Public Sector Fleets:Should Technicians Be Allowed to Work on Personal Vehicles During Off-Hours?
Whether technicians should be allowed to work on their personal vehicles after-hours is a controversial issue among public sector fleet managers. Some fleet operations allow it, while others are adamantly opposed. Here are the pro and con arguments.
The Arguments in Favor
Fleets that allow this practice let technicians only work on personal vehicles or those of their immediate family. Working on other vehicles is prohibited. These fleet managers report they have not experienced blatant abuse and technicians view it as a privilege or perk of the job. They favor the practice because it increases morale and leads to better productivity. In addition, allowing off-hour use of the facility is a good recruitment tool to hire new technicians. Technicians like it because many may not have room to work on their vehicles at home or the work may require the use of a lift. Plus, the technicians’ tools are at the shop, which eliminates the inconvenience of transporting them to and fro.
Another benefit is that facility security is enhanced because the shop is occupied during off-hours. But most fleet operations do not allow technicians to work alone in the shop, requiring a shift supervisor to be present at all times. Also, technicians are prohibited from leaving a personal vehicle overnight in the facility.
Many fleet operations, but not all, do not allow major repairs, permitting only maintenance work such as oil changes, tire rotations, etc. If a technician violates a rule, the privilege is rescinded, usually for all technicians. As a compromise position, some shops favor a sign-out process for technicians to bring tools home when the shop is closed and to return them before the shop opens. Other managers allow major repairs. They argue that this practice can serve as a training opportunity for staff during their off-hours, such as a Saturday. Techs can get trained on new tools and equipment, such as a tire balancer, scanner, laptop with a diagnostic program, transmission flusher, and brake lathe.
The Arguments Against
Those opposed say that it is not fair for technicians to use government facilities and equipment for their personal benefit. They argue technicians work for the taxpayer and are prohibited from using government space, utilities, and equipment for personal gain. The other factor is fairness since this privilege favors only those with skills to make repairs.
Liability is a key issue, especially if a hoist or jack is used. If an accident occurs, the municipality could be held liable, not only for personal injury, but also property damage. There is also liability if waste, such as coolant and used oil, is not properly disposed.
There are other unresolved questions such as who bears the expense of keeping the facility open after-hours, such as paying for additional lighting use and heating expense. Many would regard this usage as a misappropriation of “public funds.” In addition, using government equipment after-hours adds unnecessary wear and tear to the equipment.
The other major concern is theft of parts, filters, and other inventoried supplies for personal use. The use of consumables, such as brake cleaner, sprays, lube, etc., seems like it would be an unavoidable occurrence. What safeguards are used to ensure that “fleet-owned” parts and supplies are not used on technician vehicles? How do you convince auditors that abuse does not occur? How do you justify this practice to taxpayers?
Another belief is that “side work” makes technicians lose focus of their primary duties. There is the danger that technicians will work on cars other than their own to make additional money after-hours. Still another concern is that enterprising technicians will buy pre-owned vehicles, refurbish them using government equipment and facilities, and resell the vehicles for a profit.
Perpetuating a Poor Perception of Technician
In an informal survey of fleet managers, the majority considers this use of a public fleet facility as inappropriate, although many fleets allow this practice and report no abuses. However, the issue is perception. Opponents argue that even if a technician was not using government resources (other than shop floor space), most taxpayers would assume otherwise. They advocate that the best way to avoid any perception of impropriety is to prohibit technicians from any use of the maintenance facility during off-hours.
“Further, public fleets have strived for years to improve their images and dispel old myths of technicians and operations being incompetent and untrustworthy. Allowing use of public fleet facilities for personal benefit would seem to be counterproductive to these efforts,” said Marvin Fletcher, CAFM, fleet services director for Hanover County in Virginia.
What image do you want to convey to taxpayers and elected officials?
Let me know what you think.