Solve this contractor’s dilemma – and you could win a DeWalt 12V Self-Levelling Green LaserCanadian Contractor
In our latest case study, Leonard’s client has offered his guys some off-book work. Should he intervene?
Leonard Zarky’s five-man masonry team has been doing interior and exterior stonework on a large weekend home for over two months. His wealthy client Tony Snell has become a familiar sight during this time, getting to know the guys pretty well. In late-September, and with the project nearly complete, Snell approached Leonard about having these strong young men do some unspecified ‘grunt work’ over the next few weekends for cash. Initially, Leonard had no problem. After all, weekends are their time, not his.
However, after the first weekend Leonard learned that his guys were in fact asked to by Snell get in the cold water without any protection, dredge out the wet boathouse by moving large rocks lying at the bottom, pile them along the shoreline, and do a bit of silt removal with rakes and shovels. This bothered Leonard. He knows it’s illegal to dredge or move material from a lake bottom without an environmental permit. Secondly, the work is far more dangerous than he had thought. If one of his workers gets injured working off-book for Snell, they’re uninsured, plus it could put his team down a man. What should Leonard do?
- Explain the risks to the guys, and advise against doing the work.
- Report his client to the Ministry for doing illegal dredging and shore work.
- Turn a blind eye and let the boys make up their own minds.
- Tell his client this is wrong, and suggest he goes about the work legally next year.
- Something else.
Please include an explanation of your proposed resolution.
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I believe he should let his guys and the client know he is not comfortable with the idea and have them sign a waiver noting his concerns.
This may protect himself and his company from liability issues down the road should anyone be injured or charged with disturbing the shoreline .
Also by doing this the guys and client might think twice about what could happen.
I would recommend #1, #4.
As a contractor and a professional you have an obeligation to look out for customer and staff when you are doing the job CORRECTLY.
Personally I would stop the job right away.. I would point out the safety issues to both staff and customer. Explain to the customer the scope of the work, the legal issues and how serious this could turn out for everyone.
I would advise the staff to walk away and if they continue to work on that project it would be grounds for termination.. As there actions could be linked to your company (and you need to protect your livelihood).
If the customer continues the project without you staff, then report it.. You want to walk away from this with clean hands and conscious.
I would arrange to immediately have a personal meeting with Tony Snell, possibly over a coffee and sensitively and kindly tell him, “Tony I have to talk to you about something I have been privy to that I have to back track on and correct to the best of my ability. I am apprehensive about speaking to you about it because I know it has the potential of causing a strain on our up to now excellent working relationship. Throughout the many years of running my company I have endeavored to be fair and honest with my clients, staff and I try to follow government legislation.
But the human I am, there are times I make mistakes. I hate when that happens. Because then I have to eat humble pie and go back and make amends. My wife can attest to the frequency of such episodes.
So here’s the dilemma I have been struggling with. You will recall 2 weeks ago you asked if I would agree to my men working on weekends for cash on their time to do a few odd jobs for you. I, off handedly without giving it much thought just said, “No problem it’s there time” and left it at that.
Since then I have been troubled as to what I had agreed to. On the surface it will seem petty compared to generally accepted on the street protocol.
But the guys have been involved in removing large rocks and silt from your boathouse area and rearranging it along the public shoreline. Legally that is know as dredging and requires an environmental permit. Plus it is heavy work with the potential for injury which had not crossed my mind at the time of course . Per chance one of them were to sprain his back or get hurt there would be no insurance coverage for that project. Also working for cash in this province is illegal and I as a contractor should not have agreed to their engaging in that arrangement.
So here is what I am going to do. Having spoken to you I am now going to talk to my guys and advise them not to continue engaging in the project for the reasons I have just outlined.
Tony I hope you can understand where I am coming from and sincerely hope that this will have no bearing on our ongoing relationship as we wrap up the job we are currently engaged in for you. Because it has been a pleasure working for you throughout this entire project. (Note to editor: Of course no conversation is just one sided but this would be the consensus of my course of action. Being honest and approaching issues head on with diplomacy is always the best policy, maybe it does not always seem that way as it relates to each immediate issue at hand but over the course a of a life time it pays back with rich dividends.).
Leonard Zarky’s got himself in a quandary that is easy to do. It happens to contractors when the grey line of ethical decisions is crossed. Naivete and lack of forethought was his initial downfall. With the downtrodden road he has chosen, there will be unpleasant repercussions for Leonard regardless of his attempt to correct or compensate. However, Leonard can take comfort in a trite yet wise quip that pain can in fact be a measure of gain. Now that Leonard has a weighty pile of legitimate concern on his shoulders regarding his decision to allow his wealthy long-term client approach then hire his men “off the record” to do illegal labor for tax evading pay, Leonard should throw off that weight by having uncomfortable, yet necessary, conversations.
Before doing so however Leonard needs to come to terms with his part in creating this messy dilemma. Right from the get-go, Leonard should have been aboveboard. He should have attempted to protect his employees and model good employer practices. He should have been straightforward with his client and set boundaries for his workers – offering to allow them to work under contract during work hours on his client’s underwater landscaping project. But Leonard didn’t attempt to protect and he wasn’t straightforward; consequently, he missed the privileged opportunity that contractors have to be a moral compass for both parties. If Leonard came to this conclusion on his own, it will serve him well when he attempts to begin conversations.
The first conversation he should have is with his client. Safety of his workers should be his motivator. Leonard should confess that he made a poor decision by allowing his client to approach his workers for this side job. He should share in a non-threatening way his concerns. After that, he should tell his client that he needs to step in. He should clearly articulate the steps that will be taken and involve his client in creating a new plan. If Mr. Zarky wants this work completed by Leonard’s workers, it will need to be under a contractual arrangement. In that formal agreement, it should detail when and how the work will be done, including the obtaining of a permit. Leonard would be wise to consider how far he is prepared to go in order to keep this relationship with his client before he enters this conversation. Is Leonard willing to take a loss either to keep good rapport with his client or to end their relationship? That judgement call for Leonard will largely flow out of this conversation and their past experiences together.
The next conversation should be with Leonard’s workers. Leonard should confess that he put them in harm’s way and was negligent in his employer’s responsibility to protect them. If Leonard was able to secure a contract with his client, he can then share with his workers how the work will be completed. If Leonard was unable to secure a contract with his client, he will need to tell his workers that they cannot continue working for Mr. Zarky on the weekends. It may even be necessary for Leonard to give his employees the choice of continuing their work for Mr. Zarky OR continuing their employment with him. This approach has potential to create tension between Leonard and his workers. It might take Leonard some intentional work to earn his workers’ trust back. He may even need to prepare himself for the possibility of being held accountable by some authority should a formal complaint be lodged against him by one of his workers. These possible outcomes do not diminish the prudent nature of having these conversations though.
On a side note, it should be mentioned that if Leonard’s client does not consent to setting up a contract and following “the rules of the land”, then Leonard ought to report the illegal activities to the proper authorities. Many of these authorities accept anonymous reports; often the information you provide will only be used for investigating the reported occurrence. The client will likely not change his ways on his own; inevitably, some other contractor or worker will be sliding down the same slippery slope.
A Writer’s Memo: To answer this question, I found myself asking how comfortable is Leonard with his own persona and ethics. Can he admit he was wrong? Does he want to be an employer that is esteemed for his integrity and safe practices? Is he secure in his principles enough to be unwavering with clients? Can he let go of clients that do not have the same principles or suffer the consequences of his poor decisions? I respond to each question I proposed to Leonard with advice for him to do “Something Else”. For me, that “Something Else” is to take the less traveled highroad!