WWYD? Tech accused of sexual harassment after repairing car

Owner must decide what to do

A multi-store shop owner writes the following:

Dear TJ:

Although I have a written policy that I only allow technicians to work on their own vehicles during off hours, my service manager allowed my tech to work on his “girlfriend’s” car during his lunch hour.

A few days later I get a phone call from a lady who says that my technician answered an ad in an online community forum.  She claims to be a single mom who needed some help with her car and couldn’t afford shop rates.  She went on to explain that my technician said that he was an ASE Master Technician and that he worked for my “xyz” store. She now claims that my technician is stalking her and is asking for sex in return for the repairs he did on her car.

She went on to explain that rather than posting negative online reviews, she thought she would reach to me in hopes that I could get him to stop harassing her.  She also said she was going to get a restraining order against him.

What would you do?

Vinnie Lucido, co-owner, CoAuto, Reno, Nev.

Vinnie Lucido

“This is a tricky situation one that hopefully I never encounter.

“I would cover first base right away, making sure I have the proper documentation signed and dated. If we made a policy that was verbally agreed to but not signed, then we have a different problem on our hands.

“My first reaction would be to consult with the woman whom is directly affected by the said harassment. Writing a log of her experience with my business and employee interaction, including dates, times and any records of previous communication, phone calls, texts, etc. My goal here is to properly log her experience & identify if she is being honest and true.

“Secondly, I take my accused staff member into a private room and have him share the situation in his own experience. Not to accuse him but rather to compare their stories, then come up with a balanced approach to my response. Knowing people are not always truthful, I need to make sure there is no previous relationships between the two parties.

“Upon verifying this instance to be a true complaint, I would immediately terminate the employee whom directly violated our agreement, and at that time give him his last paycheck.

“The service manager would be written up and possibly terminated. I would have to verify if the service manager was aware this was not the technicians personal vehicle. If he knew this was supposedly his girlfriend’s car, then why was he given permission as our policy states employees and their personal vehicles only? I would also need to clarify that lunch hours are not off hours. Lunch is for lunch. Off hours are after closing and before opening.

“My next step would be to give the woman a genuine and heartfelt apology for my terminated staff members decision to directly disobey our policies and procedures. Advising her that we will support any decision she feels is best for her safety and the safety of her family. I would also thank and recognize her decision to call us prior to writing a review and honor that choice. I may also give her a free service to help with future needs and give her an opportunity to change her experience in my establishment into a more delightful one.

“Lastly, I would have a strict conversation with my remaining staff at all locations to revisit our policies and procedures, especially those regarding working on personal vehicles.”

What did the shop owner do?

The shop owner wrote up a corrective action notice to the the service manager and the technician for both violating company policy.

What would TJ do?

T.J. Reilly

I think it would depend on the value of the employee and whether or not there has been other problems with the employee in question.  Is this particular action what “breaks the camel’s back?”

If the employee were a valuable asset to the company I would have a meeting with the employee and respectfully ask questions and listen. Whether the story is true or not, I’m sure the employee in question would probably be extremely embarrassed.  It would be very important to be as respectful and understanding as possible.  I wouldn’t expect the employee to tell me the entire truth about the situation, nor would I insist upon it.

I would then explain to the employee that it doesn’t matter whether or not the lady was telling the truth.  The job description in our Employee Handbook states that every employee is responsible for maintaining and protecting our customer database.  That means that we must do everything possible to protect our company reputation and also prevent negative online reviews.  The employee would have to agree to cease all communication with this person and would have to be given a “Corrective Action Notice” that they would have to sign.

In addition, I would explain that Oregon State Law requires employees to take a 30-minute lunch break AWAY from their work environment.  That means that they cannot even work on their own personal car during their lunch break.

Again, if you wanted to keep this employee it would be extremely important to handle this issue extremely confidential and also treat the employee with the utmost respect and understanding.