It’s a scenario that fleet managers undoubtedly want to avoid at all costs, having to recover a vehicle from a terminated employee — particularly if that termination results in hostility on the part of the ex-employee, which can be directed at the company asset.
While many involuntarily separated employees return their vehicles with little fuss, the fleet industry is rife with stories of ex-employees who held their vehicles hostage or returned them defaced in such a way that it made the vehicle unusable.
Often, fleets rely on transport companies to act as their agents in recovering vehicles from terminated employees, since they have the experience, resources, and geographic scope to recover a vehicle safe and sound, sometimes in rather emotionally charged situations.
These transport companies can help guide fleets on how to plan ahead, set expectations, and find ways to overcome some of the common challenges associated with recovering a vehicle.
Defusing an Emotionally Charged Situation
In addition to the resources that transport companies can bring to the table, the fact that the vehicle transporter is not directly affiliated with the terminated employee’s company can help defuse a sometimes explosive emotional situation.
“It is critical that professionalism is maintained even if the terminated employee is hostile. This will avoid increased difficulty surrounding an already challenging situation,” said Erik Rasmussen, director of strategic operations for PARS Inc. “Second, the transporter can sometimes effectively be the buffer between the former employer and the terminated employee. If we can be viewed as ‘simply the transporter’ with a tough job to do, it will make the process go more smoothly.”
Communication and planning are also critical to successfully recovering a vehicle from a terminated employee.
“The best cure is prevention: You can minimize the potential for problems with proper planning, effective communication, and by enlisting the help of experienced partners with extensive resources,” advised Kathy Massey, corporate VP, client relations for AmeriFleet. “Taking these precautions means problems will be few, but, when the rare problem does arise, utilizing partners that have experience, expertise, scale, and resources means a timely and creative solution can be found for any eventuality.”
Making sure that expectations have been communicated to the terminated employee also helps in making the transfer of the vehicle go more smoothly. Timing is also crucial, according to Rasmussen.
“It is important to understand up front the critical dates, such as the fleet manager’s desired vehicle recovery date and the last day which the terminated employee is entitled to possess the vehicle,” he said.
Massey also noted that it’s important for the transporter to know the circumstances surrounding the termination — was it voluntary, a reduction in force, or hostile?
“Each presents its unique challenges,” she said. “Communication and interaction protocols should be tailored to each specific circumstance. It’s also important to understand the organization’s rules around ongoing availability of the vehicle to the fleet driver. Is it an immediate pick up situation or have they been given the option to purchase the vehicle? How long do they have to decide? Has use been extended for some period and for how long? This information is critical to meet the precise needs of the fleet while at the same time not becoming overly intrusive or bothersome to the terminated employee.”
Picking Up the Vehicle
Even being fully aware of the employee’s situation may not defuse the situation. Simply connecting with the terminated employee can be a huge hurdle to overcome.
“Sometimes this inability to connect with the employee is due to the fact that we are provided a business phone number or business e-mail that has already been deactivated by the former employer,” Rasmussen of PARS said. “More often it’s simply due to an uncooperative individual who we cannot reach or claims to never be available to release the vehicle. It is very helpful if contact information can be validated and pickup expectations for the terminated employee and the release of their vehicle are set prior to the transportation order submission. Additionally, if it is agreed the terminated employee will leave the vehicle somewhere such as a hotel or airport parking lot, it is important that specific vehicle location information, e.g., parking lot/space number, and instructions for recovering keys is provided to the transporter.”
Fleets need to provide transporters as much information about the employee as is needed to successfully recover the vehicle, according to Grant Waddell, national director of sales and marketing for Auto Driveaway.
“The more information the transport company can obtain up front on these individuals the better, and should include a personal e-mail address and phone number in case the company-provided cell phone is being disconnected,” he said.
Massey of AmeriFleet noted other driver-related challenges related to returning a vehicle.
“Regarding driver compliance challenges, this will typically be around returning vehicle contents and equipment — second sets of keys, removable seats, snow tires, etc. — and attesting to vehicle condition,” she said.
Massey also noted that one of the other challenges facing both companies and transporters is situations when they need to act quickly with little advanced warning. This is where advanced planning by the company comes into play, making sure that all aspects of the recovery process are taken into account ahead of time.
Technological savvy is key in dealing with these often dynamic, last-minute situations.
“It’s critical that in today’s fast-paced environment that partners employ systems technologies like app-based mobile capability and a robust online portal that provides real-time information regarding pick up status, vehicle condition information, and other vital data the fleet needs to execute a timely and effective transaction,” said Massey.
Since it can be a highly emotional process for the ex-employee, transport companies take this into account with the process of recovering the company vehicle.
“PARS staff are trained to maintain a professional demeanor in all situations,” Rasmussen said. “This professionalism, coupled with flexibility around pickup scheduling, working within the aforementioned critical dates, helps defuse potentially difficult situations.”
The transporter also plays another important role for the fleet, which makes timing crucial.
“Information about the vehicle’s condition needs to be verified and communicated to the appropriate parties as quickly as possible, in case there is physical damage above and beyond the normal wear and tear,” said Waddell.
Massey advised that setting expectations of the ex-employee will also help overcome any issues during the recovery process.
“In terms of driver compliance issues, the key is communication,” she said. “Ensuring that drivers and support services alike fully understand all the expectations, time frames, and steps in the process will greatly minimize the impact of potential driver compliance issues.”
Apart from planning and communicating with drivers, Massey also advised fleets to work with a transporter that can provide the kind of professional support critical to successfully recovering a vehicle.
“Whether it’s a large scale reduction in force or a single high sensitivity termination, selecting partners with broad geographic reach, significant resources, a world class technology platform, and vast experience executing these kinds of programs will provide the fleet with the specialized expertise they require to successfully execute each aspect of the program,” she said.
Handling Large Scale Recoveries
One particular challenge that requires additional, detailed planning and communication on the fleet’s part is a large-scale reduction in force, according to Rasmussen of PARS.
“If the termination is part of a large reduction in force there can often be a closeout company involved. It is important for the transporter to understand constraints around the closeout process,” Rasmussen said. “Constraints, such as when the terminated employees can first be contacted by the transporter and when closeout interviews are taking place, need to be considered. Sometimes a vehicle is not to be recovered until after the closeout interview.”
The closeout interview will most likely include returning other company assets, such as computers, mobile phones, or other company-issued supplies that may ordinarily be kept in the terminated employee’s vehicle.
Fleet Playing its Part
While transport companies, such as PARS AmeriFleet, and Auto Driveaway, have the expertise to help fleets recover vehicles in sometimes trying or emotionally charged circumstances, fleets have a part to play in helping the recovery process run smoothly even before the word is given to recover a vehicle.
“It is important that the fleet manager, in conjunction with human resources, lay out the expectations for the terminated employee and the release of their vehicle,” said Rasmussen of PARS.
Waddell of Auto Driveaway outlined what these expectations should include.
“Employees need to be provided with timelines on what the expectation will be, like cleaning the vehicle out of personal items, what to do with sales/marketing materials, etc., and that there could be penalties for non-compliance,” he said.
These expectations need to be clear and concrete, establishing a framework for both the ex-employee and the transport company that is hired to recover the vehicle for the fleet.
“It is also important that the fleet manager indicate the desired vehicle recovery date, avoiding holiday weeks where possible, and that this date is consistent with the expectations of other stakeholders, namely the terminated employee and human resources,” Rasmussen said.
These details need to me communicated to the transport company after they have been agreed to by the fleet stakeholders and spelled out to the terminated employee.
“Ensuring that the support organization fully understands the specifics of the termination, the expectations that have been communicated to the affected employees, and the ground rules regarding anything that goes outside the program parameters is a key for successful execution,” said Massey of AmeriFleet.
Once these parameters have been established and the process of recovering the vehicle has been turned over to the transport company and others, then the fleet manager should be able to step back.
“The fleet manager should also ensure that all involved third-party support resources can work together and coordinate different aspects of the program without the need of significant oversight by the fleet,” Massey said.
Fleets have resources to also help the transport companies recover the vehicle that could aid in avoiding the merry-go-round of “missed” appointments and phone calls or potential retaliatory damage.
“It is always advantageous for the former employer to maintain leverage over the terminated employee by withholding a final paycheck or other compensation until the vehicle asset is recovered,” said Rasmussen.
Words of Advice
Fleet managers who may be looking to either engage a transport company for the first time or make a change to one that fits the fleet and the company’s operational needs better should look for a very particular type of operator, according to Amerifleet’s Massey.
“Align with partners who have national scope to ensure that trained resources can be quickly deployed to execute a pick up wherever it needs to take place,” she said.
While this may not solve all of the challenges of trying to recover a vehicle from a terminated employee, choosing the right transport company can help minimize any potential problems.