FleetSpeak

Don’t Look the Other Way

July 22, 2014

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If you see a trusted employee stealing something, what do you do? If you’re a fleet manager new to an organization and see ethics violations fleet-wide, how to do you handle it?

Ethics issues can be large or small. Some smaller violations may include not reporting a small gift, or letting a business partner pay for a meal that’s over the set monetary limit you can accept.

Some recent larger fleet ethical mishaps (and alleged mishaps) from across the country include: using the fleet position to obtain profitable contracts for friends and family, using the public agency’s fuel to fill personal vehicles, allowing fleet employees to take home excess parts that could have been sold, and most appallingly, accessing a police fleet vehicle to pose as an officer and rob a pedestrian.

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A California fleet director provides another example: When he first joined the fleet in 2001, he discovered what were called “G” jobs (government jobs). These were personal, off-the-books jobs performed by technicians at the fleet facility that consumed time and sometimes materials as well. The jobs were accepted by the fleet department, and things had seemingly always functioned that way. In fact, his predecessors wouldn’t even have to ask the shop technicians to fix a flat, for example; they would instantly fix the problem and the vehicle could have even ended up with four new tires! This system of “taking care of the boss” reduced the chances of him changing things.

Of course, ethics violations aren’t always so easy to spot. Take the example a municipal fleet in Oregon provided: A fleet employee was purchasing parts for personal use from the fleet’s parts vendor and paying cash, and the vendor was allowing this employee to use the fleet discount. Because of the way the invoices were structured, fleet management never knew about these cash sales. When the vendor changed its computer system and invoices were printed with cash sales separately, the fleet manager became aware that an employee was unlawfully taking advantage of the fleet discount.

How Do You Deal With It?
When it’s something that has always been done and involves many people in the department, it’s hard to turn around and change the mindset of the entire staff. For example, in an investigation of one of the cases mentioned earlier, the report said, “Fuel theft was widely known, but no one was doing anything about it. The log book utilized to track fuel was not used properly.”

One way to end any actual or assumed unethical activity is to lead by example. The California fleet manager recalled that as soon as he discovered the “G” jobs, he put an end to them and was surprised at how little resistance there was to the change. One of his managers later explained that he had set the standard by his own behavior well before stopping the “G” jobs.

“Many months before, I had a flat tire on my personal vehicle, and since I was in meetings most of the day, I called AAA to change the tire. The next day I stopped by my local retail tire shop and had the flat fixed, then swapped it back on the ground,” he recalled. “My manager said that my single act of handling my own problem sent a very clear message that ‘Things had changed around here!’ ”

For the Oregon fleet, the fleet manager immediately took corrective action after he learned of the parts purchases. The employee, who was a great employee in all other instances, was demoted. In a similar case in Florida, the fleet manager requested an investigation upon becoming aware of questionable purchases by parts room staff. Investigators found the source of the problem, and fleet management implemented improved parts room controls.

Public sector employees face greater scrutiny than those in the private sector. Not only do unethical practices affect the person bending the rules, but the supervisor who looks the other way is also liable. Brush up on the local and state ethics laws, and make sure to handle any possible violations early.

As the fleet manager from Oregon told me, nobody really wants to air out their ethics issues. However, he said, you have to talk to each other and share your stories so others can learn from them.

What kind of questionable actions have you heard about or faced? 

thi.dao@bobit.com

Comments

  1. 1. Steve Kibler [ July 28, 2014 @ 01:13PM ]

    I would wager that we all have a skeleton or two somewhere in our closet. My philosophy is if you saw it in the local newspaper, would it embarrass you, it's probably unethical; if you could defend it, it wasn't. I had to fire an employee for theft who had become my very best friend. For me, if I looked the other way to avoid the confrontation, it would haunt me the rest of life, not just while I was manager. Fortunately, there is no right way to do something unethical.

  2. 2. Dennis R. Hogan CAFM/CPFP [ August 04, 2014 @ 12:21PM ]

    I think the fact that this article is even being written speaks volumes about the decline in integrity our society has seemed to accept as the norm. It pains me so much to see friends and colleagues involved in these things, I find it very disturbing but how you react to these situations is a cornerstone to who you are as a person. My first fleet operation upon leaving the Army was one that was overtaken by a significant level of theft and misappropriation. Those employees were terminated and the manager who continually looked the other way was allowed to retire. My goal was to set the behavior that we are an organization that will be known for our high levels of personal responsibility, integrity, and sound ethics.
    No one is perfect and as my friend Steve stated there is a skeleton in everyone’s closet but if we strive to lead by example and set the standard we can all hold our heads high and look ourselves in the mirror every day.

  3. 3. Richard Battersby [ August 04, 2014 @ 01:59PM ]

    A quote from my first week on a new job many years ago, this from a bodyshop vendor at our first meeting:

    "So do you want the same arrangement as the last fleet manager?"

    It sounds kind of funny now but believe me it came right out of left field just like it reads . And there have been others over the years.Maybe we all have at least one of these stories?

  4. 4. Allen Mitchell [ August 11, 2014 @ 12:32PM ]

    I have encountered this situation before. I have always had a "zero tolerance policy" towards dishonesty. Whether this was the fault of the previous fleet manager or whether this was a crime of opportunity, it doesn't matter. The new fleet manager needs to set the tone and to lead by example.

  5. 5. Aaron M. Gaskins 1st [ August 28, 2014 @ 05:13AM ]

    I do not know where to begin. Integrity, along with honor, and loyalty in the 21st century have all been tossed out of the window along with the baby and the bath water! What I have experienced is that this type of behavior does take place in both the private sector and also in the government sector. The difference that I can bear witness to is the severity of the issues within the two. In the private sector the primary objective is for the operation to function within the black. So when theft, mismanagement, neglect, abuse eat into profits investigations are launched immediately, and corrective actions are implemented. In the government the primary objective is to operate in the red so that the budget for the upcoming fiscal years will be increased! Theft, fraud, neglect, abuse, mismanagement, and the list could go on and on are incorporated into the standard operating procedures. I have witnessed new fleet administrators who come in the door preaching fire and brimstone as if they brought the tablets down the mountain. Once in the job if those fleet administrators that do make changes are quickly pushed out the door! The fleet administrators that turn a blind eye remain until they choose to leave and whatever changes that the previous administrator made are abandoned, and things then return back to the way they were prior to the corrective changes. If the taxpayers only knew!!!

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Author Bio

Thi Dao

Executive Editor

Thi Dao is the executive editor of Government Fleet magazine. She attends fleet and vehicle related events in the Southern California area and is particularly interested in alternative fuel technologies.

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