Just as you are preparing for the upcoming snow season by checking your equipment and ordering chemicals, you should be taking the following steps. Now is the perfect time to take these actions, before you are out in the field plowing snow.
Customer Contracts – You should perform no service without a contract. A contract protects you and your client. Essential elements in any contract are a start date, end date, price for services, description of services, set accumulation when snow clearing and de-icing services will begin, and inspection responsibility.
I will devote a future column to inspection responsibility as this is a source of significant personal injury litigation. For purposes of this column, the responsibility to inspect on the days following completion of clearing operations must be spelled out in any contract. Do not allow inspection responsibility to be the subject of a handshake agreement, make sure any contract outlines whether you or your customer are responsible for inspections, the length of days after a storm inspections will be performed, and the price you will be paid for inspections. It is not necessary you be paid an additional fee for inspections, but if there is an additional fee, it should be listed in the contract.
Contracts With Subcontractors – If your company is large enough to utilize subcontractors, you must have a contract in place with each and every subcontractor. Do not allow any subcontractor to work for one of your customers without the subcontractor being under the terms of a written contract. Just as discussed above, the contract should specify what services are to be performed, when the services are to be performed, and the responsibility for inspection.
Insurance Coverage - An extremely important part of any contract is a requirement for liability insurance coverage. Make sure all insurance coverage is in place before the beginning of the snow season. If you are retaining subcontractors, make sure you are supplied with proof of insurance coverage before allowing the subcontractor to work.
There will be additional insured requirements in almost any contract you sign if you are working for a big box retailer. Make sure any certificates of insurance clearly identify your customer as an additional insured if required in the contract. Your insurance broker or agent should be able to take care of this task, but it is a task not to be ignored.
Do not wait for the forecast of a significant storm to secure your insurance coverage. I have many legal cases where my client or subcontractor was surprised by an early December storm on the east coast and performed services without the benefit of insurance coverage. Performing services without insurance coverage results in my client paying for my services, and paying for any settlement or judgment. You do not want to find yourself in a position of taking monies from your company to pay for legal claims.
Worker’s Compensation Coverage – Make sure you have appropriate worker’s compensation coverage in place, and make sure any of your subcontractors have worker’s compensation coverage. A company that employs subcontractors who are without worker’s compensation coverage may find itself held responsible for a claim brought by the subcontractor’s employee. As unlikely as this sounds, it has recently arisen in my legal practice.
Many states will also audit companies for worker’s compensation insurance. My best advice is to secure compensation coverage now, before running into trouble later.
Site Inspections – I have previously discussed this area, and it is worth repeating. Go out to all of your job locations to the extent you can do so, and meet with your clients. Discuss any problems with drainage or ponding that may result in melt and freeze following a storm event. Discuss areas your customer wants you to deposit plowed snow, and spend a few moments with your customer. This will enhance your value to your customer, result in better and more efficient snow clearing services, and lead to increased profitability for your company.
Document Your Employees – You likely use temporary employees during the winter months. Now is the time to secure all necessary documentation for those employees, including required federal forms. Now is also a great time to secure good contact information for temporary or seasonal employees, as with the growing popularity of cell phones, many people no longer have land lines in their homes. Don’t wait for a storm event to discover you can’t contact members of your labor pool.
Document All Services – Prepare standard forms for field employees to complete on the job site, or institute procedures for field personnel to call in to a central office when completing services. The middle of a storm is an extremely difficult time to complete paperwork, but paperwork documenting services is essential. You must have accurately completed paperwork for your billing purposes, and if it should become necessary, to prove snow clearing services were completed by your company. Legal cases are lost and won based upon documentation, or the lack thereof. Draw up forms and procedures for your workers to follow now, before the first snowflake falls.
Organize Your Customer Files – Properly completed paperwork is of no value if you do not have the ability to access your paperwork. My larger clients are storing information electronically, but no matter what the size of your company, you can expect to receive a request for documentation a year or two after services are complete. The request may be associated with litigation or simply come from a client looking for support for your billing. Whatever the reason for the request, keeping your documentation organized will reflect well upon your company, and assist you in a multitude of ways. These ways include evaluating the performance of your company and evaluating your profitability when bidding on future jobs.