Ethical Dilemmas - We Face Them Every DayPosted 4/17/2006
By Joan Keobernick, AAM
It seems there is always something: a choice we must make, a standard to live by, an example we need to set. Not just making choices between right and wrong, but many times making choices between two very difficult "rights." We know others are always watching, judging and learning from us; especially the young people with whom we work. As Albert Schweitzer said, "Example is not the main thing influencing others. It is the only thing." We can be the example they may follow; hopefully, that is the goal.
Let's look at a few everyday scenarios we may encounter in our shops:
Dilemma 1: Your tech worked on a 2001 Chevrolet Astro Van with 142,000 miles on it. He replaced the water pump and intake manifold gasket. About two-and-a-half months later, the owner of the van phoned to report the vehicle's engine was dead and wanted to know if the work you did might have caused the problem. The vehicle is out of state; in fact, the customer lives out of state. The result of your phone inquiry found that the head gasket is now blown, and the vehicle had overheated to the point that some of the plastic on the intake gasket had melted. The shop owner said there was no way to tell what caused the problem. How does one handle a situation like this? You want to be fair to the customer, but also fair to your company. In thinking it through, could your tech have missed the fact that the head gasket was starting to go? Why would the customer drive an overheated vehicle until the engine stopped? The customer feels he needs to repair the vehicle because $5,000 is still owed on it. You feel you didn't do anything wrong, but have a responsibility even though this customer doesn't live in your state and won't be in a position to send you more customers. What is the solution?
Dilemma 2: An employee is chronically absent because of a teenager who is constantly in trouble and because of her own illnesses. This person performs well when at work but these things seem to come in spurts, many times when you're really depending on her. She is more than 50 years of age and has worked for you for about two years; you suspect some of her reasons have been "stretched." What do you do?
Dilemma 3: Do we sometimes rush through things because it is more expedient and profitable? For instance, when repairing a tire, if it is plugged instead of broken down and patched on the inside, we could miss internal tire damage. If we pay commission to compensate our techs, are we managing that properly to avoid work that isn't quite right?
Dilemma 4: As an independent repair operation, how responsible are we for knowing what a customer's new car warranty is? For instance, a 2-year-old BMW comes in with 30,000 miles on it and is in need of brakes. The customer authorizes the work. After the job is completed, the customer phones the dealer, and the dealer explains to the customer that the car has a 3-year, 36,000-mile warranty for everything on that vehicle. Do you refund the money?
Dilemma 5: Due to a sick member of an employee's family, your health insurance has gone up to a point beyond what you can afford. The employee has missed a fair amount of work because of the situation. What do you do? Do you raise the percentage that all employees pay - effectively forcing the staff to cover the increase caused by the illness of one? Do you drop your insurance program entirely and just offer a benefit of so much per month for their health insurance, possibly softening it a bit by offering the program through a "Cafeteria" program (Section 125)? Do you let the person go - after all, you're just a small business and you need your staff to be there?
Dilemma 6: Your tech worked on a 2001 Honda Accord, replacing a timing belt, cam seal, crank seal and water pump. The vehicle came back in six months leaking oil. The oil was leaking from the cam seal. There was no way to tell if the seal was defective or if the tech damaged the seal when installing it. It looked like it was put in properly, and this tech is always extremely careful. If you pay by book hour, do you pay the tech for redoing the job?
Every day, we face situations like these, and in each situation there is a decision to be made that is not always clear. We are not only in business to serve the customer and create jobs but we must also make a profit.
Let's begin with Dilemma 5: If you can't find a way to support a staff member when he is down, you certainly won't be voted the No. 1 business where someone would like to work. If the staff member is valued by the rest of the staff, generally they will step up to help when the person is absent. Regarding health insurance: A solution I recently read about was to allocate $200 per month for singles, $300 for a couple and $500 for a family using a Cafeteria Plan (Section 125) to eliminate all taxes on this money. Then go out and shop individual policies. In most states, your employees can find individual policies for less than we're paying for group coverage. For those individuals who are ill, through each state insurance companies are mandated to sell them insurance. Again, through the Section 125 plan, all monies paid for by insurance can be filtered through that plan and avoid any taxes for the employee or the company. Another solution - the one I'm currently working on to help get passed - is the Association Health Plans legislation (please visit www.TakingTheHill.com for more information).
Let's look at Dilemma 2: Some of us tend to be afraid to deal properly with our employees, especially those who are more than 50 years of age. We must remember that we have the right to have good employees who do their very best to be there for us. Sometimes employees will take an element of truth and stretch it to suit their needs. This is the time that good management techniques and follow-through can make all the difference. Consult your employee handbook about absenteeism. You can also help by communicating with your employees to let them know what the limits are while documenting each conversation. When you see a pattern emerging, be sure to begin the process. If you have concerns about your approach, consult an attorney to help walk you through the situation. Don't wait! Again, your staff is watching and talking. They usually have a pretty good idea if you're being outsmarted.
Regarding Dilemma 4: In the BMW warranty scenario, as an independent repair shop taking in these vehicles for repair, how can we expect to build a reputation of trust with our customers if we won't take the responsibility for our recommendations? Generally, warranty information is readily available to us if we're willing to take the time to look. Yes, our customers should know what their warranties are, but don't we want people to depend on us to know the questions they should be asking? In a world that is so busy, with so much information coming at us each day, isn't it up to each business to be experts in their field? If we advertise that we'll send people back to the dealer if it is under warranty, there is no question we are responsible; if not, it is a judgment call.
Regarding Dilemmas 1, 3 and 6: The shop that dealt with the Astro Van (Dilemma 1) worked with the customer and sent her $1,000 to help cover the cost of the new engine. The customer was happy, and the shop owner felt it was the right thing to do.
Comebacks, in any pay program, can be tricky. Care in determining the cause is extremely important. As you know, if we're not carefully monitoring the causes, documenting and quantifying to really understand where the problems lie, we can lose control and not know what hit us. How can a situation be addressed if we really don't understand the problem? How can we work with our techs and get the additional training needed if we didn't bother to see if there is a pattern to the comeback? Docking their pay usually doesn't work to lower comebacks - it only spreads the cost of the problem. As owners and managers of our businesses, our job is to monitor, understand and solve the problems while carefully considering the systems we have in place and not just the person who made the mistake.
Comebacks caused by part defects need to be documented to be able to work with the vendor/manufacturer to show a pattern when one exists. This information is a great help in substantiating labor claims. When we're working with our vendors, we're much more likely to get labor claims when they know we never claim a defect when our tech has caused the part to go bad.
In every situation, it is our job to do our best to do the "right" thing. When choosing between two "rights," experts agree, the ethical position is choosing what is best for the majority. In the end, our goal is to create the very best reputation both in the eyes of our staff and our customers. Anything we do is observed by our staff and their opinion of us is shared with family, friends and neighbors. Those opinions either tear down our business or can be worth hundreds of thousands in sales when the review is "glowing." Word-of-mouth advertising starts with each of us making an ethical decision that is fair and thoughtful.
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