By Mike Antich
Massive layoffs are occurring throughout the economy, and many companies find that terminated employees are not returning their assigned company vehicles. Sometimes, the company-provided vehicle is held "hostage" until the employer meets a grievance by the terminated employee. Typically, a company immediately cancels the fuel card and attempts to contact the individual.
With some ugly and messy terminations, the ex-employee's motivation to keep possession of the company vehicle is retribution. The former employee typically avoids any communication and refuses to divulge the vehicle location despite voicemail messages and e-mail admonitions. If the ex-employee is stubborn about the release of the company car, fleet managers contact their HR or legal departments to remind the former employee that possession of a stolen vehicle is a felony.
However, many other situations can be resolved without involving law enforcement. Unfortunately, many HR and legal departments take the "easy way" and are too quick to involve the police to expedite resolution. The problem is when the police are called, a stolen vehicle police report is generated.
Police reports involving stolen vehicles are captured by companies that publish vehicle history reports, such as Carfax and Experian's AutoCheck. Carfax maintains a database of more than 6 billion records, and AutoCheck maintains a database on more than 500 million vehicles. Both Carfax and AutoCheck receive information from thousands of data sources, including every U.S. and Canadian provincial motor vehicle agency, plus many auto auctions, fire and police departments, collision repair facilities, fleet management companies, and rental agencies. Thousands of auto dealers subscribe to Carfax and AutoCheck. Many dealers generate Carfax or AutoCheck reports prior to buying vehicles at wholesale auctions. If a vehicle history report indicates a vehicle was stolen, many dealers decide against buying a vehicle to avoid potential headaches when reselling it to a new owner.
Delayed Returns not Always Hostage Situations
One reason terminated employees do not promptly turn over a company vehicle is because it may be their sole vehicle and is needed until alternate transportation can be acquired. When personal use of a company vehicle is allowed, employees, especially younger employees, come to rely upon the vehicle, which is often their only vehicle. For them, termination means not only the loss of a job, but also loss of personal transportation. Some companies pre-empt these scenarios by reimbursing former employees for car rental expenses, usually no more than10 days, to provide them a transition to obtain a personal vehicle. However, some companies react with a knee-jerk reflex and opt to call the police before exploring this option.
Who is Responsible for Retrieving a Vehicle?
One problem is the fleet manager sometimes doesn't learn of the termination and the subsequent missing company vehicle for days or even weeks later. Too often, HR does not keep a fleet manager in the loop regarding terminations. Lack of communication between the supervising manager, HR, and the fleet department exacerbates the problem, especially if the former employee's fuel card isn't promptly cancelled. The best safeguard to minimize hostage vehicles is to establish corporate policy making the field supervisor responsible for all asset recovery, including the company vehicle.
Those directly involved in a termination must ensure that all company property is returned, including the company vehicle. However, the supervisor terminating the employee often assumes the fleet manager is responsible for repossessing the company vehicle and takes no action to secure it. Generally, fleet managers are not responsible to track down company assets because their actions may possibly compromise HR and/or legal department activities. Ideally, it is the job of the supervisor in the field to secure company assets in adversarial situations. If the supervisor needs assistance, he or she should engage the appropriate resources of the company's HR department or legal department.
A Last Resort Measure
The take-away message from this editorial is to exhaust all avenues in recovering a company vehicle before the police are notified of a stolen vehicle. Calling police should be a last resort measure, reserved solely for situations in which the employee is determined not to return the vehicle. Reporting to the police that a company vehicle is stolen negatively impacts resale value because this information is memorialized as part of the vehicle history report.
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