Lawnmower Man

Published: October 22, 2008

By Jim Lichtman
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“When is it ethical to ask for pay for work not done, done poorly, and work not authorized?”

That was a recent question sent to me by a reader.  Here are the specifics behind the question:

“We are out-of-state homeowners that have hired teenagers on two occasions for shoveling snow and mowing.

“In each case, the teenager did the work very poorly [then] over billed for work not done. In both cases they squeezed more hours in by doing work we didn’t ask them to do: mowing and shoveling when it had hardly snowed or just been mowed.

“[In] each case the teen was told not to do so, but did so anyway and insisted on being paid. In each case the parents [got] involved – harassing us with phone calls, yelling – insisting we pay their kids. We do have a record of really good help, dependable, honest, so we know we’re not completely cursed.

“The most recent situation: the teen sends us a bill and tells us that he wants to be paid even though he was not ‘authorized’ to mow, and disagrees with us because we don’t want to pay him for a mowing job that was so bad, so hacked, that it took 15 hrs to repair. He had been trained to do it right, but just didn’t do it right because he was ‘busy.’

“We have run out of ways to explain that this is not a good work ethic. Can you help?”

Clearly, the ethical aspect to this question is responsibility – living up to your commitments and obligations.  And just as clearly it is not ethical to ask to be paid for work done poorly, unauthorized or not at all!  To borrow from my friend Dave the plumber (Oct. 20): “If you say you’re going to be there Tuesday, be there Tuesday!”

We’ve all faced situations where people promise something then fall short of living up to that promise.  It’s frustrating, disrespectful and wrong especially when it happens several times by the same individual.

So, how do we deal with people who don’t live up to their commitments?

What’s the ethical response to such a situation?

Let me hear your thoughts to this situation or share a similar story.

I’ll respond soon.




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