employees damaging customers work


SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer
Feb 7, 2001
I've dealt with boo boos here and there over the last 10 years. Most of them occur in the dry mount press, which means it it usually a repalaceable poster. However, what do you folks do when an employee inadvertantly ruins a higher quality piece? Especially if the mistake is made when they 'skip' a safety precaution that has been drilled into their heads for years? Do you pay for the replacement, do you take it out of the employee's paycheck, do you have them split the cost? I have always just eaten the employees mistakes, but I wonder just how careful they are if it does not 'cost' them something, too. I don't always feel that 1 mistake warrants losing their job if they have a great track record up to that point.
If this is a first mistake it could just be a learning curve for the employee. I would pay for the cost the first time and have a sit down with this employee and let them know that the next time it will come out of their pay.
As an owner of a business, you have the privilage of paying for replacing the damaged art.

On the area of employee training........In Michigan you can't charge the damage to the employee. That doesn't mean that you can't explain the problem and if happens again, you will..........

This policy has to be in writting to comply with state employment laws (they do vary)!!! This will or will not prevent the rejection of unemployment compensation (varies by state).

options include:
written repremand
an unpaid day off or more
You can't legally take it "out of their pay", but it definately would be reflected in their wage.

You said it was inadvertant...everybody makes mistakes. It's what is learned from the mistake that makes the difference. An on-going problem is an outgoing employee.

Dave Makielski
I would not expect an employee to pay for accidental damage, because I make more mistakes around here than anyone else does. The company pays for my mistakes, so it should pay for theirs as well. Fair is fair. When an accident happens we don't attack, we rally to fix it. It becomes a group thing.

Anybody can make an occasional mistake. If the employee has a good record, I would do my best to console that remorseful & grieving employee...we would cry together for a moment and then we would get on with solving the problem.

But if he/she were not remorseful & grieving, I would probably suspect carelessness in the handling of customers' property. In that case it would be made absolutely clear to him/her that damaging customers' property is a serious problem and if it happens again, there could be disciplinary action, such as time off without pay.

This would be a good time to review your business insurance. If it would not cover accidental damage to customers' property, no matter what the circumstances, then I suggest buying adequate coverage.

While insurance is a good way to avoid financial disaster, it might not make any easier the job of working with the customer whose one-of-a-kind art or heirloom was damaged in my shop. I dread the day I have to do that and hope it never comes.
You can't take it out of their pay but you can take it out of bonuses or tips...(what's that)

I'm with Jim though.

1. Document your policies in an employee handbook. Don't have one? Do some online searching for ready-mades or tips on writing your own from scratch. It doesn't have to be a large book...one or two pages is sufficient if that contains the sum total of what you need to cover.
2. Document - Your handbook covers punitive measures for lateness, insubordination, damages, etc. It also covers step discipline.
3. Document - all along the way. You'll be happy you did when they drag you before the Employment Security Commission, claiming unfair termination. (Trust me - been there, done that, and won!)

No one wants to work at a place where the owner gets 'fed up' and starts making up rules to suit the situation. Be fair to them and you - start singing off the same sheet of music!
If you do an employee handbook it is vitally important that you have your attorney approve it if it is not something like "PolicyNow!", a program with updates that guides you through the process.

You can really get hung out to dry if you write it yourself without thoroughly reviewing it with someone versed in labor law. You're actually better off not having one than writing your own.

A handbook, or policy manual, can be construed as an employee contract and a disclaimer should be put on each and every page stating that it is not a contract and policies can be changed at any time with or without updating the manual. An acknowledgement of understanding the manual and of having had a chance to ask any questions must be signed by the employee and kept in their personnel file. Each update of significant importance, especially related to wage and hour issues and employee classifications for benefits, etc. should also be acknowledged in writing.

The pitfalls are huge in doing a manual so be very careful. Labor laws differ from state to state and are constantly changing.

I used products from www.knowledgepoint.com/ and felt they were adequate for most small businesses. However, once you start down the road of a policy manual, you mayn open a box you might wish you hadn't. At a certain point, say 10-12 employees, I think a policy manual is probably a good thing, but for fewer than ten, I wouldn't tread into those waters.

Dave Makielski
I do have a handbook, but never put in a policy about damaging artwork. I too make mistakes, and I am very sympathetic when the employees make a mistake...heck, we all have bad days and I certainly don't want them to lose sleep over it. I always cover the cost and once they have calmed down I just say, good naturedly , 'but you'll never do that again, right?!'. This last one, though, was just a disregard for our normal safety procedures and the print is $250.00 wholesale. I've never had to replace something that costly before, so I wanted some input. All the suggestions are enlightening, so thank you! I think my new written policy will be to take $$ out of their bonus. And maybe write up each circumstance from now on, with possible termination for costly mishaps or multiple small mishaps. I've only had to fire one person in 10 years for making too many mistakes. Poor thing was just too clumsy for a job like this but she realized it as well, thank goodness. Just when you think you've seen it all...I thought I was through revising my manual!
In California, you can not with hold anything from an employees wages to pay for screw ups.

The primary thing you must remember, as far as your customer is concerned, and probably the law as well. Your employee did not damage anything, YOU DID!

When you are explaining it to your customer, do not include your employee in the explanation of how it happened. Take full credit for the screw up. Trying to blame it on the employee only makes you look worse in your customers eye.

If you give it some thought, no matter who actually did it, if it is in your possession when it happened, it IS your fault.

You are responsible for the handling and care of your customers property. You are the one who trains, puts systems in place, yada yada.

It is your ship, sail it.

Well said, John. I agree wholeheartedly that the captain of the ship must take full responsibility for any mishap under his command no matter what the reason.

Dave Makielski
Good points! Though it is the boss's fault from the customer's perspective, it may be the employees's fault from the employers perspective. The employer must admit blame to everyone else but possibly not to the emploee if well trained etc., and the way I see it DB takes the blame but still needs to deal with her employee and she was asking for advice on that.
As someone who has always been an employee, and who (knock wood) has never caused irrepairable damage to a client's artwork, I would like to make this suggestion. Sit the employee down (privately) and ask exactly what happened, how he/she thinks it happened, and what responsibility they should take for their actions.
If they are honest and show remorse, give them a lecture on avoiding a repeat performance and dock them an hour's pay.
On the other hand, if they refuse to own up, or are belligerent, send them home and give them the next day off without pay.
I guarantee he/she will be much more cautious when they return.
Can't legally dock them an hours pay...other than that I agree with your approach. Document the discussion in case other problems arise and this employee needs to be let go. Put a copy in their personnel file.

Do I sound like I've had a little bad experience with employee issues??? Why do you think I work as a one man show now?

In most small businesses the employer is far more loyal to the employees than they are to him/her. Most employees are excellent at making you think they respect and appreciate all that you do for them, but if the walls could talk and you really heard how they felt...I always felt I had an open door policy and people could come in, sit down and privately talk about any issue. Employees are afraid to openly discuss much with their employers and are excellent at covering up many issues.

The more employees and locations with several management levels the worse it is. Employees always believe you are making so much money off their backs even if in reality the business is failing and you are giving them Christmas bonuses out of your retirement savings.

Most employees have never been in business for themselves and have no idea how thin the margin is aftger all costs are considered. I had a smart, good working employee who, after 14 years of employment with me doing everything from purchasing to retail management state in an employee meeting that she thought the business netted 40 cents on every dollar of gross revenue after all costs are considered including COGS. I know what I said above is redundant, but I wanted to emphasize that she did understand the question. If we did $ 1,000,000.00 in sales that year, she thought the business netted $400,000.


If you try to explain that a successful retail operation actually may make 1-3 cents on each dollar of revenue and a manufacturer 8-12% with more risk...or that supermarkets make anywhere from 1/4-1/2% of gross sales...they'll nod and walk away still not believing you. Don't even try to explain inventory turns, ROI, fixed and variable costs, depreciation, etc.

Amazingly, most employees also know how to run your business better than you do...maybe ignorance is bliss!

I apologize if I sound jaded, but I "am what I am and that's all that I am!".

Toot toot!

Dave Makielski