

What are public works?

The term public works is general used to refer to projects financed by or for the government for recreation or the general welfare of the community. This generally refers to infrastructure, government buildings and other types of public spaces.

In the state of California, the term public works applies to the construction, alteration, demolition, installation, or repair work done under contract and paid for with public funds. It can be paid in whole or part by public money and includes preconstruction and post-construction activities related to any public works project.

This definition is broad and has specific legal parameters. For example, the following types of projects are examples of public works projects as defined under California Law:

  1. Work done for irrigation, utility, reclamation and improvement districts and other similar districts. This does not include the operation of, but work to create, maintain, repair or alter.
  2. Street, sewer and other improvements done under the authority, direction and/or supervision of an officer or public body of the state.
  3. Laying carpet under a lease-maintenance contract that’s paid for by public funds.

See Labor Code section 1720 for a full definition of public works.

Public works contractor responsibilities

Apart from the general requirements needed to run a business, government contractors have additional responsibilities. These include but are not limited to:

Compliance is taken seriously, and if you happen to find yourself out of compliance you may face financial and legal repercussions.

How to bid on public works jobs in California

If you want to bid on public works jobs in California, you must first register as a public works contractor. This requirement extends to subcontractors that perform work on any public works project.

To be eligible to register, you must meet the following requirements:

– Have workers’ comp coverage for all workers. If you use subcontractors, they must be also registered as public works contractors.

–  You must have a license for your trade from the Contractors’ State License Board, if applicable to the trade.

– You have to be in good standing with no delinquent, unpaid wages or penalty assessments owed to employees or enforcement agencies.

–  You must also be in good standing and not under federal or state debarment.

You also cannot have a prior violation for failing to be registered. If you happen to have a single violation for non-registration, you can still register if you pay a penalty.

Fee for registering as a public works contractor in California

You can register to become a public works contractor in California for a term of one, two or three years. For the purposes of registration, a year runs from July 1 through June 30.The fee to register is as follows:

$400 – One year
$800 – Two years
$1,200 – Three years

Credit card payments can be processed within 24 hours, but if you pay through other methods, it may delay your registration for up to eight weeks.

How to register online to bid on public works jobs in California

You must create an account with the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) to apply for a state contractor’s license or to register as a public works contractor. If you had an account prior to April of 2019, you would need to create a new account due to system updates. If you aren’t sure what your registration number was, you can look it up through the Public Works Contractor Registration Search.

To create a new account, you need to go to this website to start the process. If you have a registration number from a previous account, click “Link Existing Registration” on the dashboard after logging in.

If you created an account after April of 2019, you can simply login here.

You will need to have some information handy to complete registration, this includes but is not limited to:

  • Legal business name
  • Physical address
  • Business email and other contact information
  • Contractors State License Board(CSLB) number and/or professional license number
  • Name of president and/or other key executives
  • If you are a sole proprietor, you’ll need your personal information included a Social Security number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
  • Names of legal business partners where applicable.
  • Workers’ comp information
  • Contractor certification information


Once registered you’ll have PWCR number, which stands for Public Works Contractor Registration. You’ll use this to bid and submit reports to the DIR, including certified payroll reports.

Consequences of failing to register

There are consequences to failing to register, even if you simply bid on a public job and do not receive the contract. For this reason, it is important to make sure you are properly registered before you place a bid. It’s also important to remember that this applies to all involved parties, from the contractor that holds the award to every subcontractor under them.

First-time registration:  A $2,000 penalty applies to contractors and subcontractors that register for the first time if they did the following things within 12 months:

  • Bid on or are awarded a qualifying public works project.
  • Performed work on a qualifying public works project.

Late renewal (between July 1 and September 30): If a contractor or subcontractor bids on, works on or is awarded a qualifying project with expired registration, the following penalties apply:

  • $400 penalty if the lapse in registration is accidental.
  • $2,000 penalty if the lapse in registration is not accidental.

Renewal after September 30 or reactivation:  A $2,000 penalty applies when a contractor or subcontractor does either of the following withing 12 months if they are not registered:

  • Bid on or are awarded a qualifying public works project.
  • Performed work on a qualifying public works project.

Repeat violations: Contractors and subcontractors that are found in violation of the registration requirement two times in a 12-month period can be disqualified from working on public works projects for up to 12 months at a time.

Learn more about becoming a contractor in California in the following articles:

10 things every California contractor needs to know

How to become a federal contractor

Alternatives to CalSavers

The material presented here is educational in nature and is not intended to be, nor should be relied upon, as legal or financial advice. Please consult with an attorney or financial professional for advice.

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