What does workmanlike mean?
What is the legal definition of workmanlike manner in contracts?
How is the term workmanlike used?
In this article, we will break down the concepts of workmanlike and workmanlike manner so you know all there is to know about them.
We will look at what workmanlike manner means, how it is used in sentence, its legal definition, examples of workmanlike manner clause in contracts, how courts interpret the obligation, its enforceability and more.
Are you ready to find out?
Let’s get started!
Workmanlike means that something should be done in a competent, skillful and efficient way.
Workmanlike manner meaning
Workmanlike manner meaning is conceptually simple but also problematic at the same time.
It’s conceptually simple as it means something must be done with a good and adequate level of quality.
Using the term in the English language is fine.
However, using the term “workmanlike” or “workmanlike manner” in a contract from a legal perspective may introduce interpretation challenges and a level of vagueness in a contract.
In some cases, this may be intended by design but in some other cases, you want the contract to give you more clarity than ambiguity.
Workmanlike in a sentence
Let’s look at a few examples of how the term workmanlike can be used in a sentence.
“You should make sure you hire a contractor who has a good reputation to deliver the job quickly and in a workmanlike manner”
“The audience was impressed by his workmanlike performance”
“That employee was not motivated to do the job and it appears from the project handled in a poor workmanlike manner”
The term “workmanlike” can be used in a variety of ways, particularly in contracts:
- Good workmanship
- Workmanship like manner
- Proper and workmanlike manner
- Professional and workmanlike manner
- Skilled workmanship
- First-class workmanship
- Best workmanship like manner
No matter the variations, the intended meaning is the same.
Workmanlike manner legal definition
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, workmanlike is defined as follows:
“characterized by the skill and efficiency typical of a good workman”
Dictionary.com defines workmanlike as:
“1- like or befitting a workman.
2- skillful; well executed”
From a legal perspective, saying that work will be done in a workmanlike manner is to say that the services will be rendered with a degree of efficiency and knowledge that a competent service provider should exercise in the trade.
For example, in a construction project, a general contractor saying that he will deliver the project in a workmanlike manner, he is saying that he will handle the job in such efficiency and skill that other competent general contractors in the trade would have done so.
Workmanlike manner clause
The term “workmanlike” or phrase “workmanlike manner” is used quite often in service contracts or construction contracts.
The term workmanlike manner is used in a contract to indicate that the service provider must provide work that is competent and is of adequate and acceptable quality.
You may often see the term workmanlike manner used in a contractual clause as follows:
“The service provider hereby warrants that it shall provide the services is a good and workmanlike manner”
By warranting that the work will be done in a “good and workmanlike manner”, the service provider is essentially saying that he or she will deliver a good quality project.
You may all so another variation in a contract stating that all work to be completed in a workmanlike manner:
“The contractor commits to performing all work in a workmanlike manner and to the entire satisfaction of the client”
Subjective legal obligation
What does it mean exactly when a contracting party commits or warrants to render services in a professional and workmanlike manner?
In accordance to what standard should the contracting parties evaluate the job?
Better yet, based on what standard can a court determine if the work was done in a “professional and workmanlike manner”?
The answer is: it depends.
In every jurisdiction, the courts will have their own legal tests or standards to evaluate the quality of a person’s work.
The standard of “workmanlike” may vary by state, by industry and based on the nature and complexity of the overall work.
In many cases, the courts consider that workmanlike quality should be that of a person of ordinary skill and competence in a trade or business.
The term workmanlike quality does not refer to absolute perfection.
However, it does refer to a certain subjective standard.
For example, in construction projects, to determine if a contractor exercised work in a good and workmanlike manner, they will evaluate the following:
- Did the contractor have sufficient experience to perform the job?
- Did the contract follow the plan?
- Was the contractor aware of the applicable construction standards?
- Did the contractor apply the construction standards for the specific work performed?
- Did the contractor identify quality issues and address them?
- Did the contractor inform the client as to the risks and the client accepted those risks?
At the end of the day, the courts must evaluate whether the job was well done or not.
They will use different factual data points in a case to assess the quality of the job.
Interpretation by the courts
For many years, the courts interpreted work done in a “workmanlike manner” in construction contracts as work meeting the standards of performance of others in the construction community or what is customarily expected from others (Jones v. Davenport (Jan. 26, 2001))
As case laws evolved, the courts’ interpretation of “workmanlike manner” went from:
“work as customarily done by other contractors in the community”
“Work providing a degree of skill, efficiency and knowledge which is possessed of ordinary skill, competence and standing in the particular trade or business for which the contractor is employed”
Based on this modern interpretation, the courts will assess a contractor’s work based on the skills and abilities of another “competent” contractor with “ordinary skills” instead of looking at the contractors “in the community” at large.
Notwithstanding the evolution in how the courts interpret the phrase workmanlike manner, you still have a great deal of subjectivity to deal with.
Enforceability of workmanlike clause
If a contractor performs work with a level of quality not acceptable to the client, can the client enforce the “workmanlike manner clause”?
The technical answer is: yes.
The practical answer is: it depends on the type of defects or level of quality issues.
The contractor’s obligation is to meet the same level of standards as another contract or ordinary skills and competence.
As a result, the courts will not look for the job to be done perfectly but with an “adequate” or “acceptable” level of quality.
The quality standard applied by the court will allow some level of errors or defects so long as they are not material or significantly affect the overall fitness of the work.
For example, if a contractor renovated an entire basement and did not install a door properly, that may not be a defect sufficiently important enough to lead a court to qualify the overall work in violation of the good and workmanlike manner standards.
However, if the door was not installed in accordance with the plans, the contractor did not use proper material in many aspects of the renovation project and did not finish important aspects of the job, the court may consider that the contractor breached its contractual obligation to deliver the work in a professional and workmanlike manner.
Quite often, litigants will have the challenge to prove the actual standard a court will need to consider to evaluate the quality of the work.
As such, in many construction defect cases, the parties will have no choice but to hire an expert to assess the work done and evaluate it against various objective and subjective standards applied in the trade.
Due to the vagueness of the “good and workmanlike manner” obligation, the parties to a lawsuit may be exposed to additional expert fees and costs but also face a more volatile outcome.
To understand the difference between a material breach and non-material breach, be sure to read our post.
Let’s look at a few examples of how the term workmanlike is used in various contracts.
In many service contracts or construction contracts, the parties will include a boilerplate clause with respect to the level of quality expected from the work.
For example, here is a standard clause you may see quite often:
“The service provider hereby warrants to exercise reasonable skills, care and diligence in performing the work, commits that the work will be performed in a workmanlike manner, and when completed, the deliverables will be free from any material defect rendering the same unfit for its intended use”
A contractor may require a subcontractor to delivery the work as follows:
“The subcontractor shall deliver the work in a professional and workmanlike and free from any material defect”
A client may require a software developer or implementer to deliver the work product as follows:
“The service provider warrants that the work product shall comply with the documentation, statement of work and specifications, it shall respect all applicable laws and be formed in a workmanlike manner.
A landlord may impose certain obligations on a tenant with respect to leasehold improvements as follows:
“During the term, the tenant shall maintain the premises in a good state of repair and shall perform any leasehold improvements in compliance with applicable laws and done in a first-class workmanlike manner”
In a loan agreement or mortgage on a property, the bank as the lender may want to impose certain obligations on the borrower as follows:
“The borrower shall not make any modifications or alternations to the property unless the work is done by a professional licensed contractor committing to perform the work in a professional and workmanlike manner and in compliance with all applicable construction code or standards”
There are many other contracts where the ‘workmanlike’ or ‘workmanlike manner’ can be used as well such as by:
- Software developers
- Software implementors
The common thread here is where work must be done in accordance to certain standards or professional code for example.
The terms “workmanlike” or “workmanlike manner” are used quite often in contracts.
The intention of the parties is to ensure that the work is delivered with a sufficient level of quality that is expected by a competent and skilled businessman or tradesperson.
Nonetheless, from a legal standpoint, the workmanlike remains a vague and subjective term.
What does it mean exactly for a software developer, for an architect, for an engineer or lawyer?
Depending on the importance of the contract and complexity of the work, it may be worth actually defining what quality work should mean.
Defining acceptance criteria, requiring acceptance testing and contractually referring to actual standards applicable to the project may give a higher level of certainty to the contracting parties.
In some other cases, the parties may intentionally want to leave a level of subjectivity or flexibility in evaluating the quality of the work.
At the end of the day, the lawyer’s job in drafting a contract is to ensure that the client understands the terms of the contract and accepts the level of risk.
What do you think of the use of the workmanlike manner obligation in contracts?
Should we continue using it or should it be avoided?
We’d love to get your comments on this!