Almost every construction contract contains the term “workmanlike manner.” If you’re in the industry, I’m sure you’ve signed and completed numerous contracts containing that language.
But the end of the job, how do you know if the work was performed in a “good and workmanlike manner?” Read on for a discussion of this ubiquitous contract term.
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Good and Workmanlike Manner Defined
The phrase refers to the acceptable standard for quality for work and materials on a construction project. Initially, courts defined it as, “the way work is customarily done by other contractors in the community.” Well, what if your community does crappy work?
Many jurisdictions have moved away from the above definition. They’ve moved onto a new one: “that degree of efficiency and knowledge which is possessed by those of ordinary skill, competency, and standing in a particular trade or business for which the contractor is employed.”
The first part of understanding a “good and workmanlike manner” is understanding that it’s a bit of a moving target. The phrase itself is vague. Determining whether something has been done in a good and workmanlike manner can be incredibly subjective.
Obviously, everyone feels like they’ve performed a job well done. In most cases, that’s true! Still, it’s common for property owners to dispute payment because, as they allege, work is defective or done poorly.
Unfortunately, there’s not really a cut and dry standard of what’s considered workmanlike. The standard even varies state by state! Instead of worrying about what’s considered “workmanlike”, adopting a higher standard for quality of work might be a good idea.
That’s why, as a contractor, it’s crucial to understand the standard that your performance will be evaluated against. Even if those words don’t appear in your contract, every construction contract imposes on the contractor the duty to perform in a workmanlike manner.
When work is provided free from defects, done according to plan, and performed to industry-accepted standards, that work will very likely be considered done in a good and workmanlike manner.
When and Why Does Matter?
You already know the answer to this question. It’s obvious. Every job must be performed up to this standard. Here’s why.
It’s Probably in the Contract
It’s extremely common for contracts to require work be done in a good and workmanlike manner. That’s true, even though no one seems to really nail down what exactly that entails.
At times, you might run across a contract that’s extremely thorough and defines what that standard means, exactly, for the purposes of that job. That’s great! Chances are, you’re already holding yourself to that standard anyway. But when it’s clearly set out under contract, be extra sure you’re following the standard set forth in the agreement.
Even When It’s Not in the Contract…It’s Still in the Contract
You read that right. The good and workmanlike manner standard doesn’t even need to appear in the contract. It’s actually read-into construction contracts as an implied warranty. In other words, any time a construction contract is executed, it’s already legally assumed that the job must be done in a good and workmanlike manner.
Extremely Important Info about Workmanship Warranties:
What If the Work Isn’t Workmanlike?
As mentioned above, even if it’s not in your contract…it’s in your contract. So what happens any other time when contracts are breached?
The lucky ones might have a chance to correct the work. Many states have construction defect procedures on the books, and in many cases, a contractor or sub get the opportunity to fix whatever issues are present with the work. Plus, having the work repaired or replaced will almost always be easier than starting a legal battle. Still, there’s a strong chance that the customer will want to bring someone else in to do the repairs or replacement. If that’s the case, they’ll want to deduct any costs from what was owed for the work.
For the unlucky ones, failure to complete work in a good and workmanlike manner could get them sued for damages. Any costs caused by the flawed work could be in play. If that sounds bad, keep in mind what that might entail. Every trade is intertwined in some way or another, so it’s not hard to see how one party’s poor work on a project could have a dramatic ripple effect across multiple parties working on the same project. The work of multiple trades might have to be ripped out and replaced – and the party who performed shoddy work might have to foot the bill.
Ultimately, the biggest problem with “good and workmanlike manner” is that it’s an incredibly vague standard. But being precise can help avoid workmanship disputes altogether (for the most part, at least). Whenever possible, it may be helpful to include specific expectations are instead of relying on the vague workmanlike standard.