Strategy, Legal & Operations

Write daily reports as if your company depends on it (because it does)

In a court of law, a contractor’s daily reports are critical. In many instances, they are considered to be the one of the best pieces of evidence showing what actually occurred at specific times on the job. And since people’s memories fade, the court will likely rely heavily on what the daily report says happened (when presented with a corroborating witness).

In my experience, the problem is that many contractors fail to create daily reports. And of those that do, they do it only at the beginning of the project or sporadically throughout the job when they are reminded to do it.  Daily reports (hence the name) only become truly effective when they are, in fact, done daily.

The importance of timely documentation

The reason that daily reports are admissible in court (again, with corroborating testimony) is that they are interpreted as being recorded at or about the time events occur. Have field managers write daily reports while the work is occurring or very soon thereafter to capture as accurate an account as possible. If they wait until the end of the week or month, the information won’t be helpful in supporting your case if legal action occurs.

What to include in your daily construction reports

To reduce your company’s legal risk, daily reports should clearly describe the entire project’s status as it applies to your scope and the schedule.  At a minimum, the report should include:

  • The date of the report.
  • Who is writing the report.
  • The time your work starts and finishes on that day.
  • A description of the weather.
  • On smaller jobs: your employees and subcontractors, by name, title and company, who are on the job site. On medium to large jobs: the total number of employees and subcontractors by title and company will suffice.
  • Any material deliveries of significance, such as large dollar items like fixtures or pallets of tile.
  • The current state of the schedule as compared to your scope of work and what is preventing you from moving forward. (Don’t include this if you are the reason for a delay. Only put what is helpful to protect your company.)
  • And anything else that is out of the ordinary that may be occurring, or not occurring, that is or may impact the project or your work.

Pro-Tip: Make sure that if you track employees on the site apart from daily reports (such as employee time cards), that those other reports match up with your daily reports.  The credibility of not just your daily reports, but all of your records and witnesses will be questioned if you regularly show an inconsistent number of employees between your various records.

How to protect your company

Many contractors don’t realize the importance of daily reports until something goes wrong, like an accident on the job site or a legal claim. Consider these two possible daily report descriptions from a plumbing contractor’s perspective:

Description 1:

July 6. Sunny. Plumbers on site with helpers.

Description 2:

July 6, 2016. Ten plumbers with six helpers on the job site starting at 7:15 a.m. and finished at 4:30 p.m. Sunny with minor sporadic rain not impacting our work. Seventh and upper floors unavailable due to lack of framing. No framers on site again today. Rough plumbing completed on sixth floor today as per the two week look-ahead schedule dated June 27, 2016. Buck hoist not operational again today impacting our productivity.

Fast-forward to the end of the job with a general contractor trying to assert a delay claim against the plumber, the first description doesn’t tell the court much. On the other hand, the second description clearly shows that the plumbing workers were doing all the work that was available to them and why they could not proceed.  The report also describes issues outside of their control impacting productivity.  Daily reports similar to this, that consistently tell your story, are tremendously helpful if (and when) a dispute does arise.

Pro-Tip: One of the best ways to head-off a legal claim before it starts is to show the other side that you have ample documentation to support your position, namely consistent and detailed daily reports.  If you do, many adversaries will leave you alone and look for an “easier mark” with less documentation.  Don’t be that “easy mark” by not having the necessary documentation.

Daily reports serve many purposes. Make sure those who fill them out understand how the words they use today will impact your future.  Your company’s good name and financial success will depend on it.