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.
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?