The Benefits and Legal Limits of Certification
Company certification can prove a powerful testament to quality process and procedures. It has the potential to prove positive for both those hiring certified companies and for the certified companies themselves that are willing to take a magnifying glass to how they conduct business. In fact, the continuous review and quality improvement that can be realized through ongoing compliance with a certification program can prove valuable at limiting legal risk and decreasing insurer premiums. But, it’s important to remember that certification alone is not a substitute for meaningful, prospective risk management steps and quality workmanship. Keep the following cautions in mind once your company receives certification.
First, don’t oversell or over-represent the scope of a certification.
When bidding projects, companies can use certification to help distinguish themselves, but should avoid contractual ties to the certification, if possible. While not intended, mistakes do happen. Where a lapse in company policies or processes leads to a corrective action with the certification, such action should not risk a job contract. Watch for express requirements that contractors maintain their certification with a program throughout a project term. Be proactive in managing expectations of the owners and architects with regard to certification.
Next, don’t rely on certification as a guarantee.
The temptation upon receiving certification may be to suggest it as a guarantee of quality performance or to use certification as a means to get a job beyond a company’s scope. Caution is due in both scenarios.
The North American Contractor Certification program, for example, is intended to distinguish glazing companies that have taken the effort to validate their job performance and have internal policies meeting the program’s requirements. It has criteria addressing how a business is run and how work is performed, but it does not specifically mandate performance on a given job. The certification is not a substitute for ensuring quality workmanship on each installation, and it cannot serve as a complete shield when work quality is challenged. Failure to monitor job performance, or accepting a job that exceeds capacity, can lead to workmanship issues that may risk a legal claim, and ultimately jeopardize the certification itself.
Certifications can be evidence of good business practices, but not necessarily a job-specific warranty.
Finally, comply, document and preserve.
Certification processes have various documentation and policy requirements. Companies will need to meet these requirements in order to obtain certification. But in the context of a legal claim, any certification—for product or business—is only as valuable as the ability to prove historic compliance.
Renewals of certification may make older records and policies seem needless, but such is not the case. Even though certification is not a legal shield, it can be evidence of good internal controls and business practices. Keeping submittal packets and validation records for each certification and independent renewal can prove valuable when a legal claim or workmanship challenges arise five or ten years after completion. Being able to document compliance, and preserving evidence of compliance as part of an established document management policy, can provide a strong foundation for a legal defense.