Liabilities and your work

Public news

How many times have you undertaken work for a customer knowing that you were unlikely to be paid on time or at all? Have you ever taken a job over at the request of an already disgruntled and dissatisfied consumer? What about making throwaway comments when looking at another person’s work such as what clown did that? Or no self-respecting person would let that leave their workshop?

Any of those circumstances are likely to lead to unpleasantness, conflict and the possibility of legal action or involvement in court proceedings, and that ought to be avoided at all costs.

First, avoiding potentially unlawful activity is an absolute. That does not mean you can’t deal with a person who has been convicted of an offence-everyone is entitled to have their car serviced or to buy new tyres. It does mean that if there is the slightest hint of any serious criminality that will be furthered or assisted by what you are being asked to do, don’t do it.

Secondly, think long and hard about taking over a job that has been commenced by someone else, especially if there is a chance that your customer is coming to you because he or she is unhappy with the work of your predecessor. To be blunt, most work carried out by modern and reputable tradespeople is pretty good, and if there really is a problem, most such people will address it in a reasonable and professional manner. If the relationship has broken down so badly that a customer deposits a half-painted car on your doorstep and implores you to finish it, do you really want to be involved?

I’m not suggesting you can’t be involved-I’m saying that in such a case you need to be very careful, and very clear in what you are being asked to do and why. Extensive written communication with proper estimates of both cost and time is crucial. Most of the complaints that emanate from these situations come down to misunderstandings caused by misheard or reconstructed conversations, unrealistic expectations and a lack of proper written records that clearly show who is to do what, when and why and at what estimated cost. And most importantly, in such instances be hard. If you realistically think 10-12 weeks, then say 12. If you genuinely think 50-60 hours, estimate 60. Customers will only hear what they wish to, especially if they are already agitated by cost or time over-runs.

Thirdly, don’t unnecessarily denigrate any work has already been done by saying things like:

“That’s a terrible prep job. Whoever did that is an idiot. Sorry mate but that clown ripped you off, and I’ll need to spend at least 10 hours fixing mistakes.”

This is virtually guaranteed to land you right in the middle of a legal dispute, not to mention destroying relationships within a close-knit community. It also leaves wiggle room for a customer as to exactly how long will be required to rectify the work.

On the other hand, you could try:

“I do the prep my own way, so that’s why the additional 15 hours is on the quote. I know you want the best job possible and I don’t want to rely on anything I haven’t done myself.

This quote is honest, safe and congenial. It does not mislead the customer, it does not criticise your predecessor and it does not contain the horrible “at least 10 hours”, where all the customer heard was “10 hours”.

A few more “rules” for you to consider:

  • Don’t let customers work on their own vehicles if they expect you to “work with them”.
  • Don’t let customers into your workshop unless it is absolutely unavoidable.
  • Don’t take on work that you cannot get to within the promised time, or that you lack the expertise to complete.

There are many other simple tips for avoiding legal complications, and the MTA is here to provide you with any assistance you need in working your way through the legal minefield of modern business regulations.

  • Ensure your workplace audits are up to date. Evacuation plans, exit signs, testing and tagging, machinery inspections and certifications.
  • Have your policies and procedures readily available, and abide by them.
  • Ensure you are paying wages at the correct rates.
  • Have your documentation properly prepared. Plan for succession.
  • Insure against every reasonably possible risk.
  • Perhaps most critically, put everything you can in writing. Most of the consumer complaints that we deal with relate, in some way or another, to misunderstandings (some, I am obliged to say, are deliberate) on the part of the customer. Take away the room for confusion by a few words or lines on the documents, whether it is as to the problem that you are being asked to look at, the proposed time frame, the estimated cost or anything else that is likely to be contentious.

Click here to contact the MTA’s Workplace Relations team for assistance in this matter. By implementing strategies from the get-go, your business can remain protected!