5 Challenges — And the Opportunities — for 2021


By Gary Thill

With a vastly different political landscape, an ongoing pandemic and an uncertain economy, roofers will be facing a host of new challenges in 2021. 

“There’s going to be a lot of change an upheaval,” warns Trent Cotney, NRCA general counsel and CEO of Cotney Construction Law. 

But Cotney added that all this change will also bring a lot of new opportunities for roofers who can adapt and play their cards right. Here are 2021 predictions from Cotney — along with opportunities each represent: 

  1. Challenge: Heavy focus on misclassification of subcontractors. Cotney said that up to 70% of residential and 40% of commercial roofing’s workforce is subcontractors, meaning workers are paid on a 1099 basis. Using subs means roofers don’t have to pay for insurance, payroll taxes, etc. for the subcontractors. But Cotney said audits could reveal that many subcontractors are actually misclassified employees. A few tells: if the subs only work for one roofer; if the subs use tools supplied by the roofer; if the subs don’t advertise their own business. Misclassification means a multitude of fines for wage and hour and overtime violations, often retroactively. “Each misclassification means that the roofers will be subject to a lot of penalties,” Cotney warned. 

    Opportunity: Take steps now to ensure an audit shows subs are properly classified. That means having a solid contract that shows subs are responsible to bring their own tools and run their own business. And then making sure that those steps are being followed in the field to maintain independence. It’s also a good idea to make sure your subs work for roofers other than you.   

  2. Challenge: Move toward green and renewable roofing. Cotney said it’s likely stimulus money will be tied to green and renewable initiatives such as solar and green roofs. “There’s going to be a lot of federal money poured into that market,” he said. Trouble is, many roofers aren’t currently set up to meet this demand.

    Opportunity: Start diversifying into solar, carbon capture and even green roofs now to capitalize on this new market. NRCA and other organizations offer many different types of training and assistance for roofers who want to develop new skills and markets. “Renewable energy is going to be huge, and contractors need to embrace renewable energy as part of their go-to market strategy.” 

  3. Challenge: More OSHA enforcement and rules. After the relative laissez-faire of the past four years, Cotney said roofers can expect a new focus on enforcement along with new rules around heat injury and illness and infectious disease standards. “There’s going to be regulation after regulation after regulation,” he said. 

    Opportunity: Make sure employee and safety manuals, along with contracts, are updated with the latest OSHA regulations. And ensure that toolbox talks and trainings address any changes that have occurred. Cotney said lack of training is often the easiest citation to get because it’s the easiest to prove. “To the extent that I let my guard down during the Trump administration, I would get it back up,” he said. 

  4. Challenge: COVID-19 vaccination protocols. Cotney said his office and NRCA are being flooded with questions from employers about whether they can require the vaccine. The answers are complicated and must follow some ADA guidelines as well as Title VII with regard to religious objections. 

    Opportunity: Rather than try to mandate vaccines, try a voluntary approach with incentives to get vaccinated. And whatever you do, make sure it doesn’t discriminate. “You can’t just say, ‘Employees over 60, you have to get the vaccine,'” he said.  

  5. Challenge: Additional costs from COVID-19 requirements. Cotney said some owners are beginning to require that contractors take steps to mitigate against COVID, including vaccinations, sometimes with existing contracts. Owners can’t force contractors to change existing contracts, Cotney said. And while owners can add these stipulations to new contracts, it doesn’t mean that contractors have to eat the costs.

    Opportunity: Factor COVID requirements into new bids. For existing contracts in which new requirements are agreed upon by both parties, submit a change order for the additional costs.  “That way, you’re covered,” Cotney said.