Some people believe business is all about what they can get without bothering to think about the other guy. Others are just plain dishonest. Either way, there are business owners who think it’s okay to put the screws to someone else as long as it helps them make more moneyPlay Fair, No Excuses.

Here’s a news flash if you’re someone who approaches business that way: it might work for a while, but at some point word will get out and you’ll find it difficult if not impossible to find subs or employees.

This topic comes up in one form or another in almost every class I’ve taught. There are two situations that are usually discussed. One is the relationship between generals and subs. The other is when either a sub or an employee is foreign-born or speaks a different language.

General contractors, you should have a subcontractor agreement in writing that defines how you intend to do business with your subs and what you, in turn, expect from them. It describes a win-win approach to doing business together. Win-win means you lay the cards on the table so there are no surprises. Your subs know exactly how you schedule jobs, when they will get notified to start the job, and when you will pay them for that job. They know what you expect from them in the way of workmanship, keeping the job clean, showing up on time and finishing the job on schedule. There are no gray areas: everything is spelled out so there isn’t any doubt in anyone’s mind about your company procedures. Your expectations are clear, and they know what will happen if they don’t keep their end of the bargain.

After you have an overall written agreement, when you ask a subcontractor to provide work on a certain job, it is your responsibility to write out exactly what you want done, including sketches or blueprints as needed. Once the outline is given to the sub, they review it and work with you to be sure everything is clear and the job specs are complete. Any additions or deletions are put on the form as needed, a fixed price is added and both parties sign the agreement.

Now that you have an agreement, follow it. That includes paying on time. Don’t try the “I’ll pay you when I get paid,” because that’s not in the agreement.

Subcontractors, you have a responsibility to keep your end of the agreement as well. That includes doing the job on time, keeping the jobsite clean, and following the job specs as outlined.

Whether you’re a general or a sub, when you employ someone, whether by the hour or by the job, they need to be paid fairly. Some business owners seem to think it’s okay to not pay subs or employees for the work they do if they have a different skin color or don’t speak the same language.

I’m not talking about immigration laws, or whether or not illegal immigrants can or should be hired. I’m talking about treating everyone the same and keeping your word.

If someone from another country is capable of doing the same job as a native-born U.S. citizen and you hire them, you need to pay them the same wage. You also need to pay them in the same time frame, i.e., don’t make them wait weeks for a paycheck. It doesn’t matter where they’re from, the color of their skin, or what their first language is. They have families to take care of just like anyone else. They need food, shelter, and clothing just like anyone else.

How can anyone possibly justify asking someone to work and then not paying them the full amount or on time? If you make an agreement with someone, keep it. It’s common decency.

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Jim Cabral
Jim Cabral
September 21, 2016 6:29 am

Great post. I would opine that a good business practice should really just be the by-product of having an actual moral compass. This is Golden Rule stuff here. My subs always go out of their way for me, because I treat them with the exact same respect that I expect from them. We operate with a mentality of equality, and I find it rare that I have to pull rank and play the GC card. When my relatively new mason failed to call me back within 24 hours, I sent him a courteous email telling him my expectations (after acknowledging… Read more »

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