Avoiding Retaliation for Feedback on Handyman's Unprofessional Behavior
April 17, 2017 12:00 PM   Subscribe

How should I handle letting a company know their handyman made me feel uncomfortable/scared?

Summary: Today, a handyman made me feel uncomfortable/scared while working on my home. How do I discuss this with his employer in a way that maximizes my chances of feeling safe?

Here's the background:
I am returning customer to a company that I'll call Handyman Co. I've been very happy with them in the past. I meet with the boss to go over what needs to happen and to get an estimate. I schedule the work with the boss or his support staff. They then send out an employee (possibly an independent contractor?) to do the work. Until today, I have always been happy with the service from everyone at Handyman Co.

Today, the guy who showed up had something "off" about it. It is very hard for me to describe what this was. That was fine; not everyone is the same as me or going to be my cup of tea. Then, during the course of the morning he had several loud angry outbursts. He was working outside, I was working inside. My impression is that he either banged his thumb with a hammer or encountered something difficult about the job. The outbursts really scared me; they were not like "ouch." More like temper tantrums including pacing up and down while shouting. I became frightened of dealing with him directly after seeing his temper. Something seemed really wrong so I decided to leave and am now at my parents house.

I contacted the staff at Handyman Co and told them that something had come up and I would not be home to pay the invoice at the end of the day (when the work is done), but would be happy to pay it over the phone tomorrow. They were fine with that.

One more piece of background information: because of my husband's work schedule, I essentially live alone 60% of the time. I'm pregnant with our first child & possibly feeling vulnerable, though I'm trying not to second guess my "something is wrong" feeling.

I would like to tell Handyman Co that I was uncomfortable with the person they sent out, but I am worried that he would be angry and come after me in some way. I am not interested in getting him in trouble, but I am interesting in protecting other customers from feeling this way. Here are my questions:

- Should I tell Handyman Co that I was uncomfortable & if so do you have advice on the best wording?
- If I do tell them, how can I maximize my chances of feeling safe from retribution?
posted by CMcG to Human Relations (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd focus on the _behavior_ that made you uncomfortable, and describe that as concretely as you can. Actual duration of yelling, describing loudness in concrete ways ("Through two rooms", "As loud as a _____"), exact number of times it happened, when it happened.

I would try to avoid saying that the _person_ was scary or creepy or whatever; that dude could be the owner's best friend, or son, or something.

That's all I've got. Hopefully others have better ideas.
posted by amtho at 12:13 PM on April 17, 2017 [8 favorites]

Tell the company, not the guy. Let them know that he had several loud/angry outbursts which seemed unprofessional to you.

If he is unstable enough to scream about a dropped tool, what would he have done if you told him he was doing something wrong? He could have gotten violent, and even if he did, he would probably have yelled at you.

This is not good customer service.

I would call the company and tell them exactly what their employee did. There's no reason to get into the details of your reaction to that, but do say that his behavior was unprofessional and could be considered threatening.

(Is it possible he was on the phone while pacing and shouting?)
posted by suelac at 12:13 PM on April 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

I would focus on the fact that the handyman's behavior was inappropriate and unprofessional rather than your own reaction to it. Just tell them that you several times heard outbursts from the handyman, that they seemed like temper tantrums. Tell them that you've been happy with their work so far, but that you expect better behavior from any handymen they send over and that you don't want this particular handyman to be sent to do work at your house any longer. I'm not sure what sort of retaliation you expect though? You're paying them for a service!
posted by peacheater at 12:15 PM on April 17, 2017 [20 favorites]

I agree that you should focus on the behavior, not the person. Not to encourage threadsitting, but what struck you as "off" about his behavior when interacting with you? It would help to be more specific than that, to see if there's any relationship with his outbursts when he thought that he was alone (and probably didn't realize you could hear).

I think my family, co-workers, and friends would describe me as a fairly relaxed, even phlegmatic person who rarely gets angry, but when I'm doing amateur home repair/improvement projects, I'll have occasional outbursts when I do something dumb or painful, either because swearing appears to reduce pain or because I'm upset with myself for having done something dumb (or, sometimes, at companies that provide misleading or inaccurate instructions), and while I would never curse out another person, I feel OK doing it to myself.

However, I'm not a professional. And even if he was getting upset with himself or with inanimate objects, I'd be concerned about a professional handyman who seemed to have so many problems getting the job done right.
posted by brianogilvie at 12:28 PM on April 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm guessing the OP feels concerned that the specific handyperson sent to the house today will find out that there was a complaint and this handyperson a) will potentially be upset and b) knows where the house is.

That said, I agree with the advice that you ask to not have that specific contractor sent to your house anymore. Presumably that can happen without the contractor knowing what was said.
posted by freezer cake at 12:30 PM on April 17, 2017 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I think I would wait two or three weeks, until the handyman in question has likely been on several other jobs, before contacting the company with my complaint. That might keep him from associating you with the complaint.
posted by Dolley at 1:03 PM on April 17, 2017 [23 favorites]

I think you were right to trust your instincts. "Yelling when doing handywork" seems innocuous to a lot of people, but "pacing up and down and having a really angry, loud, violent ongoing confrontation with yourself for an extended period" does not sound normal to me. It sounds almost borderline schizophrenic/mentally ill in some way. I would stress the loudness, duration, and overreaction when/if you speak to the supervisor.

I do not think you are obligated to report this and wouldn't blame you if you didn't. If you feel it is unsafe to report, I think you should trust your instincts on that too.

Maybe waiting until your husband is home, stressing to the person you report him to that you DO NOT want reprisals, or waiting a week or two as Dolley suggests would make you feel safer.
posted by stockpuppet at 1:07 PM on April 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seems to me this guy was having a bad day. I'm sorry it frightened you, but everyone has a bad day now and then. There's nothing in your story that seems legitimately threatening to me. Folks who swing hammers for a living aren't always the most eloquent folks, doesn't mean you need to be afraid of them.
posted by humboldt32 at 2:01 PM on April 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you very much for the responses so far.

To answer a couple of questions:
How were our interactions off?
We got off on the wrong foot in two ways: He showed up 20 minutes early and POUNDED on the front door. Showing up early is great! However, 740am vs. 8am is kind of a big difference IMO because of the time of day.
I invited him inside (part of the work was meant to be inside the house, hanging a receiver for the doorbell) and he just said "No" flatly. His demeanor was unfriendly. I am not an outgoing bubbly person, so I get it, but there was something flatter about it than what I usually encounter from Handyman Co.
Again, I want to emphasize that I was not upset by these interactions, I just felt like things didn't seem quite right from the get-go.

What do I mean by retaliation?
freezer cake has it. I'm not afraid of any action from the company, but of the handyman putting two and two together and stopping by to vent his frustration or worse. The additional context here is that I live alone for some of the time and I have already dealt with 3 attempted break-ins at my house (that's a story for another day). I recognize that I might be on high-alert and overreacting. I decided though to heed the advice not to ignore your instincts. I don't want to de-rail or change the focus too much, but maybe this is more about how I can just feel safe in my home after encounters like this.

Thank you again for your responses and I would appreciate any further advice. To respect the rules not to threadsit, I will stay out of it after this. Thanks!
posted by CMcG at 2:04 PM on April 17, 2017

My solution would be to do nothing now and next time I use the company, say I'd prefer not to have X come ("We had a bad interaction," if asked why). The I'd ask who *is* coming to double check they don't send him anyway.
posted by whitewall at 2:19 PM on April 17, 2017 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I have a longtime relationship with a company that sounds like the one you're working with. Once they sent out a worker whom my dogs disliked immediately, and he responded with lots of macho talk about how he knew how to handle dogs, you have to be alpha, etc., which irritated me but also gave me concern.

It was a one-day job so I let him finish, but I absolutely called the next day and spoke to the owner. I just said "Joe" wasn't a good fit for us and would prefer they send someone else next time. I make notes in our house file every time someone new comes, and I make sure to mention it the next time we use them - just casually reminding them that we really liked "Bob" but would prefer they not send "Joe." I don't think you need to give specific reasons if you don't want to, but do let them know. As a referral-dependent business, they don't want to be sending out workers who don't have good people skills. You definitely don't have to have someone in your house who makes you uncomfortable!
posted by Sweetie Darling at 2:22 PM on April 17, 2017 [8 favorites]

This is about your second post here: get an alarm system installed. I was anxious about break ins a few years ago and having the peace of mind from the alarm literally changed my life.
posted by flourpot at 2:52 PM on April 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

I just said "Joe" wasn't a good fit for us and would prefer they send someone else next time.

Yeah, this is it. No commentary. They'll press for why, and you'll just stick with 'not a good fit; thanks for understanding'. Odds are, they know damn well why.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:07 PM on April 17, 2017 [6 favorites]

Had the same thing happen kinda, didn't want the guy to come back to my home. I told the manager, they apologised & the person is no longer my service person. end of story
posted by patnok at 5:09 PM on April 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'd probably stop using Handyman Co. altogether. There are enough people in business that you don't have to put up with that bullshit. They may be unaware that this guy has poor people skills or whatever, but that is on them. And no, I don't think you are overreacting. I do think you buried the lede a bit with the recent break-ins; please do investigate additional security.
posted by BibiRose at 5:11 PM on April 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yes, there was something off right from the beginning. I've had a lot of work done on my house recently by HVAC, handymen, electricians & painters. I made it clear that early was fine but if anyone came even five minutes before 8:00 AM they would call first to verify that it was OK. That is common courtesy. 8:00 AM is not noon and often people may be up but not dressed to receive visitors. Banging on the door was very rude and weird.

I think mentioning that fact when you call might be a way to open the conversation. This is basic customer service and they should know their employee is failing. After you get a response about that, maybe see how you feel about speaking about the other issues.
posted by readery at 7:15 PM on April 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

I would follow Sweetie Darling's script for the short term and get someone else out to finish the job. After the whole thing is over, you can give Handyman Co more specific feedback on the first guy's offputting behavior, and hopefully also on the delightfulness of whoever they send to finish the job. Bonus: it'll cushion the time period a little to avert Offputting Dude's suspicions/temper.
posted by desuetude at 7:41 PM on April 17, 2017

If you are attached to the company, and if the boss calls you to follow up, you might mention the whole showing up early thing as something they might want to be aware of. It's really an obnoxious practice but some people seem to think it is OK. In the ensuing conversation, it would be pretty easy to convey that things were not great overall. But that is not your responsibility really; if he goes on this way, the company owner will become aware of that, and if they are aware and take no action, they don't deserve your business.
posted by BibiRose at 6:34 AM on April 18, 2017

I see you've already marked it best answer, but I also Nth Sweetie Darling's script.

I've worked with a lot of tradesmen both professionally in commercial real estate and in my personal life. I've used versions of that script more than once and it was never a problem.

I also Nth the advice to do whatever you feel you need to do to make yourself feel safe while pregnant. Both times that I was pregnant I had concerns about my safety (part of my job involves working with the public) that a year or two afterwards I thought "maybe I was overreacting a little bit?" nonetheless following my instincts made me feel safer and consequently probably made my pregnancy go smoother. So go ahead just do those things that make you feel safer. There's no harm in self-care, or in trusting your instincts.
posted by vignettist at 1:30 PM on April 18, 2017

I'm with the "Don't Try To Explain & Justify Yourself" mode here. Drop them and go somewhere else, it's simpler.
posted by ovvl at 4:31 PM on April 18, 2017

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