The Moral/Ethical/Legal Considerations of hiring a person seeking work doing odd jobs?

Hello everyone!

I have a question of personal relevance. My husband and I had previously made a decision that, as an act of charity, we should hire on anyone who stops by our home offering to do odd jobs for the day. We live on a corner lot, where we get lots of local neighborhood traffic, and consequently, we get lots of men stopping by offering to cut our lawn, rake our leaves, trim our trees, clean our gutters or roof, power wash our siding. You name it; we have had people stop by to offer to do it. With the downturn in our economy or the past five years, there is a lot more of this than ever before. A lot of hungry and poor men looking for work wherever they can find it. So my husband suggested, as a general family rule, if we have the cash to pay them immediately, then we say yes to whatever they would like to do for pay.

Well, recently, I was informed that hiring people to do odd jobs, inside or outside the house, is a practice that is generally frowned upon, partly because it leaves us legally and financially liable if someone were to get hurt, and partly because we are paying them “under the table” so to speak, since we insist on paying only in cash. Apparently, if we hire someone to do a job, we are required, as employers, to pay payroll taxes and Social Security, and turn in tax forms. If we are not doing these things, we might be acting illegally. Also, if someone WERE to unfortunately become injured, they would be forced to sue me in order to cover their medical bills. I do not have the savings to pay for someone’s medical bills, and they would have to sue to get my homeowner’s insurance to pay. And in the end, I might still be financially liable, if my insurance refuses to pay or if it won’t cover everything. :frowning:

So now I am torn. We have some regulars who stop by, hoping to be able to earn some money ($20-$100 for a day’s work), and they are so obviously in need. They are so appreciative of being given honest work to do, and they do a great job. But now with these concerns, am I just supposed to turn them away? One man literally rides his bike to my house from God only knows where, to ask if he can be hired for the day. He does this while carrying his rake with him on his bike. He is elderly and infirm. He always asks for a glass of lemonade or a Coke or cup of hot tea, depending on the weather. I cannot bear the thought of having to turn him, or anyone else like him, away, but I do not want to be acting inappropriately.

So what say you? What is the right thing to do, considering the issues I have mentioned here? Also, if there are even more considerations I have not mentioned, please make me aware of them, too.

You sound very kindhearted. It also sounds like you have a couple of regular guys that are doing light yard type work for you (or other lighter type maintenance as well). It sounds also like they are not doing major construction or pumping or electrical work for you. There can be a liability if you are having unlicensed people work on your home and they get hurt in the process and there is a suit of sorts against you. The other is if they are doing more major work and it is faulty and problems with it, at least with a licensed contractor, you would have recourse with the state or licensing board that you don’t have with someone that isn’t. With all of this in mind, I would probably limit the work to couple of regulars that come and that you already know. An older man isn’t going to be doing anything major and he sounds like he needs the work and is appreciative about it. I think though I would stop the open door policy with others that you don’t know. The other issue is which came up with the Samantha Smart kidnapping is the safety of your children since you don’t know who or where some of these people have come from or their background. That is something to think about since you have children. Again you are very kind and sensitive to the work needs of others and I think with the couple of regulars you have and what they are doing, that probably can continue.

talk to your insurance agent about liability umbrella policies that would cover this sort of situation and which your regular homeowner’s policy may not, and about the implications of a person who does not carry their own insurance coming onto your property to do work for you. It is possible to get an umbrella policy to cover such issues.

If they have a business, then you are not responsible for paying their social security wages-- if they do odd jobs for others and not just for you then they are not your employee but are contracting their labor out. If so, it is their responsibility to report their income, not yours. This can be a gray area, so you may also want to talk to a tax preparer.

Personally, I can not imagine how many people you have helped and how difficult it would be for you to stop at this point. What a remarkable ministry you have had. Last year my husband and I went to see our insurance agent to discuss several things, our personal liability among other items. I would suggest you do the same as some of what he told us was a little frightening. I am not sure that I can speak to the morality of paying people cash for work. I would have to say that if up until now your conscience was your guide and you were just being charitable that you might want to speak with your priest for a little help in what steps to take next. Clearly the person who put the thoughts in your head that you were needing to pay taxes, etc., has put you in the position of needing spiritual guidance. I for one hope that what you are doing, because of who you are doing it for and why you are doing it will make it OK to continue. God bless you generous and kind people. If you cannot continue I hope you will find a way to continue to make a difference for these people.

The sole reason why I will only pay cash is because I do not even know the names of these people. I am not going to give them my full name and bank account number. That is like saying “oh please, steal all my money! And here, take my identity, too!” :wink:
These are people who look like they need ready money for a meal, too. And they never step foot inside my home. My children do not play outside while they are working. The house is locked up while they are outside working. I take necessary precautions like that, but I had never hesitated to hire them before now.
I will mention these concerns to my husband. We might be able to find out what we need to know from our insurance agent. Some of these men, rarely, do actually run a business. The power washer, for example, had his own business. But most are just guys on their bikes or in their pickups, going around neighborhoods and stopping at places where there is work to be done that they can do.

Would you pay all of those extra things if it was a neighborhood kid? I think some people just like to look for any reason to not help their fellow man. I do agree that you should be careful of con-men who would “get hurt” to sue.

Depending on where you live, there is a legal way for them to find daily work. A lot of large cities have labor centers. They interview and hire out men to do odd jobs for a days pay. A lot of these men get hired on permanently with the company they are doing to odd job for.

I have started directing those with signs by the road asking for work to those places. Thus far none of them knew they existed.

No, I would not pay payroll taxes or Social Security for a neighborhood kid. No, I am not looking for a way to avoid helping my fellow man. Did you miss the point of this thread?

Your second paragraph reminds me of the words of Ebenezer Scrooge
“Are there no prisons, no workhouses?..those who are badly off must go there.”

Not everyone is lucky enough to live in a large city, nor have access to employment help, ESPECIALLY if they are elderly or infirm. I really don’t know what to make of your post, honestly. I am just really surprised that you accuse me and others of trying to avoid helping others, and then explain how those unfortunate men should go find work elsewhere.:shrug:

Since I posted earlier a hasty and defensive response to your comment, I started wondering if maybe you hadn’t meant this as a personal attack on me, accusing me of trying to avoid helping a fellow human being in need. If I was mistaken about what you were saying to me, then I am sorry that I was so harsh. I hope you will forgive me for getting defensive and snarky.:blush:

One is not required to comply with witholding if one is paying an “independent contractor”. That’s a fairly complicated subject, but generally speaking if the person is paid to do a particular job, and it only, and is reasonably able to self-direct in the manner of doing it, though not necessarily in the end result, he is an “independent contractor”.

One is not required to report it to the government unless it’s $600 or more to a particular person within a given year.

Premises liability, though, can be a potential problem. That’s what one’s homeowner’s insurance is for, of course, and is hopefully adequate to cover an injury.

I have a couple of other thoughts here. It sounds like you are very careful with your children and identity. I am sure that you are not paying these people enough to worry about taxes or withholding or any of that stuff and looking into an umbrella policy is a good idea. One of my late aunts lived in the country and by a railroad track. She often had “hobos” stop by looking for either food or odds and ends. My mom told me that she always turned people away because she didn’t want word of mouth to mark them as a place to go to get stuff and was concerned about this for a number of reasons. I would guess based on your generosity in giving cash for minor yard work which is what it sounds like here that there is a word of mouth out there, that if someone needed some quick cash go to you, do some minor yard work for money. I’m not saying they don’t need it for either legitimate or illegitimate reasons but maybe this is something to think about. That could be a good reason to limit this to a couple of regular guys that come. While it sounds like you are being careful and cautious, word of mouth is just another angle to it and could cause your place to be exposed if someone later came back and you weren’t home.

This reminds me of my grandmother. “Back in the day” when hobos were not uncommon, a lot of them visited her house, which was only three blocks from the railroad yards. I saw many of them walk right past every other house to stop at hers. She told me (I was just a kid) that hobos had a way of “marking” a house where other hobos could go to get food or whatever. I told her I was going to go find the “mark” and get rid of it. Gently, but firmly, she forbade me to do that. It was one of her “charitable works”.

She made homemade bread in big, dense loaves. I was really fond of it. When a hobo would show up, she had a routine. She kept a broom on her porch and told the hobo she would give him a dime (not as small a thing then as now) to sweep her steps. While he was doing it, she would make two enormous sandwiches with that bread. Just huge, with some of everything in it that was in her refrigerator at the time. Meat, cheese, tomatoes, even leftover gravy or macaroni. Whatever was there. She wrapped them in newspaper and pinned them with toothpicks. She would give him both of them, and require that he sit on the steps and eat the first one, after which she would give him the dime.

She was no dummy. She knew the dime would probably buy wine or something. Probably back then that would buy a half pint of cheap wine or perhaps straight grain alcohol. But she wanted to be sure he actually ate something, and had something for later for him or for some other hobo if he didn’t want to eat it himself. Sweeping her steps was no big job, but she absolutely wouldn’t give money to anybody who didn’t at least do something for it. It was to “save his pride” she said about it. None of them ever seemed surprised by the ritual.

Some of those guys were pretty intimidating-looking, but none of them ever bothered her. She did latch the door while preparing the sandwiches though. I suppose none of them wanted to be responsible to other hobos for ruining a good “mark” by aggressive or uncooperative behavior.

That was before street drugs became rampant, though, and there really were “hobo jungles” where they hung out, and hobos knew each other personally or by reputation, or so it was said. I suppose one couldn’t get away with doing that now.

thanks for sharing that, my mom said my aunt was afraid of being “marked”. But your Grandma is like OP, trying to be generous and help people, no questions asked. Sometimes, I think we can get too suspicious and cautious in society which in many ways is dangerous too. It sounds like with your grandma, she had them do minor outside work. Maybe because of her generosity, she became protected by them as well.

We are not afraid of being marked. In fact, word of mouth may already be happening. I have wondered a few times how in the world a couple of these local men knew they could find work at our house. I mean, we are in the middle of a huge neighborhood. So why do they stop at our house, but I see them go right past our neighbors? On the other hand, our neighbors are able to spend a lot of time doing their own yard work, and their yards look nicer than mine. There always IS work to be done on our yard. So that might be all it is. Anyway, this arrangement works very well for me, too. The men are elderly, polite, and earnest. I am always pleased and thankful for their help. And they get some money they need. They never smell of liquor or look drunk. They just look impoverished. The last time one man came by, I only had half of what he quoted, and I told him so, and apologized for not being able to afford to hire him that time. He offered to do a smaller job for the amount I could pay. We agreed. Then he proceeded to do the entire job anyway. It was beautiful. He raked and cleaned up our entire lot. For $20! I told him next time I would make sure to have enough to pay him the full amount. :slight_smile:

you are very admirable

This reminds me just a little of a deep country hillbilly I knew. Incredibly strong and a good worker, but always “up against it” money-wise. He would sometimes come and ask if there was some job he could do, and I would always find something. One time, and one time only, he asked for an “advance” against future work so he could go to Tennessee to his mother’s funeral. So I gave it to him.

Anyway, a week or so later he came around to see what job he could do. I had forgotten about it, but found something. Anyway, he told me some about the funeral. He and some other relatives were there. Then he turned to me and said “Do you know what they charge to dig a grave?” He acted incredulous at how much it was at the time. “$40.00!” he exclaimed. “So I said I would do it for $25.00 and dug it myself”

I don’t know what kind of ground they had there. Being a major hillbilly from some severe hill country as he was, it was probably stony, but even if it was the softest kind of soil imaginable, a grave is six feet deep by about seven or eight feet long by about four feet wide. Imagine doing that for $25.00.

Sometimes people like that are for real, and will do better at things than we think they would.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit