Sometimes the most valuable entrusted asset – the company-provided vehicle – is not returned or is held "hostage" until the employer meets a grievance by the terminated employee. Usually, not only is the company vehicle held hostage, but also other assets, such as laptops, Blackberrys, and cell phones.
"A more difficult problem is with employees who abruptly leave the company of their own choosing," said Jim Anselmi, director of fleet operations for Lorillard Tobacco Company. "They can, and do, hold vehicles hostage. We immediately cancel fuel cards and attempt to contact the individual. If they cannot be reached or refuse to return all company property, the police are notified."
Another reason terminated employees don't promptly turn over the 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 not only means the loss of a job, but also loss of personal transportation. Other times, the reason is as simple as needing a ride to their home, at which time, the ex-employee may or may not notify the fleet department to let them know that the vehicle is parked in front of their residence. Some companies pre-empt these scenarios by reimbursing former employees for car rental expenses, usually no more than 10 days, to provide them a transition to obtain a personal vehicle.
Who is Responsible for Retrieving a 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 it is the fleet manager's responsibility to repossess the company vehicle and takes no action to secure it.
"It should not be the fleet manager's responsibility to track down company assets and possibly compromise HR and/or legal department activities. It should be the job of the supervisor in the field to secure company assets in adversarial situations," said J.J. Keig, CAFM, fleet administrator for RentWay Inc. "If the supervisor needs assistance, then he or she should engage the appropriate resources of their company's HR department or legal department."
The checkout process for the company car must involve the supervising manager to visually inspect it and evaluate in writing its overall condition. If there is damage, digital photographs should be taken and e-mailed to the fleet manager. Most times, damage is minimal, such as a stained seat or minor door dings.
Sometimes the Motivation is Retribution
With some ugly and messy terminations, the motivation to not return 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. In these situations, the company reports the vehicle as stolen.
"If the ex-employee is being stubborn about the release of the company car, I contact our internal security department and let them remind the ex-employee that a stolen vehicle is a felony. The word 'felony' provides an immediate response," said Shelly Lofgren, fleet manager – North America for Honeywell.
Until the vehicle is recovered and inspected, a fleet manager should reassign an existing unit or pay mileage to the replacement employee, adds Keig. Most vehicles recovered in adversarial terminations are filthy or intentionally turned into rolling garbage cans. Some ex-employees also practice deception, such as substituting a second-hand laptop in the trunk of the vehicle and misrepresenting it as the company-provided computer.
A company is especially vulnerable to this if the transport driver is assigned the task of completing a checklist to ensure all company property is in the vehicle. To the transport driver, a laptop is a laptop.
Interdepartmental Communication is Crucial
Hostage vehicles are difficult to recover when personal use is allowed. Compounding this problem is that 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 exacerbate 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.
Let me know what you think.