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Your company in the dock?

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This case study is produced by Fleet21, and shows a similar scenario to that posed in the mock trial presented at Fleet News Congress. It should give you an idea of the type of questions posed in the case of a serious road accident, and get you thinking about how your firm can address these issues before they arise.

It was Thursday morning and Phil Smith, Business Development Manager for a Stationery Business who lives in Chester, is on his way to see a potential client in Blackpool for a 9.30am meeting. (The first of 6 scheduled meetings made by his employers that day) The business was recently subject to a management buy-out and the newly installed Directors and senior management team were keen to “put the business back on the map”.

Recent strategy meetings had been along the theme of “going the extra mile” to help clients and pressure was now on the sales teams to generate an increase in profits. Phil travels a lot in his extended Northern area and it has been a busy week, work wise. Like all of us he also likes the good summer weather and had hosted a quickly arranged BBQ the previous evening with his family and friends from his local cricket club, involving plenty of wine, a few beers and banter. Phil went to bed at around 1.00am after helping his wife to clear up.

Phil uses his own car for work as he receives a decent mileage rate and cash allowance from his employers and it allows him to have a car of his choosing. It was 8.05am and the motorway was particularly busy with lots of stationary traf?c. Phil uses his hand held Sat Nav to plot a way off the Motorway and a route across A-roads to Blackpool, he doesn’t want to be late as it may loose the sale and his newly negotiated bonus!! His boss wouldn’t be pleased! At 8.15am, Phil was rushing along the A-road through a small village to Blackpool when his Blackberry phone suddenly rings. He ignored it and the caller didn’t leave a message. The phone rings again and Phil, looking at his phone, recognises it is his boss so he carefully answers the call. His boss tells him that he had just spoken to a potential big new client and there is a meeting arranged for late morning that he must go to, as well as his current meetings that day, and it is really important he gets there on time.

Phil is not happy with the situation and as he goes to put his Blackberry phone on the seat beside him he notices an unread text from his pal thanking him for a great night last evening. Suddenly Phil glances up and just manages to avoid colliding with a road work sign in the road, but unfortunately he didn’t see a cyclist who he caused to fall as he swerved to miss it. He quickly pulls up and goes to see if the cyclist is OK. Unfortunately, the cyclist is hurt badly and the police and ambulance is called, and they arrive as a crowd of witnesses gather.

Phil is shocked to see the injuries and also realises that he is now going to be late for his appointment in Blackpool. He goes back to his car to get his Blackberry to call ahead.

At that point the Police want to speak with him and the normal questions start:

  • As in all Road Traffic incidents you are required to take a breath test, when did you last have a drink?
  • What happened in detail?
  • Were you using your mobile phone?
  • Where were you going and was it work related?
  • Have you got your documents with you?

As normal in all road traffic incidents, Paul was breathalysed and was found to be over the limit on the equipment. Phil was arrested and cautioned and transferred to the police station where the second breath test was also positive. His Blackberry was seized. Witnesses state he was speeding, and not looking where he was going.

In interview, Phil Smith admitted he had a few drinks at the BBQ last night and also was running a bit late this morning and the traffic was horrendous, but really though he was okay to drive. He admitted a momentary lapse of concentration, but said that he has recently been under pressure from the company to do more visits per day, and “they were always ringing me to know where I was and what time I was going to be there”. I have told them “I am not Superman” but they don’t listen and just tell me to get on with it. “I really try to do my best”.

As there was a serious, possibly fatal injury, the investigation was carried out by the Police and Crown Prosecution Service which meant involving his employers. The police visited the Company’s offices and senior staff were interviewed at length under caution. They found the company to be very willing to co-operate and provided the officers with the requested documents and information. The policies and processes were old established ones generated by the previous owners and had not been revisited or updated to align with the newly managed business.

Working practices had changed to be more sales driven and pro?t related, so the old practices and advice given in the policies were actually contradicted by the new way of working. An example of this was that prior to the buy-out, sales staff set their own diaries and managed their own portfolio of clients. This had been centralised and all appointments and daily routines were set by the head of sales and her team.

Sarah Jones, the Sales Director, stated that she was aware that policies were outdated and said she “was dragging her sales department into the 21st century and we are doing a great job” “I know exactly where all my team are and what they are doing” “I am a very proactive manager” “I am sure our new HR manager will update the policies to reflect our new dynamic, successful business.”

When asked about her proactive style, Sarah Jones said staff were updated with their day’s diary as it evolved and sometimes they were called and instructed to change schedule if an urgent visit emerged. When queried on what the company policy was on the use of mobile phones and driving, she replied that she didn’t actually know the policy, but she was sure they were adhering to it.

Sarah Jones was shown a copy of the driving at work policy which included advice on mobile phone use, which stated that mobile phones must not be used whilst driving, and if making a call to a colleague who may be driving, it should not be answered and a message should be left on voicemail. The driver should then retrieve the call when they next stopped and were in an appropriate place to return the call.

Sarah Jones commented that this was ok “in the old days, but I want access to my staff straight away”. Sarah Jones was also queried on work scheduling. She said that she had increased the number of client visits for her mobile sales staff as they had it very easy in the previous regime. They could easily manage the increased number of visits.

When challenged on how the schedule was set, she replied it all depended on what time the appointments were made by the telesales staff, and an approximate area where they were. I suppose the telesales people set it. When asked if the telesales staff had received any routing and scheduling training, she replied no.

Telesales staff were interviewed, and they confirmed no training had been given, and as it was a recently introduced area, they responded that there had been a few grumbles from mobile sales staff about distances and timings, but they assumed they were just whingeing.

The investigation then turned to how the company provided vehicles to staff. The general principle was to provide a cash allowance with a mileage reimbursement set at Government approved rates. There were no restrictions on the vehicle type that the staff could utilise, however they stated that it must be fit for purpose. When asked for information on what was being currently driven by all staff in this category, there was no supporting information.

When asked about licence checking, the HR manager said all licences were checked when staff were ?rst employed and the driving policy reminded staff to tell the company if there was any change to their licence. It was evident the basic person and vehicle checks were not undertaken regularly and no records were in place.

Case study courtesy of Fleet21, who delivered the mock trial at Fleet News Congress 2013

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