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Sub contractor from Hell

A nice lady called me on the phone the other day. She said that she had been reading all about me and could I help her and her husband with a problem?

I was intrigued. “How can I help you?” I started.

The nice lady on the phone starts to paint a picture of an impossible position they have found themselves in.

Her husband has a cleaning business that comprises of domestic window cleaning work on one side and commercial office and window cleaning on the other.

As her husband was so busy with the commercial side of the business he decided to sub contract out the domestic work.

A verbal agreement was made on money and supply of equipment. So, off this sub contractor goes, presumably after learning the ropes.

The thing is after a while they began to lose work. The recession was given as the reason. But at some point they began to get a little suspicious. After all they were right to recognise that even in a recession you might lose 2 customers but you will also gain 3 more.

My first thought, as the nice lady was telling me this story, was that there must be a new window cleaner in the area.

Then she gets to the part of the sub contractor and I suddenly know for definite where this was leading.

They suspected that the sub contractor was stealing work. To investigate the whole thing and to get to the bottom of it all, her husband decided to speak with the sub contractor and express concern over the drop in trade.

Further to this, the husband suggested that in order for him to understand the problem and to find a solution in order to stop the haemorrhaging of customers he would go and work with this sub contractor.

This of course did not go down well with the sub contractor since it would mean less hours worked for him if the ‘boss’ worked alongside.

This resulted in the sub contractor quitting his job immediately.

It turns out it was him stealing work! This nice lady’s husband has worked hard to build up his domestic business only for someone to steal it away from him!

There is also a moral here to which I will come back to later. It’s one that does not help this chap out or get his work back at all.

“What can we do?” she says, “We are losing business”

“Is there anything in writing?” I said. And to my horror she returns her answer as, no.

Well, if this person was employed directly under a PAYE scheme it is law that you need to give terms and conditions of employment so that each party knows where they stand. In the absence of this basic requirement under employment law, you could go down the route of implied contract terms.

This is usually referenced at verbal instructions of a job, its requirements, and the employer’s expectations. And that this understanding has been in force for a length of time.

A good example of this would be a contract I won this year. It involved a window cleaning contract not subject to TUPE regs and 7 days per week cleaning of a golf club which did affect an employee who would transfer to us under TUPE regs.

I was sent all the relevant TUPE information on this employee. I found out that the previous cleaning contractor provided a taxi for this employee in order for her to get to work in the mornings. The reason given was that the bus route does not take her to the job for the early time that the golf club would like the cleaning to be carried out.

When I mentioned this to the golf club, they were horrified to learn that over £2000 of their cleaning costs was paying for the taxi of the cleaner!

The supply of the taxi was not in her terms and conditions of employment but because she had received the taxi for the past 7 years it was an implied agreement and therefore protected.

If the nice lady and her husband employed this sub contractor directly they could have suspended the worker immediately pending investigation. Also in the terms and conditions, expectations could have been included such as:

You will not operate a window cleaning round or work for another window cleaning company.

You will not carry out other window cleaning work in company time.

You will only use equipment for company scheduled work.

You will not ‘poach’ current window cleaning customers or cause a customer to leave the company in order for you to benefit.

You must not give contract details including customer details to a 3rd party.

These are some examples and I can think of more including handling money.

Best thing is that these rules could work as part of an agreement with a sub contractor as well!

I told the nice lady that the only option for her was a small claims court. She would have to show evidence of this sub contractor stealing work. This may be difficult to prove since customers exercise free will.

The moral of this story is get it written down. When two parties understand their expectations from day one, when it all goes wrong the employee or sub contractor does not have a leg to stand on if they are doing the dirty.

My advice to the nice lady was for her husband to go and have lots of tea with his remaining customers and start to build up relations again. Back this up with a fresh canvass or leaflet drop for new customers.

Before they know it, they will have replaced the customers lost and learned an important lesson.

If you would like to discuss this topic further, please feel to email me at lee@windowcleaningmagazine.co.uk

Or follow me on twitter: twitter.com/leeburbidge

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