A Contractor’s Guide for OSHA Compliance in the Coronavirus Era

As COVID-19, or the “coronavirus,” continues to dramatically impact the United States, employers across various industries continue to face new state-mandated rules and regulations aimed at protecting both employees and the general public. In addition, employers are facing increased scrutiny by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for failing to strictly provide employees with coronavirus-related protections.

OSHA inspections are generally prompted for various reasons, including, but not limited to, fatalities or “catastrophes”; referrals of hazards from other government agencies, individuals, organizations, or the media; employee complaints; or for routine inspection. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic through November 26, 2020, OSHA has received more than 12,750 complaints and referrals, and has opened nearly 1,400 coronavirus-related workplace inspections. In that same time frame, state agencies have received nearly 42,000 complaints and referrals, and have opened approximately 4,200 coronavirus-related inspections. In response to those complaints, referrals, and inspections, OSHA has cited nearly 250 businesses for violations relating to the coronavirus, resulting in proposed penalties of at least $3,403,139.

Specifically, OSHA inspections have resulted in coronavirus-related citations to employers for failing to:

· Implement a written respiratory protection program.

· Provide a medical evaluation, respirator fit test, training on the proper use of a respirator and other personal protective equipment (PPE).

· Report an injury, illness, or fatality.

· Record an injury or illness on OSHA recordkeeping forms.

· Comply with the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

In addition to those more specific OSHA violations above, the General Duty Clause can generally serve as a basis for any citation. The General Duty Clause requires employers to furnish “a place of employment which [is] free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm” to employees, and to comply with all standards, rules, regulations, and orders promulgated under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Accordingly, an employer could be in violation of the General Duty Clause when the hazard is COVID-19. Although the most common violations are linked to the PPE standards, recording requirements, and the General Duty Clause, employers should be aware that OSHA has the power to issue citations for any violation observed during an inspection, even if those violations are unrelated to COVID-19.

Violations for workplace safety could result in costly penalties. Specifically, as of January 15, 2020, the agency’s maximum per-violation monetary penalties are $134,937 for willful or repeated violations, $13,494 for serious, other-than-serious, or posting requirements violations, and $13,494 for failure to abate existing violations. These are maximum fines, so the actual fine levied by OSHA could be, and in most coronavirus-related cases has been, less.

Avoiding Coronavirus-Related OSHA Violations

Notably, the highest number of complaints have originated from the healthcare, retail, restaurant, and construction industries, in that order. As of the date of this article, however, there are no OSHA regulations or standards specific to the coronavirus.

So, how can contractors avoid coronavirus-related OSHA violations?

In an effort to assist employers, OSHA points to its general standards and directives that may be most applicable to reduce worker exposure to the coronavirus. In addition to those general standards and directives, on April 22, 2020, OSHA issued safety guidance aimed at reducing construction workers’ risk of exposure to the coronavirus. The substance of the guidance presents no new regulations but provides contractors with a clear and concise list of practical advice regarding areas such as enhanced workplace cleaning, social distancing in the workplace or at the construction site, and face coverings and other protective equipment.

More specifically, when working in the construction industry, OSHA recommends that the following actions be taken to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus:

· Encourage workers to stay home if they are sick.

· Allow workers to wear masks over their nose and mouth to prevent them from spreading the virus.

· Continue to use other normal control measures, including PPE, necessary to protect workers from other job hazards associated with construction activities.

· Advise workers to avoid physical contact with others and direct employees/contractors/visitors to increase personal space to at least six feet where possible. Where work trailers are used, all workers should maintain social distancing while in the trailers;

· Train workers how to properly put on, use/wear, and take off protective clothing and equipment.

· Encourage respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes.

· Promote personal hygiene. If workers do not have immediate access to soap and water for handwashing, provide alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60 percent alcohol;

· Use Environmental Protection Agency-approved cleaning chemicals from List N (www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2) or that have label claims against the coronavirus.

· To the extent tools or equipment must be shared, provide and instruct workers to use alcohol-based wipes to clean tools before and after use. When cleaning tools and equipment, workers should consult manufacturer recommendations for proper cleaning techniques and restrictions.

· Keep in-person meetings (including toolbox talks and safety meetings) as short as possible, limit the number of workers in attendance, and use social distancing practices.

· Clean and disinfect portable jobsite toilets regularly. Hand sanitizer dispensers should be filled regularly. Frequently-touched items (i.e., door pulls and toilet seats) should be disinfected.

· Encourage workers to report and safety and health concerns.

While many of these recommendations are standard operating guidelines with respect to jobsites, it is increasingly important to ensure that these guidelines are closely followed to prevent any unanticipated effects of the coronavirus, complaints or referrals, and to be better prepared in the event of an OSHA inspection.

Steps to Follow After a Citation

My company has been cited by OSHA. Now what?

Should OSHA determine that a contractor is in violation of OSHA standards warranting a citation and notification of penalty, there are several steps that contractors should take.

First, contractors must keep track of the 15 business days in which to contest the citation and penalties and the few exceptions which apply to that time frame. Occasionally, contractors lose track of the deadline during informal settlement negotiations in hopes of reaching an agreement. However, if that settlement cannot be finalized within those first 15 business days, then the contractor must file a formal contest even if its only reason for doing so is to preserve its rights.

During those first 15 business days, contractors should also determine whether they are seeking a complete reversal of the citation and fine, a reclassification of the citation to a lesser penalty or a change in the description of the offense, or if they are better suited to simply pay the fine. Contractors are encouraged to consult with an attorney when making these determinations, particularly in the event of a death or serious injury, whether coronavirus-related or otherwise.

A contractor has three grounds for contesting an OSHA citation: the citation itself, the proposed penalty, and/or the abatement date. Once a contractor has filed a notice of intent to contest, the citations, including the proposed penalties and abatement dates, are put on hold pending a final resolution, either through settlement or trial. In most cases, the dispute will end in settlement. However, barring a settlement, the area office forwards the notice of contest to the OSHA Review Commission, which assigns the case to an administrative law judge, who schedules a hearing. During the review, contractors are given an opportunity to serve discovery, conduct depositions and cross examination of witnesses, and may also appeal the decision of the administrative law judge for a review by the full commission.

Because the contractor will be defending itself in a court-like setting, it is important that the contractor maintain detailed records about the company’s safety procedures, including how the company has addressed and corrected any issues identified by the initial inspection and, if the contractor does decide to contest a citation, contractors are strongly encouraged to consult an attorney.

About the author: Keith A. Boyette is an attorney with Anderson Jones, PLLC in Raleigh, North Carolina, a law firm with attorneys licensed in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. For more information or questions about this article, please email him at kboyette@andersonandjones.com.

Author’s note: This article is intended only for informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice.

Manpower Issues and Using Temporary Labor Have Potential Legal Implications

2020 has been a year like no other for the United States. COVID-19 and its resulting recession have touched nearly every aspect of the economy. While the construction industry has been deemed an “essential” business in many states and jurisdictions, COVID-19 has still impacted the industry. According to a September 2, 2020 report by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), COVID-19 has contributed to construction project delays, disruptions, and even layoffs and furloughs, with 60 percent of respondents to a recent AGC survey reporting cancellations or delays. AGC partnered with Autodesk to conduct the survey in August; it polled respondents about the preceding twelve months.

The finding that COVID-19 has prompted delays and cancellations likely won’t surprise many in the construction industry. But also significant is that whatever impact the industry has felt, it hasn’t been enough to counteract the industry’s shortage of skilled craft labor. The labor shortage existed before the recession; on March 16, 2020, the trade group Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) reported that the construction industry needed to hire an additional 550,000 workers compared with 2019 (up from a 440,000 increase from 2018 to 2019). The September AGC report indicates that, as recently as August, firms in the United States were still struggling to fill skilled labor positions; about 52 percent (down from 80 percent in 2019) reported difficulty filling hourly craft positions and 28 percent (down from 47 percent) reported difficulty filling salaried positions. The survey results revealed some employers cited COVID-related issues, like workers’ health risks and childcare concerns, as contributing to the struggle.

The labor shortage impacts many aspects of the industry; however, this article will attempt to identify potential legal implications and issues for firms to consider as they contract in these unique economic conditions.

Manpower Issues and “Default” Notices

Labor shortages might impact the number and scope of projects contractors choose to take, but unexpected shortages on pending projects present unique legal issues. Most standard agreements entitle owners and general contractors to fast recourse if a contractor or subcontractor fails to perform its obligations due to inadequate manpower. For example, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) A201-2017 General Conditions of the Contract for Construction, in § 2.5, entitles the owner to recourse if the contractor fails to “commence and continue correction” of its failure to “carry out the Work.” A201-2017 § 2.5 affords the contractor ten days to do so following the owner’s notice of default. The AIA’s corresponding subcontract provision (A401-2017 § 3.5) establishes a five-day notice to cure period for subcontractors. Many contractors and subcontractors know, however, that shorter notice periods — commonly, 48 hours — are increasingly routine on commercial projects, with some contracts requiring that defaults be cured or corrected within this period in order to avoid assessment of back charges for supplemental labor. Upon the contractor or subcontractor’s failure to commence or correct the default in question, the owner or upper-tier contractor typically is entitled to proceed with self-correction measures including hiring its own workers or subcontractors to make corrections, or to supplement the labor force of the party in default. The default might also entitle the owner or contractor to terminate the party in default.

In addition to contractual rights to cure defaults, contractors in some states also enjoy a statutory right to an opportunity to cure. Contractors in the many states that have no such statutes may wonder to what extent contractual notice-to-cure provisions are enforceable. Generally, parties on commercial projects are entitled to contract for such provisions, and they are enforceable in court. Courts’ strict enforcement of such provisions can set a high standard of compliance for both the defaulting party and the owner or upper-tier contract. For instance, in a New York case, the upper-tier contractor’s notice to its subcontractor that it “may declare [subcontractor] in default” if the subcontractor failed to correct deficiencies within 48 hours did not necessarily constitute a sufficient notice to later support termination for cause because it only implied that it might default the subcontractor. [See RKI Construction, LLC v. WFF, Inc., No. 14-CV-1803 (E.D.N.Y, Nov. 6, 2020).] In a delay-related case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has also found that, because the default (a severe delay) could not be cured within 48 hours, a general contractor was entitled to terminate its subcontractor without providing 48 hours to cure per the subcontract terms. [See L.K. Comstock & Co. v. United Engineers & Constructors, Inc., 880 F.2d 219 (1989).] Contractors facing a short default notice window likely should assume that the contract terms will be strictly enforced; if the contract requires them to “commence” a cure within a specific time period, they might take the position that they need not completely cure within 48 hours but merely present a plan to do so.

If owners and general contractors successfully enforce contractual default provisions, what damages can they legally recover? AIA A401-2017 entitles a general contractor to withhold the “reasonable cost” of remedying the subcontractor’s default or neglect. The “reasonable” language is consistent with the common-law duty to mitigate damages that is incumbent upon most litigants in breach of contract actions. This means that the non-breaching party is responsible for taking reasonable measures — such as shopping around to find a competitive price for replacement labor — to minimize its damages arising from the breach. Parties may agree by contract that additional damages, such as liquidated damages where delay is an issue, are recoverable.

Temporary Labor and Related Liability Considerations

Contractors and subcontractors struggling to adequately staff jobs, or perhaps facing a default notice, might have to look to temporary labor to fulfill contractual obligations. Staffing firms can be a lifesaver for contractors in this position, although working with temporary labor poses potentially complex legal issues. Leading up to 2020, federal courts were split on the issue of  whether and when contractors could be considered joint employers of temporary laborers, or even a subcontractor’s employees. Effective March 16, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has published a final rule in an effort to provide clarity on this issue. Under the rule, a contractor will be found to be a joint employer of a worker when the worker performs work that simultaneously benefits another person who is “acting directly or indirectly in the interest of the employer in relation to the employee.” (See 29 C.F.R. § 791.2.) The DOL rule provides that a worker is acting in the contractor’s interest such that employer becomes a joint employer when the contractor:

· Hires or fires the employee;

· Supervises and controls the employee’s work schedule or conditions of employment to a substantial degree;

· Determines the employee’s rate and method of payment; and

· Maintains the employee’s employment records.

Being considered a “joint employer” can obligate a contractor to comply with wage and hour laws, workers’ compensation rules, and other employment laws. It is therefore crucial for any contractor considering using temporary labor to consult with an attorney to consider the legal implications of doing so. A written contract establishing terms such as who is entitled to fire, who sets the terms of the employment, and who maintains personnel records is likely important, as well as making clear who is responsible for maintaining workers compensation insurance on the workers in question. 

About the author: Caroline Trautman is an attorney with Oak City Law, LLP, based in Durham, North Carolina. Questions about this article can be directed to her at caroline@oakcitylaw.com.

Author’s note: This article does not constitute, and should not be construed as, legal advice on any particular scenario. For specific advice, consult with an attorney licensed in your state.

Collaborative Law – the New Trend in Resolution of Construction Litigation Cases?

Most contract or payment disputes that occur in the roofing and construction industry at large get resolved in one of three ways: informal discussion and settlement by the parties; litigation in a court of law; or through arbitration using an agreement created by parties of any number of agencies that manage the process. Lawyers can assist in any of these processes and really are necessary to make sure your rights and future obligations are covered.

In the last few years, a new process has come to prominence in other legal aspects like family and domestic law. Now, there is a push to use it in construction. Collaborative Law is a process where parties use their lawyer and work in a completely open, non-adversarial manner to resolve disputes. Nineteen states have passed legislation enacting the Uniform Collaborative Law Act, and it is pending in five other states.

A main feature of the collaborative law process is the required civility between the parties and the demand for complete openness to discuss all aspects of issues — good and bad.

The collaborative law process offers parties a great deal of control over the dispute resolution process. As with other forms of dispute resolution, the collaborative law process is designed to allow the parties to control the cost, the timing, and the resulting outcome.

Main components of the collaborative law process include:

· Efficiency: Resolution can be reached as soon or as late as the parties desire, and can cover any topics that need to be discussed.

· Personal Control: The parties (not a judge or jury or arbitrator) make all decisions.

· Flexibility: The process moves at the parties’ pace.

· Privacy: The parties craft their own rules regarding confidentiality.

· Opportunity: Future-focused solutions possibly preserve business relationships and avoid the blood feud.

· Satisfaction: All agreements reflect each party’s needs and interests.

Resolving disputes through the collaborative law process provides the parties the chance to preserve relationships which are very important in the construction industry without creating a business-ending enemy.

Also key is the following: while the collaborative process is ongoing, the parties agree not to initiate or pursue litigation or arbitration, and projects likely do not stop, but continue to go forward. To foster complete transparency, a degree of professionalism is necessary and requires the parties’ and lawyers’ agreement to not take advantage of known mistakes, errors of law or fact, miscalculations, inconsistencies, parties positions, or claim. If these are errors are discovered by one party, they must give the other party an opportunity to correct it.

This process requires some commitment and the need to set aside animosity, hard feelings, and the need to win that typically goes along with construction disputes. The collaborative law process is really about problem solving and finding solutions and not winning a fight.

If the parties opt for the collaborative process, generally an agreement is signed by all parties and their lawyers outlining the terms of the process. If after all collaboration, discussion, negotiation, and problem-solving efforts by the parties and no resolution is achieved, then the parties can go sharpen their swords and go to battle with litigation, arbitration, or any other dispute resolution process. One caveat is that the parties will be forced to find new lawyers to help them. Lawyers who are engaged in the collaborative process — because of the open exchange of confidential information — are not able to provide representation in litigation from the issues of the failed collaborative process.

The prevalence of collaborative law and its use in construction cases is unknown. It does provide another process for contractors to use when construction disputes arise.

About the author: Todd A. Jones is an attorney with Anderson Jones, PLLC in Raleigh, North Carolina, a law firm with attorneys licensed in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. For more information or questions about this article, please email him at tjones@andersonandjones.com.

Author’s note: This article is intended only for informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice.

SBA Relaxes PPP Loan Requirements for Coronavirus Relief

On March 27, 2020, Congress enacted an unprecedented $2 trillion stimulus package, called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), aimed at assisting people, states, and businesses nationwide that have been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of the CARES Act, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) was authorized to issue special loans to employers in need of financial assistance. Through two rounds of funding, approximately $659 billion has been allocated to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), intended to provide short-term financing to small businesses that would otherwise be forced to lay off employees, and in some cases close the doors, as workers continue to stay home as a result of the outbreak. As of the date of this article, approximately $100 billion is still available in the fund.

Under the PPP, eligible businesses include all businesses — including 501(c)(3) nonprofits, 501(c)(19) Veterans organizations, Tribal concerns, sole proprietorships, self-employed individuals, and independent contractors — with 500 or fewer employees, or no greater than the number of employees set by the SBA as the size standard for certain industries. As for the construction industry, now more than ever, cash flow is essential to short-term and long-term sustainability. However, in addition to the size requirements, construction companies seeking a PPP loan were also required to ensure that their annual revenue would stay within SBA-set limits that the agency typically uses to determine eligibility for other SBA loans.

Understandably, with unanticipated delays and ever-changing plans to “reopen” varying from state to state, construction companies have been faced with the difficult task of providing thorough and accurate information regarding anticipated annual revenue numbers when applying for PPP loans. On April 4, 2016, the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) recognized the difficulty construction companies faced to obtain much needed financial assistance and urged federal officials to revise the rules in order to encourage construction companies to seek assistance.

As discussed below, in response to the AGC, the U.S. Treasury Department issued new guidance that cleared the way for construction companies to apply for loans through the PPP, and in recognition of the growing need for additional funding and further expansion, Congress revised a number of PPP qualifiers and loan requirements.

The New “Either/Or” Standard

Initially, construction companies were required to meet both the workforce-size and annual revenue limits, which caused many construction companies to balk at PPP assistance. However, on April 6, 2020, the Treasury Department issued formal guidance stating that in order to be eligible for a PPP loan, construction companies must now meet either the 500-employee threshold or the annual revenue ceiling, but would no longer be required to meet both criteria.

The Payroll Percentage Reduced

When the PPP was first introduced, it required all borrowers to use 75 percent of the loan for payroll purposes and further required companies to retain and bring back furloughed or terminated employees in order to qualify for loan forgiveness. In many states around the country, however, construction crews were not permitted to work, making it difficult for companies to spend the required amount on payroll expenses.

Now, with revisions and expansions from Congress, the payroll percentage threshold to qualify for forgiveness is lower, at 60 percent, which allows construction companies to spend more of their PPP loan on other much needed business necessities. Additionally, under the new terms of the PPP, companies are only accountable for the percentage under 60 percent that is not used for payroll purposes at a 1 percent interest rate.

The Time Frame for Spending

Under the initial PPP requirements, construction companies had eight weeks to spend their PPP funding on qualifying payroll expenses. However, for construction companies and materials suppliers, it was difficult to spend 75 percent of their loan on payroll expenses in the face of uncontrollable and unavoidable delays in such a short time frame. Under the relaxed PPP requirements, companies are now given 24 weeks for such spending, which provides much needed relief for small- to mid-sized construction companies. Construction companies who have already obtained PPP funding should contact their lender to request an extension under the new rules.

The Hire-Back Deadline

With the exception of employees that were unwilling to return to the jobsite, the PPP originally required businesses to re-hire furloughed or terminated employees by June 31, 2020. Under the new rules, the period to re-hire employees has been extended to December 31, 2020, and still allows a company to qualify for forgiveness even if it is unable to fill a vacated position due to specialization, such as licensed architects and engineers, or employee refusal.

The PPP Application and Repayment Deadlines

The original application deadline for the PPP was June 31, 2020. From the time the PPP was introduced, up until the recent revisions and expansions, nearly 5 million companies applied for relief. Such high demand, coupled with rumors that funding was severely limited, caused many construction companies to pass on applying for a loan. Today, however, approximately $100 billion is still available to qualifying companies and the application deadline has been extended to December 31, 2020.

In situations where a company could not qualify for loan forgiveness, the previous version of the PPP required loan repayment within two years of receipt. That repayment period has now been extended to five years, allowing greater relief to companies who may not be able to qualify for full forgiveness in the future. Construction companies in need of financial assistance should contact a local lender to learn about the application process and to ensure that all proper forms and agreements are in place to qualify for forgiveness or an extended payback period.

Payroll Tax Deferral or PPP Loan?

Under the original PPP requirements, construction businesses were faced with deciding whether to defer payroll taxes or apply for a PPP loan. The new rules, however, allow companies to apply for a PPP loan and file for a payroll tax deferral, providing significant relief for large construction companies and suppliers.

What Remains the Same?

The maximum amount available to each borrower is equal to the lesser of (a) $10 million or (b) 2.5 times its average total monthly payroll costs, as defined in the CARES Act. Unlike most typical SBA loans, these loans are unsecured loans requiring no collateral, no personal guarantee, and no showing that credit is unavailable elsewhere. To the extent not forgiven, the loan has a maximum 10-year term and the interest rate may not exceed 4 percent. The current interest rate, as stated above, is 1 percent if repayment is necessary.

Under the revised and expanded PPP rules, construction companies, contractors, and suppliers have been provided additional opportunities to obtain much needed financial support for essential business functions. Construction companies that have already obtained a loan through the PPP, or those that intend to seek assistance through the PPP in the future, are encouraged to contact an attorney and a local lender to take advantage of the relief offered under the CARES Act and to ensure that all PPP requirements are satisfied.

About the author: Keith A. Boyette is an attorney with Anderson Jones, PLLC in Raleigh, North Carolina, a law firm with attorneys licensed in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. For more information or questions about this article, please email him at kboyette@andersonandjones.com.

Author’s note: This article is intended only for informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice.

Social Media for Roofing Industry Professionals

Social media is everywhere — from TikTok videos to Instagram posts to LinkedIn professional updates. Consider these social media statistics:

  • At the end of 2019 the total worldwide population was 7.8 billion people.
  • The internet had 4.54 billion users.
  • There were 3.725 billion social media users, just under 50 percent of the world’s population.

The average person has 7.6 social media accounts and spends a staggering 142 minutes a day on social media, according to Brandwatch.com. Eighty-one percent of small and medium-sized businesses are on social media, and 91 percent of retail brands have two or more social media channels.

If you work in the roofing industry either as a contractor, employee, architect, construction materials manufacturer or consultant, why does social media matter and what platforms are right for you?

Audience

To use social media effectively, you must first understand who you are trying to reach — customers, potential employees, or both. Once you figure out who you want to reach, determine which social media platforms they use. This will tell you where you want to be active. Start with the basics: LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook (you don’t want to spread yourself too thin). If you have the resources, YouTube and Instagram visuals broaden your potential to reach an even larger audience. According to the construction marketing association, 50 percent of construction marketers say LinkedIn and Facebook are the two most effective channels to reach members of the industry.

Facebook

Facebook is a very dynamic platform, allowing you to highlight your customers, tagging them in your posts and they in turn can engage with your posts (sharing with their friends or asking your company questions, for instance). On Facebook you can also easily include contact information about your firm. (e.g., blogs, e-books).

Twitter

Twitter allows organizations to talk with audiences in a way that other social networks do not. Companies use Twitter to connect with users in real time, answering questions, posting updates, and replying to other posts. You can engage on Twitter by simply “liking” or retweeting content. You can also share short tips and exercise thought-leadership as well as easily connect with other influencers. It’s also a great platform to engage in real time with people live at events.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking site which is primarily used for professional networking. LinkedIn currently has more than 575 million registered users and 260 million active users. It is a strong platform for business development. Here, you can connect with like-minded roofing companies and suppliers, list jobs opportunities within your company, network for new projects and share news updates.

Share-Worthy Content

Once you get started, assess your content frequently. A good way to tell whether or not you’re sharing great social media content is to ask yourself this: If I didn’t work for this company, would I look at this post? If the answer is no, it’s a sign you need to revamp your content. Make social media about your audience, not just your business. That way, even if you’re in a highly specialized industry, you can still deliver share-worthy content on social media and continue to build your audience.

Finally, be sure to add visuals — photos, charts or other graphics. Humans are visual creatures, and the saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” particularly holds true with social media. Adding a photo that shows your team at work on a roof or a recently completed project will certainly appeal to your audience. You can also consider unique imagery that gives your followers an inside look at your company. Using photos in your posts has been proven to significantly boost engagement.

About the authors: Louisa Hart of Precision Public Relations Inc. provides expertise in media outreach and internal communications for a wide variety of clients in the private, public and non-profit sectors. Hart has taught on the university level, at The American University in Washington, DC, and at the EW Scripps School of Communication at Ohio University.

Mittie Rooney, Principal, Axiom Communications, has expertise in the development and execution of media, relationship marketing, social marketing and public education campaigns for and providing strategic counsel to corporations, technology start-ups, trade associations and the federal government.

Social Media Tips

The following tips should be helpful, whether you are just starting out, or have years of experience navigating the social mediasphere.

1. First, can you describe the “voice” of your social media outreach? This is not necessarily a real person — it probably isn’t — but an ideal representative who can appeal to your audience, using language that they understand and referencing issues or values they share. Is this the voice of your corporate leadership? An employee? What age and gender are they? Are they a friend of the reader? Do they have a good sense of humor? You should be able to define this individual very well and know why he or she will appeal to the audience you are trying to reach. A conversational approach is usually the best way to engage your audience. Humanize your feed, and remember that you are connecting with people, one person at a time.

2. Plan before you start. And if you have already started, assess your social media strategy at least every six months. It’s tempting to let your social media accounts take on a life of their own, but they need the same attention that you give to your other communications outreach tactics. A good place to start: define three actionable, measurable objectives that clearly support your business goals.

3. Decide what constitutes success, and be ruthless about judging your results. You may have a lot of Twitter followers, but if they are not the right people to help you grow your business, then it is wasted effort. Don’t focus on “vanity” metrics. Aggregate numbers mean something, but they don’t tell you everything you need to know about the impact of your social media efforts.

4. Continue to invest in social media and make sure it is absolutely current. Set a minimum of how often you will add new content. And clearly define staff responsibilities for your social media efforts.

5. Don’t forget about video content. This doesn’t need to be complicated. Your smart phone can capture the excitement of a new product launch, or the expertise of your employees in the field. A live feed on Facebook can generate multiple times the engagement of a recorded feed.

6. Cross-promote your social media feeds. You should think of your online presence as an interrelated whole. The “voice” of each platform does not have to be the same, but these voices should talk to each other. Take one piece of content and make it work across all of your social media platforms.

7. Pay attention to hashtags. Identify a set of up to 50 that you will use repeatedly to clarify your brand identity.

8. Publish, and then republish. Most likely much of the material you will generate will be “evergreen” so don’t feel you have to come up with something new every day. In fact, material that repeats your key messages should be used several times.

Construction Contracts and Coronavirus Complications

As a result of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), many construction projects around the United States have been, and are being, significantly delayed or curtailed. In many instances, the delays have arisen from supply chain disruptions, state or local government stay-at-home orders, new safety protocols, and workforce disruptions on every level of the construction project — design, field construction, manufacturing, and inspection.

One thing certain to change in the post-COVID-19 world will be protection clauses in construction contracts. Boilerplate legal terms typically couched in fine print, such as “force majeure” and “frustration,” will be closely reviewed by contractors, owners, and their attorneys in the future.

Depending on the circumstances and the terms of the construction contract, the effects of COVID-19 may allow a party to invoke different rights to relief and compensation, or otherwise excuse delays or non-performance. Whether a party to a construction contract will be relieved, compensated, or excused from performance will depend on, among other factors, the language of the force majeure clause, the facts at issue, and the law governing the contract.

Construction businesses should consider the following with regard to current and future contracts:

  • Does the COVID-19 disruption constitute a force majeure event under the contract?
  • Is epidemic, pandemic, or illness specifically identified in the force majeure clause?
  • If not, does COVID-19 fall under some other event often referenced in force majeure clauses, such as an “act of God,” a “natural disaster,” or something beyond the contractors’ control?
  • Does the force majeure clause entitle parties to extensions, termination, or some other form of relief or modification?
  • Does the law that controls the contract — federal, state, or international — reinforce or limit how the force majeure clause is applied?
  • Are there alternate avenues for relief outside of the force majeure clause, such as commercial impracticability or impossibility?
  • How should parties impacted by COVID-19 reserve their rights or document their position?

Force Majeure Clauses: Events and Interpretation

Force majeure clauses set forth certain conditions under which a party is permitted to extend, suspend, or terminate a contract as a result of unexpected and unavoidable events. Under U.S. common and civil law, force majeure protection generally extends to natural and unavoidable catastrophes that impact the parties’ ability to perform their contractual obligations and allocates the risk in such events.

So, what constitutes a force majeure event? Generally, a force majeure event exists where said event is unforeseeable and outside of the contractor’s control. In addition to the specific facts at issue, determining whether a force majeure clause offers relief for such an event will likely depend on three factors: (1) whether the language in the force majeure clause specifically references the event as beyond the parties’ control; (2) whether the force majeure event was unforeseeable; and (3) whether the force majeure event caused the party’s non-performance.

In analyzing the contract language, look to see if the force majeure clause specifically references events like “epidemic,” “pandemic,” or “outbreak of disease.” If so, then COVID-19 is almost certainly covered by that cause. Courts will generally construe the precise language of the force majeure clause to exclude events that are not specifically identified. To that end, if the force majeure clause limits covered events to those involving nature, such as “severe floods,” “hurricanes,” or “earthquakes,” the court may be less likely to find that the parties intended to cover the COVID-19 pandemic.

Analysis of specific language used in construction contracts is critical. Standard form contracts, such as AIA and ConsensusDocs, do not have specific force majeure clauses but do, however, contain excusable delay clauses that could likely be applied to COVID-19 delays. For example, AIA forms generally contain language concerning excusable delays, termination, and suspension of work while ConsensusDocs expressly provide relief for “epidemics” as well as termination and suspension of work.

In some instances, the force majeure clause may contain both specific and broad forms of events and include a catchall provision intended to cover potential scenarios other than specific events. Some courts have deferred to common law principles such as unforeseeability to determine whether the event in question is covered by the contract. There, the determination would ultimately depend on what the parties contemplated and if the parties voluntarily assumed the risk of COVID-19, or, more likely, a general pandemic.

Finally, the force majeure clause may reference “acts of God” as an excusable delay or grounds for suspension or termination of the contract. Whether COVID-19 falls under the definition of “acts of God” is dependent on the state where the contract was entered into or where the contract will be performed. Where a state defines an “act of God” to include wars, riots, floods, epidemics, and natural disasters, COVID-19 would likely be covered. However, where a state more narrowly defines “acts of God” as something caused by nature, COVID-19 may not be covered and the court will likely defer to what the parties contemplated with regard to risk allocation.

Other Force Majeure Considerations

A construction business seeking to invoke a force majeure clause must follow the contractual requirements for doing so. A party should pay particular attention to the form and substance of any required notice as well as time limits to provide such notice as required by the contract. Many states demand strict adherence and compliance with the notice requirements, and failure to adhere to even one aspect could render a claim or request for extension void or result in a waiver of entitlements to relief. Parties should keep in mind that a force majeure event that is continuing in nature, or otherwise evolving, such as COVID-19, the contract may require regular updates and reporting of extra costs in order to obtain relief.

COVID-19 will likely not be interpreted as an event that completely relieves a party from its contractual obligations. As such, the general principal of construction contracts that all parties to the contract must mitigate and minimize the impact of adverse events, will apply. Depending on the circumstances and the terms of the contract, the duty to mitigate could include incurring extra costs as the affected party or serve as a condition to relief.

Generally, a force majeure event will only temporarily excuse performance of those obligations impacted by the event, meaning both the affected party and unaffected party must continue to perform contractual obligation not impacted by the event. Upon the occurrence of a force majeure event, an affected party may, however, claim extension of time for performance based on the impact of the event or as long as the event prevents performance, provided that the contract permits such extension. In drastic situations, the contract may also permit termination of the contract should the event continue for a certain extended period of time. Such clauses may require that all or substantially all of a party’s obligations be affected for a specific period of time before termination is permitted. In these situations, parties generally agree to share the costs of the delay.

Planning for the Future

Contractors entering into construction contracts in the future should take necessary steps to minimize the likelihood of disputes, claims, and litigation resulting from the occurrence of force majeure events. When seeking to limit exposure, contractors must be specific and clear in their contract language when defining the scope and effect of a force majeure clause to protect themselves from unexpected liabilities. Moving forward, parties to a construction contract should address future concerns by drafting more precise force majeure definitions, develop flexibility in supply chains to reduce risk of disruption, maintain appropriate records of cost increases, and consider the inclusion of a well-drafted termination clause.

About the author: Keith A. Boyette is an attorney with Anderson Jones, PLLC in Raleigh, North Carolina, a law firm with attorneys licensed in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. For more information or questions about this article, please email him at kboyette@andersonandjones.com.

Author’s note: This article is intended only for informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice.

Creative Ways to Fill the Roofing Labor Gap

Ever since business rebounded following the 2008 housing bust, the roofing industry has experienced significant workforce shortages. These shortages have persisted even as the global landscape has shifted due to the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic, which has disrupted almost every industry, including the home improvement sector. Millions of people are unemployed, largely due to the virus. However, many contractors and businesses have been deemed essential businesses.

With the growing need for essential workers, roofing contractors have an advantage finding skilled laborers during this challenging time. Here are a few creative ways to attract talent to your workforce.

Differentiate

It is evergreen advice that to attract top talent you need to offer a competitive edge or angle.

In marketing, that’s called strategic differentiation. Your differentiator could be offering a superior wage to attract workers. Consider some of these cost-effective methods and perks to have your company stand out as a place that skilled workers want to work.

· Training. Companies with a long-term view can differentiate themselves by offering informal or formal apprenticeship or mentoring programs. This helps a potential employee see that you’re willing to invest in their future. This strategy can be pulled off by having one or more knowledgeable and communicative senior employees step up to guide junior-level employees. Another avenue is to offer workers subsidies or rebates for continuing education at local community colleges.

· Flexible work hours. Potential workers can be attracted by offering the opportunity to shift off of a regular 9 to 5, five days per week schedule. Such flexibility can bring people into the labor force who otherwise can’t due to child care, elder care, or the need for a second job.

Diversify Your Labor Force

Another way around the tight market is to diversify the composition of your labor force. Women are increasingly filling historically male roles — why not in roofing? And, consider workers who have been displaced by the recent COVID-19 pandemic, such as those coming from retail, manufacturing, or agriculture. While they won’t arrive with the exact skill set you’d most hope for, these employees can come up to speed quickly to fill their gaps. Make sure your job postings make it clear you will consider people of all types, and especially those not traditionally in the roofing space. A diversified workforce can also bring your business new ideas that can help in unexpected ways.

Expand Your Radius

Consider recruiting further outside the city. Rural areas typically have fewer employment opportunities, thus there are more workers looking for jobs. You can also look to neighborhoods adjacent to industrial areas where workers have been displaced. This strategy depends on geo-targeting those potential employees as well as adjusting your employment offer to meet their needs.

Increase Referrals

Like many small businesses, roofing contractors often rely heavily on getting new employees through referrals from employees, family, and friends. Think about systematically increasing this referral stream. One of my favorite resources on this topic is from Tim Templeton’s book The Referral Of A Lifetime. At the risk of oversimplifying his approach, here’s a summary of the key takeaways:

· Be clear on why you’re a great employer. It’s crucial to have your own clarity on why you are a different and better employer. If you can crystalize that differentiation, and communicate it, you will attract interest from talented individuals from varying backgrounds.

· Ask. This is hard for many people, but it’s essential to let trusted contacts in your network know that you are looking for employees and to ask them to help you. If you don’t ask, they won’t know that they can help.

· Thank them. When your network contacts refer employees to you, an evergreen recommendation is to take the time to thank them for the help. It’s surprising how many people forget this. Your thank you might be a simple handwritten note or a heartfelt personal email. Even more effective is a shared beverage or treating them to lunch. Explicit thank-yous encourage repeat good behavior by your network. Even closer to home, when an employee refers a friend to come work for you, that’s the time for a good, hard cash bonus.

Get Digital

For new employee recruiting, specific resources like Construction Jobs provide online job forums for people specifically looking for your type of career. Also consider Craigslist, which has become the classified ads of our day. And, for the strategy of recruiting outside of the expected demographics, you might try recruiting sites like Indeed to set up your listings and profile to accept a broader range of applicants.

Automating ancillary tasks with digital tools can also help you adapt to the worker shortage. Services like JobNimbus make it easy to track your roofing projects, recruitment efforts, and most routine tasks. These tools keep tabs on your current workforce, plan, and track what they should be doing and are actually doing on an hourly and daily basis. It can keep all of your ongoing roofing work organized.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, recruiting new talent can be essential for sustaining your business. Use this time to recruit digitally and set up for success tomorrow— and well into the future.

About the author: Jason Polka is the CEO of Modernize, a company that uses business intelligence software to connect homeowners with contractors. Polka has led numerous initiatives to identify and execute new service and differentiated product opportunities within the contractor referral market. For more information, visit www.modernize.com/pros.

Good News For Businesses: The New Joint-Employer Standard

For the first time in more than 60 years, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) updated and revised its regulations for determining joint employer status under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which governs federal minimum wage, overtime, hours worked, and recordkeeping obligations.

Over time, federal circuit courts have developed a number of different approaches for determining joint employer status, resulting in uncertainty for employers and workers, as well as increased compliance and litigation costs. The final rule issued by the DOL is intended to reduce uncertainty over joint employer status, promote greater uniformity among court decisions, reduce litigation, and encourage innovation in the economy.

The DOL’s Joint Employer Rule

The new rule, which took effect on March 16, 2020, limits the situations under which employers, such as contractors and subcontractors, are considered to jointly employ a group of workers under the FLSA. Under the FLSA, entities or individuals may be considered a “joint employer,” and therefore jointly and severally liable for the FLSA obligations, if it exercises sufficient control over the terms and conditions of another’s employer’s workers. But what exactly does that mean?

The DOL’s final rule sets forth a four-factor balancing test, replacing the previously applicable “not completely dissociated” standard, to assist employers with determining whether it will share liability for FLSA violations. To determine whether a second individual or entity is a joint employer of a worker, the DOL will examine whether the putative joint employer:

  • Hires or fires the employee;
  • Supervises and controls the employee’s work schedule or conditions of employment to a substantial degree;
  • Determines the employee’s rate and method of payment; and
  • Maintains the employee’s employment records.

The new rule makes clear that no single factor is dispositive in determining joint employer status, and the weight of each of the factors may vary based on the facts of each case.

Most notably, the new rule rejects the degree of “economic dependence” between the two putative joint employers and identifies additional factors which, standing alone, are insufficient to establish joint employer status:

  • Operating as a franchisor.
  • Maintenance of an employee’s employment records.
  • Unexercised ability to control an employee’s conditions of employment.
  • Contractual agreements related to compliance with legal obligations or standards.
  • Contractual requirements related to quality control standards.
  • Provision of a sample employee handbook.
  • Allowing an employer to operate a business on its premises.
  • Offering an association health plan or association retirement plan.

According to the DOL, “[t]o make joint-employer status more or less likely, the potential joint employer would have to not only provide such resources but would also have to somehow exercise control over the employees in relation to those resources.” In other words, a second employer must go beyond simply making resources available and must, instead, actually exercise control — directly or indirectly — over the various aspects of employment. For purposes of this rule, an employer exercises indirect control over an employee through mandatory directions to another employer that directly controls the employee. Merely reserving the right to control the employee’s working conditions or acting in a way that incidentally impacts the employee, however, does not indicate joint employer status.

The final rule provides a number of examples illustrating the application of the four-factor test to these and other business-to-business scenarios, intended to provide more practical guidance to employers with potential joint employment concerns.

Joint employers under the new DOL rule may be held jointly and severally liable for FLSA wage and hour obligations, including minimum wage or overtime. Joint employers may also be liable for violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII and other employment discrimination laws, and workers compensation laws.

The NLRB’s Joint Employer Rule

The new rule above applies only to the DOL’s interpretation of the FLSA. As such, it does not address “joint employer” status under other federal employment laws, such as the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

Like the DOL, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued its final rule interpreting joint-employer status under the NLRA, which went into effect on April 27, 2020.

Under the final rule, a business will be deemed a joint employer only if it “shares and codetermines” one or more of the essential terms and conditions of employment of another employer’s employees. The essential terms subject to NLRB scrutiny include wages, benefits, work hours, hiring, discharge, supervision, and direction. In other words, an employer shares and codetermines such essential terms if it possesses and exercises substantial control over the employer’s employees such that the putative employer “meaningfully affects matters relating to the employment relationship with those employees.”

Importantly, evidence of indirect or contractually reserved control over essential employment terms and conditions may be a consideration for finding joint employer status, but is not, by itself, sufficient without further evidence of direct or immediate control over the employees in questions. The NLRB’s rule distinguishes between exercising indirect control and exerting control or influence over setting contractual objectives, expectations, or ground rules. The determination of whether an employer exercises indirect control over essential work terms or exerts control over conditions or expectations as to how a contract is to be performed “is an issue of fact to be determined on a case-by-case basis.”

Practically speaking, the NLRB’s joint-employer standard is significant to businesses because it determines whether a business: (1) has an obligation to bargain with labor unions representing workers employed by another entity; (2) is subject to union picketing or other labor dispute-related activities involving another entity’s employees; and (3) is jointly and severally liable for any unfair labor practices committed by another entity against its employees.

Shifting the Burden of Joint Employment Liability

While contract provisions regarding joint employment will not be determinative under either the DOL or NLRB rules, careful drafting can shift the costs of a joint employment determination. Construction companies acquiring labor from a third party, particularly staffing companies, should include contractual protections such as indemnification provisions, duty to defend clauses, and hold harmless clauses.

When drafted properly, these contract provisions would require the actual employer to defend the prospective joint employer against an adverse ruling on joint employment status and reimburse its costs in the event of a joint employment determination. Employers assessing their potential status as a joint employer should consult with counsel to ensure compliance with all applicable standards.

Summary

The final rules issued by the DOL and the NLRB effectively narrows the definition of “joint employer,” providing employers with much-needed clarity and encouraging greater uniformity in application.

It should be noted, however, that the new rules are not binding authority on the federal courts, nor do the new rules modify interpretations of joint employer status under state wage and hour laws.

For employers, particularly in those situations where an employee performs work for an employer and that work simultaneously benefits another employer, the new rules make it easier to comply with and understand the various obligations under the FLSA and the NLRA. Close adherence to the new rules, and making a conscious effort to mitigate potential liability, will certainly reduce compliance and litigation costs and give employers greater certainty in structuring their business relationships.

About the author: Keith A. Boyette is an attorney with Anderson Jones, PLLC. His practice areas include general civil litigation, commercial and construction litigation, lien and bond claims, and real property litigation. Questions about this article can be directed to him at KBoyette@andersonandjones.com.

Author’s note: This article is intended only for informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice.

Nailing Down Talent: How To Successfully Hire Workers

Finding skilled workers is becoming more and more problematic for many roofing contractors. According to the 2019 Construction Outlook Survey released by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), more than three-quarters of respondents expected to hire more staff in 2019. However, 78 percent reported difficulties filling salaried and hourly craft positions and 42 percent believe that hiring personnel over the next year will continue to be hard.

The current labor shortage is drastically reducing the number of potential prospects. In the third-quarter 2019 Commercial Construction Index report from USG Corp. and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 61 percent of contractors said they’re struggling to find skilled workers. That number is up from 54 percent in the previous quarter, indicating the problem shows no signs of improvement.

The effect of the workforce shortage impacts your day-to-day operations through higher costs, longer completion times and higher bid prices. So how can you attract, hire and keep qualified workers in the current state of the industry? Consider these tips:

Market and Recruit

A well-written job listing will help attract the best employees. Talk directly to the type of person you want to hire, list the qualifications you seek, and explain what’s important to your business.

When writing the job description, be specific about the type of work your roofing business does so you can attract people who are skilled and comfortable in those areas. And if you’re willing to teach someone the necessary skills, be sure to mention that too.

Jim Johnson, head coach for ContractorCoachPRO, advises taking your listing a step further by creating a recruiting platform and making it part of your website.

“Have multiple job postings for everything you’re hiring for,” he says. “Include some videos with employee testimonials, your company culture and what you’re all about. And then market it. Market that website. Market it on Google, market it on social media, market it, market it, market it.”

“Really, truthfully, you’re a sales organization, you’re a marketing organization, you’re a contractor — you’re all those things,” he continues. “But in the big scheme of things, you’re a recruiting company. If you change your perspective that way and recruit great talent, all the rest is going to be easy. You’ll change the whole [methodology] of what you do as a contractor.”

Johnson says you should always be looking for talent as you’re walking around every single day — anytime, everywhere.

Look For Specific Characteristics

A good roofing employee should be able to do more than hammer nails and carry bundles of shingles. He or she should also have characteristics that can help your company stand out from the competition, including:

· Fast learner — You can train someone to carry out specific skills, but you can’t teach that person to be a better learner. New employees — even those with experience — should be willing to learn and adapt to the way you do business.

Tip: Ask potential workers about the most recent thing they’ve learned and have them explain how they learned it. Or have them explain some of the differences in the way previous employers did things and how they adapted to those expectations.

· Tech-savvy — Many roofing businesses use construction apps on the job. Your crew members should be able to pick up these new technologies.

Tip: Ask applicants what roofing apps they like and which features they find most useful.

· Professional – Employees need to put customers at ease. If someone isn’t courteous and professional on the job, he or she could cost you referrals and reap bad reviews. Your crew represents you and your brand. Hire roofers you can trust to leave a good impression on homeowners.

Tip: Ask candidates why they left their last job. They should avoid speaking negatively about their employer or co-workers. Or ask how they would respond if a customer was rude to them.

· Safety conscious — Roofing has one of the highest fatality rates of all industries. One person’s disregard for proper safety could put your whole crew at risk. Ask potential candidates plenty of questions to see how well they know best practices and only hire those who take safety seriously.

Tip: Have interviewees explain the precautions they take while on a jobsite or what they would do if a co-worker was acting in an unsafe manner.

· Positive attitude — Roofing is already hard work, so you don’t need a negative employee adding to the everyday stress. Antagonistic people can quickly crush crew morale, which could result in sloppy work, unprofessional behavior or even high turnover. Hire someone who can go with the flow and be a positive influence on fellow workers.

Tip: Listen. Did possible hires answer previous questions to your satisfaction? Did they seem professional and eager to work and learn your way of doing things? Overall, trust your gut. You’ll know who will fit in best with the rest of your crew.

Johnson cautions that you should never hire someone during an interview.

“Resumes — I personally think they’re garbage,” he explains. “They’re usually inaccurate and embellished. They’re very time consuming for me to get through and great candidates can be missed. The best salesperson I ever hired in my entire life was a Pizza Hut delivery guy. The guy sold $6.3 million in residential sales in 2017. He’s been in it for 19 years now. So, great candidates can be missed by just relying on resumes.”

Be Competitive

Once you’ve found the right person, you want him or her to accept the job. Salary is an important factor, of course. What are your competitors paying? Find out and, if you can, match or beat it.

Money isn’t everything, though. Most people also want a sense of job security. Explain why your company has a good reputation and how it can offer stability.

Talk about other things that make your company attractive, such as taking on unique projects, participating in philanthropic opportunities, or having an excellent benefits package.

And after you hire someone, do things that will make him or her want to stay. “No one does anything without incentive,” Johnson says. “And incentive is not necessarily money. Incentive can be a lot of different things. It can be a reward — a gift card, a trophy, all kinds of stuff. Or it could be plain old recognition.”

These types of incentives will remind employees that they’re valued and respected members of your team, which in turn increases their level of commitment and builds loyalty.

Help Educate Potential Hires About the Trades

As a contractor, you know the financial, leadership, and entrepreneurial benefits of working in the roofing industry.

Volunteer for speaking opportunities at local high schools to educate students about the value of pursuing a career in the field. Or participate in a trade show, such as the CareerExpo and SkillsUSA Championships hosted by the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA), which allows you to meet students interested in trade careers.

Some high schools and community colleges have apprenticeship or co-op work opportunities as part of their vocational training programs. Getting involved with these institutions gives you access to people who want to work in a trade and allows you to offer them real-world experience, which could result in a position with your company.

As budget cuts continue to reduce the size of the U.S. military, veterans must transition to civilian jobs. What these motivated men and women lack in roofing experience, they make up for with other valuable qualities, including trainability, discipline, reliability, and leadership skills. Many national organizations, such as the U.S. Department of Labor, have programs that help vets get the training and experience they need for their next career.

Invest in Your People

Countless surveys show that workers leave a job because they’re unhappy and don’t feel appreciated. To help with employee retention, invest in your people by providing continuous training.

The National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) offers a wealth of training opportunities. Through the organization’s ProCertification program, workers who demonstrate substantial knowledge and skills can earn certifications in specific roof system installations.

“In the past, a roofing company would go to a job fair in their local community and try to present a career in the industry as one that’s truly professional,” explains Reid Ribble, CEO of the NRCA. “However, there was no way for [a trade worker] to become a master roofer. They could become a master plumber, master electrician or master carpenter, but there was really no professional certification for them to reach that same status in the roofing industry.”

By the end of 2019, the NRCA’s ProCertification program will have certifications available in six disciplines. Eventually, it will offer a total of 18.

“If roofing workers stack enough of these certifications on top of each other, they can achieve master status, as a master low-slope roofer, master steep-slope roofer, master service technician, or master solar technician,” Ribble says. “That’s a powerful tool that we didn’t have before to recruit workers. It’s a long-term, transformational shift away from making the roofing companies the primary to making the working roofer the primary. And that’s a big shift, but it’s the one that actually provides the quality assurance that customers need.”

The NRCA is taking stepsto get the ProCertification program recognized nationally. However, Ribble cautions that this push will not affect the licensing of roofing companies.

“We believe that, as a national association, it’s up to our state affiliates to make the determination locally as to whether or not they want a licensing program,” he says. “Some states do, other states do not. Some of our members do, other members do not. We don’t want to have a restrictive approach to people entering the roofing trade. But what we can do is create standards for roofing workers. Because, let’s face it, putting on an asphalt shingle roof in Georgia is no different than putting an asphalt shingle roof on in Wisconsin. You might treat the underlayment at the eaves different because of snow and ice, but for the most part, that roof goes on the same.”

The Bottom Line

Hiring workers is one challenge. Keeping them is another. So, while following one or more of these tips can help you build your business, you must also create an environment where your employees feel valued. After all, they determine the success of your jobs, which means your company’s reputation is only as good as the people you hire.

As Doug Conant, CEO of Campbell’s Soup, once put it, “To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.”

About the author: Tiara Searcy is the content and digital marketing manager for Atlas Roofing. For more information, visit www.atlasroofing.com.

Bringing on Large Clients Can Result in Big Problems

So many salespeople and small business owners strive to hook the big fish — the large client. There’s a belief that these are the best customers and that there is validity and credibility attached to being able to say you’ve won those accounts.

I see it a little differently. When I think about hooking the big fish I think about long sales cycles, low quotes with tight margins, and diversion of attention. Let’s take a look at each.

1. Long Sales Cycles

Large clients often make decisions slowly. They have more people involved in the decision-making process and they have more priorities. I’ve seen a lot of salespeople struggle with the inability to move a sale forward. The reality is that larger clients have so many priorities that they may not feel any urgency for what you have to sell. Competing priorities go on all day, every day inside large companies. We can’t expect them to maintain interest in our product or service just because we’ve had a meeting with them. We have to continue to be persistent and patient — all at the same time.

Because these sales cycles are longer we have to also make sure we are pursuing smaller clients at the same time. We have to make sales and bring clients in while we continue to troll for the big catch. It can be challenging to juggle all of that activity. A lot of salespeople have a tendency to tread water while waiting for the big fish to bite. It’s pretty tough to make your quota or your sales goals that way.

2. Low Quotes With Tight Margins

Large companies are accustomed to negotiating price — in their favor. If we aren’t careful we’ll end up pricing too low to make the account worthwhile. We have to seriously consider the ROI of winning the big account. If the price is too low and the margins too tight, we’ll find it tough to grow. We need healthy margins to have money to invest in our business. And to be there for the unexpected.

Moreover, large clients typically aren’t loyal. They consistently shop their vendors to make sure they are getting the best for the lowest cost. What would happen to your company if your big fish left for a cheaper alternative? All that revenue gone. All that time spent working for them instead of building a client base. Dangerous. Unfortunately, this happens all too often. A company focuses on getting a large account, does all of the work to onboard them, allots resources to manage the account, and has very little left over for anything else. Then one day the client leaves. That company is now in danger of going under. They are suddenly top-heavy with expenses and devoid of revenues.

Once again it can seem like a major win to land that big fish. However, what may seem like a coup can turn into a nightmare if the revenue isn’t worth the effort. Consider the alternative. Instead of seeking large clients, what if you pursued and gained a significant number of small and medium-size customers? The margins would probably be relatively good, the relationship would probably be good, and the loyalty would most likely be there. If by chance a customer left it wouldn’t derail your company. The loss would be easy to absorb until you could replace it. And it wouldn’t be so difficult to replace.

3. Diversion of Attention

Large clients require and demand a lot of attention. We tend to favor them and understand that we have to consistently nurture them. These clients expect to be taken care of. They expect the VIP treatment. And because we were so focused on getting the business we fall into the same belief system once we’ve snagged them. We have to give them a lot of attention in order to keep them.

So, we commit resources to them. These are resources we could be using to bring in more medium and small clients. We could be building a foundation of loyal, well priced, evenly handled clients. We could be growing, and committing our resources in ways that would benefit our company more than having that big fish.

In addition, needing to assign a lot of resources to a large customer means that there is the possibility your other customers will receive less than stellar service. Now you run the risk of losing your other customers — the foundation or cushion — because they are being ignored.

Step back and consider what you want for your company. I’m imagining its healthy growth with loyal clients who respect and appreciate what you do for them; it’s reasonable margins and a deep bench of clients. If that’s the goal, and I hope it is, you should focus on adding a significant number of medium-size clients. Let someone else grapple with the behemoth. It may sound like success to hook the big fish. In reality, success is serving many clients and having the time and money to continue to serve them all well.

About the author: Diane Helbig is a leadership and business development advisor helping business owners around the world. She is the author of Lemonade Stand Selling, Expert Insights, and Succeed Without ‘Selling,’ as well as the host of the “Accelerate Your Business Growth” podcast. For more information, visit www.seizethisday.co.