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January 26, 2004

- By Richard A. Leasia
Labor and Employment Department,
Thelen Reid & Priest, LLP

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How To Buy Janitorial Services

At the end of the day, your employees leave behind evidence of their hard work. You're proud of their accomplishments. You're also alarmed at the mess such production can create, even if it's only waste paper and lunch room garbage. You're much too busy to clean it up yourself and you can hardly expect your employees to take out the trash. It's time to hire a janitorial service.

While many commercial janitorial firms specialize in housekeeping and sanitation, a number of companies offer the whole palette of cleaning services: interior cleaning, floor stripping and waxing, windows inside and out, construction site cleanup, restaurant cleaning, pressure-washing for warehouse floors, furniture care, health care sanitizing, HVAC maintenance, houseplant care, trash removal and more.

Most commercial firms also offer one-time services for such needs as fire, smoke or water damage restoration, or move-in/move-out cleaning. Some can also stock your shelves with cleaning supplies and paper products.

When you're ready to start shopping for janitorial service, look for a firm that will design a cleaning program and schedule to meet your needs. There are scores of janitorial firms competing for business, so you have the luxury of taking in proposals and choosing the one that offers the best package at the most reasonable cost. It is advised however, that you narrow down your search to between 3 and 5 suitors.

  • How long has the janitorial company been in business?
  • What is their service territory?
  • Do they offer both day and night service? 24/7 availability? Emergency service?
  • Are they licensed, bonded and insured? Will they provide a copy of their insurance certificate?
  • Do they use their own employees to do the work?
  • Do they use sub-contractors and if so for what?
  • Can they provide a client list and references?
  • What kind of guarantee do they offer?
  • Can they give you an estimate over the phone?
  • Are their on-site estimates free?
  • Do they estimate based on square footage?
  • Do they estimate on tasks completed?
  • What kind of term contracts do they offer?
  • Do they offer packages with special rates?
  • How large is their work force? Will a dedicated janitorial person or team be assigned to your company?
  • How are their personnel screened and selected? Do they receive training?
  • Do they offer hands-on supervision on large projects? How about regularly scheduled inspections of the work performed?
  • What kind of billing schedule do they follow?
  • How does the janitorial company respond to complaints?
  • Do you find you have the same problems with the janitorial company?
  • Have you ever had to call them for emergency service?
  • Can you reach them after hours?
  • How do they handle breakage and theft?
  • Some commercial janitorial firms offer services beyond the usual cleanup and floor care. If you're also in the market for dust control for your "sealed-room" lab, maintenance for your landscaped grounds, or even copy/mail services, look for a firm that also offers such services. You'll save money on a package deal.
  • If they offer supply products, get a proposal. Most firms look at overall profitability and buying supplies will keep down your service cost overall. You will also save time and money on ordering and stocking since most firms will do this for you.
  • If you're willing to sign an annual contract, you'll likely get a discounted rate. Make sure there's a termination clause so you can opt out if you're dissatisfied with the quality of the work. More and more firms are starting to eliminate annual contracts and going month to month. Unless your facility is large do not be surprised if they do not offer this option.
  • If you're facility is small, you may want totalk to your neighbor to see if you can negotiate a deal together with a janitorial firm.
  • Because some clients have several locations, some janitorial companies use subcontractors to fulfill their agreements. Subcontracting work is fine for large corporations such as banks, but for a small business such as yours, you want to have a one-to-one relationship with the people providing service to you. Keep this in mind also if you are negotiating with a broker.
  • Make sure that any sub-contractors used are an actual company that does janitorial services and not a "mom & pop" type outfit. Some state laws do not consider individual persons that are paid on a 1099 form as a legal sub-contractor. This means you could end up being responsible for income taxes not withheld for these individuals. (See "How the IRS determines worker status" in this article.) It also means they probably do not have workers compensation insurance.
  • Most janitorial companies refuse "no-key" accounts, with good reason. Arriving at a job site to find no one there is frustrating for the cleaner and can be costly for you. If you feel you can't trust a janitorial company with a set of keys, get a referral from another business owner so you can use a company you trust. Further incentive: no-key accounts will cost you more in basic services.
  • Fidelity bonds are only good upon an arrest and conviction, so make sure the janitorial firm has liability insurance. Always request a certificate of insurance and in some situations you may want to be listed as "additionally insured" on the janitorial firms insurance.

The IRS uses three determining factors for clarifying whether a worker qualifies as an employee or an independent contractor:

Behavioral control:
Things like instructions that the company provides the worker such as when, where and how to work, does the company control the results and provide training? Independent contractors ordinarily use their own methods.

Financial control:
Independent contractors are more likely to have un-reimbursed expenses. Does the worker have an invested interest? Independent contractors ordinarily have a financial investment. Does the worker make other services available relevant to the market or is he just a janitor? Does overtime get paid for additional hours worked or is he paid a flat rate?

Type of relationship:
Independent contractors are more likely to have contracts, terms for length of job, no benefits and do work for other companies of a relevant nature. If all of the workers jobs are provided by one janitorial firm, he is an employee not a independent contractor.


A good way to protect your self from companies that use illegal subcontractors is to do some simple math. If the janitorial service does not already provide in their proposal the amount of hours spent cleaning your facility, ask them. Now take this information and divide it into the lump sum they have provided in their proposal and see if it adds up. Operating a dependable service business requires organization, competent management and a substantial capital investment. So don't judge service charges solely by the time spent cleaning your facility. When a professional janitorial service goes to work in your facility, many costs have been incurred just to get him there ready to do the job. Here are some of them:
  • Special tools and equipment
  • Chemicals
  • Training
  • Sales and Estimators
  • Stock of supplies
  • Transportation
  • Supervision and Management
  • Wages and Overtime
  • Equipment maintenance
  • Vehicle fuel and maintenance
  • Stationery and supplies
  • Bookkeeping
  • Office rent and Utilities
  • Insurance
  • Holiday pay
  • Taxes

Bid/Proposal: A written presentation submitted with the goal of securing an account, outlining the work to be performed, the cost, the time it will take and other details to support the investment.
Bonded: Having a fidelity bond that covers each employee, to protect a company against loss or damage due to dishonest acts.
Certificate of insurance: Proof of liability, workers compensation and bond insurance mailed to you directly from the insurance provider.
HVAC: The combined heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems in a building.
Janitorial Broker: Service that secures and sells janitorial accounts, basically serving as an agent matching customer to janitorial company.
Job Walk/Walk Through: Appointment with janitorial firm to walk and view facility for proposal or inspection.
RFP: Request for proposal.
Specs./Specifications: Tasks to be performed by janitorial firm.
Subcontractor: An individual or company hired by a larger company or contractor to perform services for the larger entity's clients.
Time Standards: Industry accepted times to perform certain tasks in the janitorial field.

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