The whole experience made me feel uneasy.

A recent experience with a plumber has me wondering how many contractors know what their employees are up to.

A few days ago, I discovered a small leak in my kitchen sink had become much bigger than I previously thought. I called a plumbing company that I had used before. The company promoted its flat-rate prices and I had been happy with their previous work.

The plumber arrived early the next day. After inspecting the problem, he told me the company’s price book said it would cost $370 to fix. However, he added, if I would give him $40 in cash instead of charging or writing a check for the full amount, he would give me a deal and drop the price by $100.

The whole thing made me feel uneasy. I don’t always have that much cash on me, but in this case, I did. So reluctantly I agreed. Who doesn’t like to save money?

I did ask him how his jibes with the set prices charged by his employer. He said there was no proof of our agreement, and if anybody ever complained about his “lunch money,” he would deny that he made such a deal.

The plumber finished, I paid him his cash and wrote a check for the difference. I may have gotten a better price by paying him some cash, but I did not feel good about it. I decided I would not call the company again for service.

The experience made we wonder how common such situations are in plumbing, HVAC or any other trade that performs residential work. Moonlighting has been going on as long as there have been trades workers with neighbors and friends, but this sort of unauthorized cash discount was a new one for me. I can’t imagine the owner would be happy to know it was going on.

For anyone who owns an HVAC or plumbing business, have you ever experienced anything like this? Or maybe you’ve had a cable installer offer you a special deal at your home. How do you try to prevent technicians from making extra cash while on the clock, let alone after hours?