Nine times out of 10—if not more often—the process of retrieving a fleet vehicle from a terminated employee is hassle free.
But every once in a while, you’ll hear a fleet manager’s horror story about a hostile employee who refuses to return the vehicle, reneges on scheduled pick-up times or, as in one particularly outrageous story, even leaves a running vehicle in the middle of a field, with the lights on.
The chances of this happening to you are slim, but it’s still important to prepare for these situations, just in case. In fact, having a vehicle-recovery plan in place before assigning a car or truck to your employee is the best way to mitigate future risk.
At the beginning, when you’re communicating standard expectations around safe driving, mileage, and protocol for fueling up, it’s a good time to be explicit about how the process works when your driver leaves the company—voluntarily or involuntarily. Be sure to include expectations around vehicle-return time frames, the condition the vehicle should be left in, and any penalties for non-compliance.
If it’s standard practice in your fleet to withhold a final paycheck (or other compensation) until the vehicle is back on the lot, or to cancel fuel cards on the day an employee contract ends, be clear about it at the beginning. This frames the importance of the situation to your driver and might deter him or her from considering retribution in the future.
If the situation escalates
If having an established policy isn’t enough to discourage a disgruntled former employee from holding one of your vehicles hostage, there are other measures you can take.
The first point to remember is that remaining calm and professional can go a long way in deescalating a bad situation. Try working with the employee and remaining flexible around pickup times and locations. Sometimes employees will take a vehicle home simply because it’s their primary mode of transportation and they need a ride. To prepare for this type of situation, you could offer to pay for a taxi home upon termination, or reimburse any car rental expenses for a 10-day period—to help them transition to a personal vehicle.
If the person you’re dealing with refuses to be reasonable, you can hire a transport company to act as your agent in physically retrieving the vehicle. Transport companies will have the experience, resources, and geographic scope to get the job done. An in-vehicle GPS—and a second set of car keys—are helpful if it comes to this.
Something to keep in mind when hiring a transport company is that you’ll need to inform them of the full situation so they know what to expect. You should also give them as much detail about the vehicle as possible (and any other company property they’re retrieving, such as a laptop or phone), so they know they are getting the right assets—stories have surfaced of people trying to replace assets with less valuable ones, in an effort to keep the company’s model.
Finally, informing the former employee that a stolen vehicle is a felony is a good way to spark action.
It’s not all on you
One last thing to keep in mind is that, as the fleet manager, you’re not alone in dealing with this type of problem. In fact, it’s perfectly appropriate for human resources, the legal department, or the ex-employee’s supervisor to secure the vehicle, especially in hostile situations.