One time when I worked on a flatwork crew for a startup company, I learned a valuable lesson about the dark side of sidejobs. My foreman narrowly survived a criminal lawsuit, which was initiated by his father-in-law. But my foreman returned the favor and filed a civil lawsuit against his father-in-law for slander, which he won.
The issue revolved around my foreman pouring driveways after hours for an entire summer. It got ugly when his in-laws spread the word that he was not only using their Bobcat without asking, but he allegedly used their ready-mix account to pay for the $30,000 in concrete for his sidejobs.
For many, working in concrete is a feast or famine existence, so it’s tempting to make some extra cash on the side. But there’s potential conflict without guidelines for dealing with sidejobs. Both the employer and the employee have a lot at stake. Contractors can’t afford to be taken advantage of, while tradesmen need the freedom to generate extra income.
Advice for contractors
If you don’t allow your crew to do any sidejobs, you may lose a few good men. Good tradesmen carry a desirable reputation. It’s doubtful you are able to work your crews to their fullest potential every day of the year. So communicate upfront if you are comfortable with your men taking sidejobs, and, more importantly, for whom they can work.
If you don’t think your general contractor or his superintendent hasn’t offered smaller projects to your men in the field, you must realize this is very common. This is even more prevalent in residential work. Homeowners are notorious for asking finishers to come back and pour a patio later. Are you okay with this? If not, be upfront and tell your crew to steer clear of your accounts.
If your men take their company truck home and use it for a sidejob, you have an insurance liability. Your equipment also will suffer wear and tear. Don’t allow your team to use your vehicles or equipment for their sidejobs—there are just too many negatives.
If you haven’t talked about any of this, then sidejobs become “forget about permission, I’ll ask for forgiveness later.” Your goal is loyalty and quality work from your men. Training your team provides you with the quality you deserve; being flexible with their needs gains their loyalty which you want.
Advice for tradesmen
Have the integrity to use your own tools and rent any equipment you need when you take on a sidejob. And, as tempting as it may be, buy your own stakes and lumber and don’t borrow anything from the company, especially your work truck.
It’s your responsibility to communicate with your boss and to avoid letting a sidejob interfere with his work. A couple of years ago, I started finishing concrete for a local contractor, but I had just accepted a job to remove and replace a 4,000-square-foot driveway. In fairness to my boss, I did everything around his workload. It made it tough tearing out the driveway all weekend long, and forming and grading gravel by headlights. But by not letting my sidejob interrupt his schedule, I showed I was responsible and dependable. We both gained extra respect for each other as a result.
And don’t be a parasite. Find your own work or network through your own contacts. Don’t be that guy who lowballs his boss to scavenge a few yards of concrete here and there.
Here’s the takeaway: Communication lays the foundation for trust; spell out your policies upfront so no one is left stumbling in the dark. There’s an abundance of work out there and when we cooperate responsibly, everyone makes a profit. Don’t let sidejobs ruin great working relationships—it’s simply not worth it for either side.
Craig Cottongim is certified in conflict resolution and is a long-time concrete finisher who is also a writer and communicator. E-mail email@example.com.