Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




company car

Scenario:

Last week an employee is at work and her boss asked her to run some documents over to a customer using the company car. Employee did and while doing so she scraped the car on a support in the parking garage.

She told her boss about it and her boss seemed fine. They got estimates and brought the car in for repairs which totalled around $1300. However, today her boss called her into her office and said she was very disappointed with Employee for not coming to talk to her about the car. She said Employee was acting irresponsibly and showing poor ethics. She wants Employee to pay for the damages to the car. The car is owned by the corporation (it's an s-corporation). Employee said that since she was performing company business on company time at the request of her boss, she didn't think she was assuming any personal financial risk in driving the car. Her boss said she has until Monday to decide and if she doesn't want to pay for it then she wants Employee to start looking for a new job.

What do you think of this? Is Employee responsible for the damages? What would you do in this situation?

jw
Friday, July 25, 2003

It doesn't matter who's fault it is, who's right it is, blah blah - she will either have to fork over the cash or lose her job.

GiorgioG
Friday, July 25, 2003

Employee is not only not responsible for the damages (unless of course she was behaving recklessly), but she also has a good case for a blackmail suit and possibly wrongful termination (if she is fired). 

IANAL, but I have been in some fsckd up similar situations.

She will lose her job, but is it worth working there?

     
Friday, July 25, 2003

It's nice that the boss gave the employee a whole weekend to talk to a lawyer.  The car is company property, is (I assume) insured as a company car, and she was on company business when she used it. 

Yet the company is trying to blackmail into paying for something she is not legally liable for?

Sounds like a straight-up wrongful-termination suit to me.

Alyosha`
Friday, July 25, 2003

First of all, I'd explain that I wanted to be a good person and make good on the damage, and that I'd be happy to pay for the damage by payroll deductions in installments - informally of course, wouldn't want to sign my rights away at this time.  Still, I'd come up with the relevant labor laws for the State in which the employment is (most States strictly limit employee liability and payroll deductions for such things), and would point out that I really liked the job as well as my boss personally and was willing to cut the boss a break about this.  I would, of course, request that the boss purchase collision insurance on her company vehicles as a fiscally prudent measure, because in the future her employees - who most likely insure their own vehicles as well - may not be so willing to help her out.  If she was willing to get some insurance and show me the proof for it, and perhaps take care of a share of the repair costs herself, I'd let it go at that.

But if she wouldn't get insurance and accept some responsibility for the situation, I'd get myself a lawyer and plan to take her little S-corp to court.  If I didn't get fired, I'd sue for unlawful extortion by payroll deductions - and if I did get fired, just add unlawful termination to the mix. 

Trollumination
Friday, July 25, 2003

The boss is not threatening to fire me.  The boss said that if I come back on Monday morning and say "I think this is a company car and thus a company responsibility, etc." then she thinks that I am not a good fit for the company (as far as my ethics) and she will ask me to begin looking for another job, but she will not fire me...

Employee
Friday, July 25, 2003

Well, in that case - start looking for another job, slack off, i.e. make your boss lay in the bed she made.  Worse comes to worse, they do fire you for 'some reason', and you'll still claim unemployment until you find a better gig.

You don't want to work somewhere where your boss is visibly hostile towards you anyway. 

GiorgioG
Friday, July 25, 2003

The co. didn't have insurance on the car?
What happens if you refuse to pay and you refuse to look for another job?!  This is extortion plain & simple.  Probably wrongful termination too.  The beauty is you don't have to hire a lawyer for this.  Just call up the DA and state labor boards and whoever else you can think of and file a complaint. 

I'd definitely start looking for another job. 

sooner
Friday, July 25, 2003

The company DOES have insurance on the car, but the boss is choosing not to go through insurance because she feels it will be cheaper in the end to pay out of pocket for the damages.

Employee
Friday, July 25, 2003

"then she thinks that I am not a good fit for the company"

..and any company that expects you to pay for accidental damages done to a company car on company time is probably not a good fit for you, or anyone for that matter.

Excluding things like DWI, DUI or running down school children for the sheer pleasure of it, a company should accept the liability for fender benders when you use a company car on company business.

Screw the legal crap. Unless it's just an outrageous sexual or racial discrimination issue, by the time it winds itself through the legal system, all you will receive is a large amount of frustration and wasted time.

Mark Hoffman
Friday, July 25, 2003

Employee, your boss is incredibly stupid as well as being an a..hole.

There is no way she can legally require you to pay for damage to company property.

The fact that she has intimated your lack of interest in doing so should make you want to look for another job in itself qualifies for harassment and grounds for wrongful termination if you do choose to move to another job.

People in unions have representatives they can contact, at no cost, to discuss these things, and have them resolved.

JB
Friday, July 25, 2003

> The boss is not threatening to fire me.  The boss said
>  that if I come back on Monday morning and say "I think >  this is a company car and thus a company responsibility,
>  etc." then she thinks that I am not a good fit for the
>  company (as far as my ethics) and she will ask me to
>  begin looking for another job, but she will not fire me...

I suppose it depends on just how much you're getting paid.  If she wants to take the next $1,300 you make, and that's as much as you make in a month or two, then it is a firing no matter what she says because there's no way you could afford to keep the job.  Might as well walk out right now if you won't get paid, might as well steal something worth your last paycheck on the way out while you're at it. 

This all comes down to personality, really.  If the boss is just upset and wants you to assume some token financial amount of responsibility for the furnishings of the workplace, an affordable amount relative to your wages, this is understandable.  Illegal in most states, but understandable, and I could see chipping in a bit of the cost - perhaps not for the repairs directly, maybe towards the cost of a collision insurance policy for that vehicle so that the boss can learn the benefits of reducing her risks.  I mean, it still beats using your OWN vehicle for work - speaking as a man who no longer uses his own car for work after being forced to pay his own parking ticket for parking in the delivery space at work, while making a work-related delivery - and thinking of just how bad it would be in the event of an accident making a delivery.  My boss is psychologically unable to just hand a subordinate a twenty, but he's a good man and I don't hold this against him.

But you have to be a judge of character here.  Is your boss a whiny little girl just grasping for every last dollar?  I had a girlfriend like that - she wanted me to pay her $50 cell bill one month because she'd spent $5 on roaming fees talking to me, wanted me to buy her a $100 vacuum cleaner because I'd gotten sand on her carpet, made me buy her a new Gucci bag because I got a speck of dirt on her old one (which she cleaned easily and still carries) while holding it for her.... she wasn't a very good girlfriend (though she honestly tried her best), and if she was a boss I don't think she'd be a very good boss either.  If your boss is like that, some spoiled little rich girl who cries about every expense that she could possibly exaggerate and push off on someone else, then she deserves to be dragged into court and have the book thrown at her.  You have to decide.

Trollumination
Friday, July 25, 2003

The boss is being absolutely ridiculous. It is a company car on company business and she did not do anything reckless or criminal. So there is no way she is liable for the damage.

I was driving truck (a long time ago, before I got into programming) and backed into a wall by accident and caused a fair bit of damage. My boss was pissed, I said sorry, it would never happen again. The insurance co. paid for the damage and I kept my job.

End of story…

DJ
Friday, July 25, 2003

Wow.  Usually people that assume the risks of a business get to share in the rewards of the business.  I don't know if I would've laughed at your boss or bitchslapped her.

Johnny Simmson
Friday, July 25, 2003

Find an employment lawyer right away. You were acting as an agent of the corporation, therefore you cannot be held liable.

If they do fire you could sue for treble (triple) damages. Don't argue with your boss about ethics. Ask your boss about ethics and the law. They are clearly tring to scare you. It is likely they don't realize how much trouble you could cause.

BTW, find another job; you will need that to pay your lawyer...

eclectic_echidna
Friday, July 25, 2003

>>> the boss is choosing not to go through insurance because she feels it will be cheaper in the end to pay out of pocket for the damages. <<<

Of course it will be cheaper if the boss can extort the money out of the employee.  Then they won't have to pay the deductible.

It is the boss that has the ethics problem.  No telling what they will come up with next.  I know the economy is bad, but you want to get out of there as fast as possible.

Z
Friday, July 25, 2003

> the boss is choosing not to go through insurance
> because she feels it will be cheaper in the end to
> pay out of pocket for the damages.

OK, so it's just cosmetic damage, nothing that she needs to have fixed in order to continue using the car.

Tell her that you want to do the right thing, but you can't afford to provide gold-plated insurance for all her stuff out of your paycheck.

Trollumination
Friday, July 25, 2003

Classic! She's got insurance; it was a company car. She just doesn't want to damage her no-claim rating, at your expense.

Tell her to put her request IN WRITING. Then go see a lawyer.


Friday, July 25, 2003

Pay the deductible

The ethics thing is manipulative bs

Daniel Shchyokin
Friday, July 25, 2003

Might be just me, but $1300 (US I presume) seems quite high for "just a scrape" in a parking garage. Here in Canada that is way over the amount you have to report to the cops for damage. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I once destroyed someone's door backing into it - and that was only $700 worth of damage (Cdn, back when US was worth substantially more).

From an ethics standpoint, it might help to think of the car as if it belonged to a friend rather than "a company".  (I don't know how big the company in question is, but it sounds like a small one since the insurance cost is a factor.)

Anyway, so if you loaned your friend a car and they caused $1300 worth of damage (and it wasn't someone else's fault), you'd probably want them to offer to at least pay the deductible (and most likely the whole amount) - regardless of why they borrowed the car.  Even if they borrowed the car to do you a huge favor or something.  You'd still be annoyed that your insurance rates were going to go up through the carelessness of another.

I don't really see why that would be different when it is a company car.  So the company was nice enough to loan you a vehicle so you can do your job.  Big whoop.  If you had damaged your own car, there would be no question of who pays!

So I think that the employee should take responsibility for their actions and pay for the damage they caused, ideally in such manner that it doesn't cost the person they borrowed the car from.  Just because the company has insurance and could be covered, doesn't mean that it is ethical for the employee to duck their responsibilities.

There are ways for the employee to pay for the damage they caused - offering to pay the deductible (not a perfect solution), checking with their own insurance to see if they were covered, offering to pay over a time period etc.

However, before you pay anything - you should get your own estimates of the damage. I'd also make sure that you only pay for damage you actually caused (some people try to add on previous damage when someone else is footing the bill).

Phibian
Friday, July 25, 2003

>If you had damaged your own car, there would be no
>question of who pays!

Yeah, and if your insurance company found out that you were doing company business on company time in your car they might well deny the claim and tell you to go bother your employer's insurance company instead.

So it's kind of a sticky situation.  Yeah, racking up a friends car isn't a good thing to do and maybe the ethics are the same in a work situation, but the legal issues sure aren't the same, make of that what you will.  And it does depend upon what sort of job this is.  If it's some $8.00/hr clerical job, then the boss shouldn't expect his/her employee to pay for anything - the employee's own car might not even be worth $1300.  If it's a better-paid position, then it isn't so unreasonable - but it's still illegal, something you'd only do if the boss was your friend and certainly not something you'd want to let yourself be forced into. 

And even if it was a matter of friendship, most friends would be happy to have a deductable paid instead of whining and haggling about insurance rates. 

Sounds to me like we're talking about an absolute emotional blackmailing bitch of a boss here - she isn't just happy with coercing her employee into getting the car fixed, she wants to be made whole completely, but that isn't even all of it!  Seems that the real reason why she's getting her panties into a bunch because Employee didn't come to her in tears agonizing about the damage and pledging to pay for the damage and have that car fixed up to look good as new, however much of a hardship it may be.

Boss's expectations here are unreasonable.  She thinks that she can have a true friend in Employee, a relationship of respect and high esteem, and can treat him like a hired hand in return.  The boss undoubtedly knows full well that if she fires Employee or docks his pay she'll end up in court for this, and that she could end up paying back pay times two or three plus the repairs times two or three plus a fine plus legal bills for both sides - the sort of thing which could sink her little business right now - and this weakness makes her feel all the more put-upon!  What an unfair system, she's a good person, how can Employee treat her like this, like a source of paychecks and nothing more, aren't they friends? 

Trollumination
Friday, July 25, 2003

Trollumination, I believe you have perfectly IDed my boss.  And for what it's worth, the job pays 30k and I don't own a car because I can not afford one.  One other thing to note - in my state, we have "at will employment", so my boss can legally fire me at any time for any non-discrimanatory reason (talked to the Department of Labor today).

Employee
Friday, July 25, 2003

Employee, tell her your accountant ( or your brother or something) said you need a receipt for the payment, so could she write out an invoice and /or receipt.

If she is actually dumb enough to do this, tell her you can't pay her till August or something. But I bet she will start to "forget" about the idea.


Friday, July 25, 2003

"At will" is one thing.  Extortion, kickbacks, unauthorized payroll deductions, and termination of employment for noncompliance with any of these things are another.

Nearly every state has statutes regulating when an employer can dock pay or recoup expenses from an employee.  I've had to pull out my State's "Wage and Fringe Benefits Act" myself when my employer mistakenly thought that I'd been unknowingly overpaid the previous year and wanted to recoup it in one large lump.  As it turns out, they couldn't have recouped after this time, even had they wanted to - and they couldn't take any more than 10% of any one paycheck to get the money back, even if it had been within the cutoff time period (6 months, I think) - and it was just a missing "authorization form" anyhow, as payroll was able to track down for me.  None of this was a problem with my boss - I like my boss, actually - it was the sort of administration nonsense you'd find in a large organization.  So it's important to know your rights... was I unethical to try to keep this as-it-turned-out nonexistent overpayment by citing the law?  I would have been pretty well screwed if I hadn't done my homework and kept cool.

If you're making $30K, your boss wants to be "stroked" more then to be paid - it's not like you have any money to give her anyway.  Guess it's a question of whether you can and whether you will.  Guess it's a question of how much you like the job, and how much you like her.  Hard situation, for sure.

Trollumination
Friday, July 25, 2003

IANAL, and I didn't read the whole thread, but as far as I know, "wrongful termination" suits are basically an urban legend.  In most states, a company can fire an employee for virtually any reason, except some very specific reasons (like race, religion, etc.).

.
Saturday, July 26, 2003

You should:

1 accidentally scrape her own car with your keys as you are walking past it in the parking lot

2 you are very fortunate that she acknowledges that you were in an accident while on company business. go see a personal injury attorney about that pain in your neck and back you have been having since 'the accident'. He knows a good chiropractor who will confirm that you are permanently disabled and needed millions in settlement

3 steal as much as you can haul away on the weekend

4 set fire to the building, making sure no one is in it at the time

Legal Advisor
Saturday, July 26, 2003

"So the company was nice enough to loan you a vehicle so you can do your job.  Big whoop.  If you had damaged your own car, there would be no question of who pays!"

This is correct. It is firmly established that if you damage your own car while doing business as an *employee*, the company is entirely responsible for any damages or injuries that occur. If you are an independent consultant or contractor, it's different, you are responsible. But as an employee the law is clear.

Legal Advisor
Saturday, July 26, 2003

To dot pretender from the Real Dot

You certainly aren't a lawyer. Wrongful termination is bread and butter work for employment lawyers. There are cases all the time. Even if you're working through a recruiter and they have clauses insisting you're not an employee, you can still file for wrongful dismissal ( if that actually happened.)

www.shout99.com has some cases.

.
Saturday, July 26, 2003

I can't believe some people are saying that the employee should bear some of the risks of the business (i.e. Pay the boss). 

If she was part owner of the business of course she would pay for the damage (if it made sense financially compared to possibly higher premiums).

If the employee loses a big client, should she be forced to devote her paycheck to replace the lost revenue?

The only thing you owe your employer is to show up and do the job you were hired to do. 

   
Saturday, July 26, 2003

I wouldn't waste a second trying to deal with somebody like that.  As an employee driving a company-owned car, I doubt you have any responsibility in any state.

Of course, it could get complicated... they could say they fired you for being a bad driver and having an accident, not for refusing to pay the damages.  Then you'd be stuck having a lawyer document their extortion threat, etc.

In any event, the employer is totally, completely in the wrong on this.  Talk to a lawyer.

Of course, once one gets into a situation like this, it's pretty difficult to keep the job, period.  When they learn that they can't legally fire you, they'll often react irrationally and look for some other excuse.  Often, this is when they'll start the "keep a paper trail," thing, and officially put you on notice, and then every time you forget to rinse a coffee cup in the break room, it'll go into your personnel record.  In short, if you insist on your rights under the law, they can make it so miserable for you that you'll want to quit anyway.

Hate to sound so discouraging, but one thing the law can't do it turn assholes into nice people.

bobk
Saturday, July 26, 2003

I agree with the other posters: talk to a lawyer, right away. As far as I know, if you're conducting company business using a company car and driving reasonably (e.g. not under the influence, not speeding, etc...), then you are not liable for any damage.

Also, begin documenting everything that happens during the workday. Keep your notes with you. You can be sure your employer is doing this.

If you have any documentation of your past performance on this job (e.g. a performance evaluation or just a "you're doing a great job" note), print it out and keep it with your other notes.

These notes will be helpful if you file a wrongful termination lawsuit which seems like you may be able to.

Elaine
Saturday, July 26, 2003

Re the comment about the insurance folks denying insurance on your own car based on the fact that you were on company business.  Firstly, I can't imagine why that would be relevant to anything.  People have accidents in parking garages all the time, even when they happen to be in them for non-business related activities.  Secondly, here in Canada (insurance could be much crappier in the States, I guess), if I had a car accident in the parking lot at my place of employment, my insurance would pay for it if I were at fault. The company's insurance wouldn't even get involved.  The location of the accident doesn't change the fact that I'm the driver that was insured...  Thirdly, although the car itself is insured, often you are covered *as the driver* when you drive someone else's car.  The point I was trying to make was that the employee could check and see whether they were covered independently and pay for their damage that way.

"maybe the ethics are the same in a work situation, but the legal issues sure aren't the same, make of that what you will."

Of course, the issue raised here was about ethics, and not about legality.

All I was saying is that I agree with the boss on the ethics thing.  If you caused (fairly substantial) damage to someone else's property - even if you don't have to, even if you "happened" to be on company business - in my opinion, you are morally responsible for the damage you caused.  As such, you have a moral obligation to do what you can to right the wrong you did.

From where I sit, one of the biggest problems today is that actions are judged by what is legal and what the individual can get away with rather than what is right.  Life gets a lot simpler (and nicer for everyone around you too) if you start taking responsibility for what you do and think about things from the perspective of others.  That doesn't mean bending over backwards and just taking everything thrown your way (eg. I'd get my own estimates and ensure that the damage claimed is the same as the damage I caused).

Personally, if I had been the boss in that situation, I would've chosen a different method of handling it.  Ultimatums tend to cause more problems than they solve, and leave resentment on both sides.  But you can bet I would not trust you to handle a company car again. 

Phibian
Saturday, July 26, 2003

Phibian: The company pays money every month to insure that the company car is taken care of, no matter who's driving it.  If the company didn't want to have that risk that an employee might scratch it up, they shouldn't have gotten the car in the first place.  They should have just used their own cars and paid the (lower) personal premiums.  Upkeep for that car is a business expense that could have been put into salaries.

That insurance policy should be used for its intended purpose.  You can bet your bottom dollar the boss would claim if it was SHE who got into a wreck.  It's not her decision who has the right to claim, it's the insurance company's.

And I wouldn't forbid her from using the company car ever again.  Shit happens, even to good drivers.  It just takes a second.  You just have to deal with it and move on.

Alyosha`
Saturday, July 26, 2003

It's also ironic ... there's no way out of this situation without having Employee find another job.  So the boss clearly doesn't have any business sense.  Employee turnover is costly.  It's likely going to cost far more than $1400 to find and hire and train a replacement for Employee.  It's definitely going to cost more than whatever raise she's going to find in the premiums.

Everyone's totally right.  Employee shouldn't have to work with such morons.

Alyosha`
Saturday, July 26, 2003

"I wouldn't forbid her from using the company car ever again. **** happens, even to good drivers."

The point wasn't that the employee got into an accident (I agree that these things happen).  The point was that said employee *caused* an accident which resulted in not-insignificant damage, and now has the attitude that "well, it's insured so not my problem".  As I said before, if a friend of hers did that to her, I bet she'd think the friend was pretty shabby.  And I bet she would think twice about lending it out again in general, and particularly to that friend.  I'm not sure how the fact that in this case the car was lent to an employee, and not a friend, makes the ethics of the situation any different.

The argument "That insurance policy should be used for its intended purpose." is pretty weak.  I have theft insurance on the contents of my house.  That doesn't mean that I would think it just fine if my friends were to walk in and take off with my TV.  "No problem.  I've got insurance!"  (If you think this way though Aloysha, please post your address...)

Here's another real situation.  My Aunt asked a friend to housesit while she was away (some years ago).  Friend caused ~$3000 damage to the deck when they forget about a cigarette in a planter.  Based on what people are saying here, my aunt (who had insurance) should've just made an insurance claim, accepted the increase in insurance, and also should've had no problem asking the same person to house sit the next time.  The friend should've just thought to himself: "I told her about it, so it is all okay, because she has insurance".  Luckily for my Aunt, he had a higher sense of responsibility than you folks do here.  As he didn't think that it was fair for my Aunt's costs to increase as a result of something *he* did - he offered to pay for it and followed through.

"You can bet your bottom dollar the boss would claim if it was SHE who got into a wreck.  It's not her decision who has the right to claim, it's the insurance company's."

Actually, as the owner of the insurance policy, you do in fact have the right to decide whether to claim or not.  And in an age where insurance premiums are a significant expense, the cost-benefit ratio of insurance really only kicks in if the vehicle is really trashed.  People who claim for every fender bender are what's causing the massive rise in insurance premiums. 

Insurance isn't supposed to cover the cost of stupidity and carelessness - insurance is there as a fall-back when someone steals or totals your vehicle, and the alternative to claiming is that you no longer have (or can afford) a car.

Besides, while the boss in question doesn't strike me as the sort that would claim if it were them, this is a question of right and wrong, not what someone else would do.  To take an extreme example: just because someone gets their amusement by shooting random people, doesn't make their actions okay.  Does slavery become morally acceptable if enough people enslave others? I don't think so.

Phibian
Saturday, July 26, 2003

Phibian:

I believe that there is a difference between a friend and a servant.  Friendship is a two-way relationship, of mutual respect and consideration.  Servitude is a one-way relationship of subordination, obedience, courtesy, respect, and consideration - in exchange for money.

Trollumination
Saturday, July 26, 2003

Phibian, companies are legal entities established for people to carry on a business and make profit. As part of that mechanism, the owners get to keep all the profit and also agree to assume the risk.

Along the way, society helps them by allowing many expenses to be tax deductions and so on. Businesses get lots of assistance.

If the owner of the business has had the company buy the car, then she's explioiting that social assistance to avoid the risks and costs to her personally. This is what a business is all about.

If the actions of an employee damage company property in any way, whether it be the business or general property, that's a normal loss that the business accounts for. It's not something the employee is responsible for.

Do you see the difference? The employee is just a worker. There's an overriding entity making profit but also paying for the costs of making that profit.

.
Saturday, July 26, 2003

I'm sure I would have spoken with the manager and be all apologetic about it, asking about the cost and if the company could afford it.  You know, politeness.

If I were the bosh, I would... notice if the employee didn't come up to me.  And if I didn't care for her, I'd probably point it out.  None of this ultimatum crap, that just leads to theft and doesn't solve anything.

There are free variables here.  What is the employee like?  What is the boss like?  We don't actually know these things.

n-ary
Sunday, July 27, 2003

I personally wouldn't characterize employees as "servants" [where the heck do you work?!?].  In my opinion, an employer-employee relationship is also a two way street.  Many "employees" would probably benefit from seeing the other side of the fence to see that it is not as black and white as most (usually unemployed) folks seem to believe.

"[the actions of an employee are] not something the employee is responsible for."
I agree with you on a legal level.  But we are talking about ethics! 

In my world, you are *always* responsible for your own actions, unless you are extremely young, having a psychotic episode or have a handicap that prevents you from understanding the consequences of said actions.

"Do you see the difference? The employee is just a worker. "
"Just a worker" or not, the employee is still a person, as is the boss.  As is the business owner.

The concept that the business might be making a profit on the car and thus the employee is no longer morally responsible for the damage strikes me as very odd.

Think about shoplifting. Hopefully we can all agree that shoplifting is morally wrong.  Most stores expect a certain amount of shoplifting, budget for it even.  Depending on the value of the goods, they may even have insurance to compensate for shoplifting. So, if you are an employee in that store - is it now okay for you to help yourself? 

Same store.  You are an employee.  Your employer has insurance on damage.  So is it okay to smash something on the ground in a fit of temper because it will be covered by insurance? Of course not.  And once the thing is smashed, the right thing to do is to at least offer to replace it.

The point is that regardless of the other circumstances, if you damage someone else's property - you are morally responsible for that damage.  Sometimes, circumstances are such that others will cover the costs of your damage.  Think World Trade Center.  Do you not believe that the terrorists were morally responsible for the incredible damage they did?  Of course they are.  Are the terrorists paying the costs of their damage?  No.  Does the fact that much of the damage is covered by insurance negate the moral responsibility of the terrorists?

I should say that if someone else rammed into the employee, or if there was some condition of the road that made damage inevitable or nearly so - then I don't think the employee is morally responsible.  But the only information we've been given so far states that the employee *caused* the accident.  As such, they are morally responsible.

Phibian
Sunday, July 27, 2003

Phibian, how old are you? I don't think you've actually worked somewhere, have you?

It's a just a basic thing. Companies cover expenses, including petrol, taxi fares, buying company trucks, and damage to cars. Full stop.

.
Sunday, July 27, 2003

Phibian, there's huge differences between your analogies.

If you damage property on your personal time, you are responsible.

If you damage property while on company time, when you are acting as an agent of that company, therefore you are an extension of that company, then the company is responsible.  You wouldn't have had the accident if you wouldn't have been acting for the company.

Same as if you are an account rep and say something that loses the company's biggest customer.  Are you then responsible for the millions in lost revenue?  No.
Same as if in the same day you land an account that nets millions in revenue.  It's the company's revenue, you don't get to keep it.

If you are housesitting for a friend and you damage company property, then that is something you & your friend would have to work out between you.

   
Sunday, July 27, 2003

"It's also ironic ... there's no way out of this situation without having Employee find another job.  So the boss clearly doesn't have any business sense.  Employee turnover is costly.  It's likely going to cost far more than $1400 to find and hire and train a replacement for Employee.  It's definitely going to cost more than whatever raise she's going to find in the premiums."

Well, for one thing, looking for another job while unemployed is also costly. The boss seems to be relying on intimidation. Usually, being calm and direct in such cases works quite well. Anyway, it seems to be worth a shot.

It might be helpful to explain to the boss the whole picture of ridiculousness - the car on company's business IS covered by the company insurance, shortsightedness of demanding $1300 and then wasting more on hiring somebody else, having to waste a lot of time and money dealing with lawers once you sue, etc.
Mutually assured destruction can be a quite helpful thing!

There is even hope that the boss will come to see your point of view, she just might be distressed now due to some reasons (like the scratched car :-) ). I bet an employee like you costs the company $1300 in like 7 workdays. And she's willing to go into the trouble of loosing productivity and hiring somebody new for such a small amount of money?

Mr Curiousity
Sunday, July 27, 2003

If a friend damages your car while borrowing it, that is a different situation because they are making the voluntary choice to borrow it.

In this case the employee was *told* to go to the customer using the company car. So the company should assume the risks involved in giving her that order, since it is something she is involuntarily doing for the benefit of the company (unless she committed gross negligence, like driving drunk at 50mph in a 25mph school zone).  She would not have chosen to drive the company car otherwise. They made her put the car at risk, so they should pay for the reasonable consequences of that risk.

T. Norman
Sunday, July 27, 2003

"The company is responsible for damage".  "You are acting as an agent of the company, so the company is responsible".  Folks - there's no question that the company is responsible for what their employees do in their name (esp legally).  That doesn't change the fact that the employee is still responsible for what *they* do.  Go back to my WTC example.  Insurance companies and the federal government are RESPONSIBLE for providing assistance to those who were killed or injured.  But that doesn't absolve the terrorists of all MORAL responsibility.  And that's what we are talking about here - the moral responsibility of the EMPLOYEE.  After all, the employer didn't post and ask what was right (that would be a completely different discussion).  It's the employee that asked.

"If a friend damages your car while borrowing it, that is a different situation because they are making the voluntary choice to borrow it."

All of my "friend" examples were careful to put the friend in a situation where they were doing *you* a favor.  It's not their idea to borrow the car (or take care of the house).  So the situations are pretty close.  You can even take care of the objection that in one situation you might fear losing your job if you put the friend in the position that refusing would cause serious damage to the relationship (hey, it's a hypothetical example).  The point is that as the person doing damage, the outside factors are not nearly as important as the fact that you caused the damage through carelessness and as such are responsible for the damage you caused.

Anyway, amusing though this discussion has been, when a debate degenerates into attempting to discredit the opponent based on irrelevant factors, it's a sign that the other person has run out of countering arguments...  ["Phibian, how old are you? I don't think you've actually worked somewhere, have you?"] So ., can't think of a reason to back up your firmly held view, therefore I must be young and not only unemployed, but never employed?  Sheesh. 

This discussion has, however, provided a potentially valuable filter for avoiding hiring mistakes. Guess that I should find out what my current employees think they would do ;)

http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=59357&ixReplies=15

Phibian
Monday, July 28, 2003

Phibian, you are an absolute idiot. 

Numerous people have already pointed out the fact that there is a difference between being negligent ( http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=negligence ) and having an accident ( http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=accident ).  Of course if the employee was negligent SHE should pay.  BUT SHE WASN'T.  Why can't you understand?

Your WTC example is specious ( http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=specious ).

The only moral responsibility of the employee was to act in good faith. 

I can't believe I just wasted all this time talking to such a complete utter moron.

son of Bella
Monday, July 28, 2003

Hey Phibian, I'm a government minister from Nigeria. If you will just send me your bank details ...

.
Monday, July 28, 2003

It's sad really that things have come to this. We no longer argue about what is right and wrong but instead about legalese and the "interpretation" of words. Can you say "pass the buck"?

It's a company car with company insurance. I wouldn't pay one goddam cent! It's one thing to borrow a friend or co-workers car and wreck it, but this is different. I would split anyway. Obviously your eompoyer is a small time BS artist trying to pass the buck. A good employer would simply say "hey you had an accident, but that's what it was.. an ACCIDENT. Next time please be more careful" then they would take care of the damages. To be honest the employer's lucky you didn't get seriously injured. I bet that never came up though did it?

It's not about your employee's safety or well being anymore, it's about the bottom line and how much wealth one can attain.

trollbooth
Monday, July 28, 2003

Probably this will be my last post for a while, since it seems that the main participants on this forum are more interested in name calling and flames than an intelligent debate. While I agree that it is very sad that people cannot discuss something without getting to "I disagree with you, so you are a moron". It's also incredibly boring. It's like listening to kids bicker.

Anyway.  I thought son of Bella's comment about the difference between negligence and an accident did highlight what people seem to be missing about my position. Rather than defining moral responsibility by only examining negligence and accident ("I didn't mean to") - I'm saying that from an ethics standpoint there are several other distinctions to be made.

There's damage caused by someone else: someone ploughs into employee.  Garage collapses on car.  The employee is a passive actor in this scenario, and I think we all agree that the employee is not morally responsible in this situation.

Damage caused deliberately by employee, or by employee acting in a manner that is certain to cause damage.  Driving under the influence.  Keying the car because you are in a bad mood.  Again, I think we all agree that the employee is morally responsible in this situation.

Then you get to damage caused by employee "by accident".  They're talking on the phone and not paying attention and hit the person in front of them.  They're in a hurry to get to (or from) a delivery, so aren't careful enough and scrape the side of the car in a parking garage.  Sure - it's an accident.  And sure, although some would argue that inattention and carelessness are "negligent", it's not very serious negligence.  But - even though the car owner has insurance and even though the car is owned by a business rather than an individual - I don't see how anything can change the fact that the person causing the damage is morally responsible for that damage, given that the damage resulted directly from their actions.

I'm willing to grant that the classy thing on the part of the employer would be to write off the damage.  However, we're analyzing the ethics of the situation from the point of view of the employee.  Whether the employer in this particular situation is a nice person being taken advantage of, or whether they are a profit guzzling shark out to trample their workers under their feet, or whether they are somewhere in between doesn't make any difference to what is right or wrong from the employee's perspective. 

Bottom line: I've heard no compelling explanations as to why the employee should suddenly have no moral responsibility for her actions.  As such I stand by my opinion that the employee is in fact morally responsible for the damage and thus the "right" thing to do would be to offer to cover the damages.

Phibian
Monday, July 28, 2003

Phibian,

Do you believe that an employee carrying boxes at a factory who is hurrying to get the job done and falls and breaks an arm should be responsible for his/her medical bills? I don't see any difference between this situation and the one you just described, besides the object being damaged. Car or body.

workerscomp
Monday, July 28, 2003

There is no indication that the employee was doing anything careless like talking on a cellphone with one hand while eating a burger with the other.  She only scratched/dented the car by misjudging the position of the fixed structure relative to the car. That is an honest mistake for somebody who is unfamiliar with the car, especially if the car is much bigger than what she is used to driving (which is likely to be the case, as company cars are usually bigger than the average car).

T. Norman
Tuesday, July 29, 2003

I had a similar situation here two weeks ago.

I couldn't find the front gate key, late at night because I was pissed, and it appears that one of the houseboy's friends phoned him and left the message. , "Come quick, problem."

The houseboy, who had gone home early because he was dog-tired, went straight to his neighbour's, and borrowed his motor bike. Thinking there was a break-in or something he drove at full speed - straight into a parked car.

The damage to the car came to about $150 and to the bike about $20. Now, I wasn't even aware of the telephone call, let alone the accident, but I still paid both bills because the accident happened while the houseboy was doing what he perceived as being work for me. The rule is simple; if you do work for a company or individual, the employer, not you, are responsible for all damages caused.

Mind you, he's been told to answer all emergencies by pushbike henceforth :)

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Trollumination is crazy if he/she thinks you should pay one dime. You are not responsible. However, you really need to find out your rights from a real attorney.  You really need Pre-Paid Legal. It's cheaper than a normal attorney.

www.prepaidlegal.com/info/jdr3

Know your rights from the source without having to pay for consultation.  For $17.00 per month, you have a ton of benefits.  It's the best service I have ever owned. Wouldn't be without it.

Dibbles
Monday, January 12, 2004

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