Many other companies say the new health and safety environment they are working in means they could not ignore the problem and would have to step in with solutions such as changing the seat, or offering medical help.
The comments come following the launch of a major campaign to educate fleets about the problem of back pain, which costs British industry billions of pounds every year.
Fleet NewsNet reported last week that the Association of Car Fleet Operators is sponsoring a leaflet which will be launched to coincide with National Back Care Week, starting on October 13.
One of the recommendations the leaflet contains is for drivers to be able to hand back a vehicle if it proves too uncomfortable and there is no other solution. The leaflet has been produced by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy in conjunction with Professor Mark Porter and Dr Diane Gyi of Loughborough University and Helen Williams of HJ Consultancy.
Research has shown that sick leave due to back pain is costing 116 million sick days and losing industry more than £5 billion a year, with company car drivers one of the most vulnerable groups because of the amount of time they spend behind the wheel, according to the transport unit at ICE Ergonomics, part of Loughborough University. Clinical back pain affects a massive 60% of drivers who cover more than 10,000 miles per year.
One of the biggest concerns facing fleets is that drivers would use fake back pain complaints to get rid of a car they didn't like. Companies are also concerned that handing leased cars back early would lead to punitive early termination charges. But many companies are aware that the issue cannot be ignored, as the car has to be viewed as part of the modern day workplace. Therefore, as a company would change an employee's seat at their desk, fleets have to ask why they wouldn't take the same approach to a seat in a car.
Should drivers be allowed to hand back cars if they are the cause of serious back pain?
'Yes, or as we did on one occasion, arrange for a replacement driver's seat from the manufacturer which gave better lumbar support. If we do not accommodate such requests we would not be complying with health and safety law.'
'No. I hate alarmist figures – where is the proof that it is costing billions? Drivers should test drive the vehicle before purchase. If this idea was adopted it would cause nightmares as drivers would simply return cars that they had grown tired of on a pretext.'
J.S, via email
'With more and more companies opting for cash-for- car or employee car ownership schemes, it is more difficult for drivers just to hand cars back without severe financial penalties. More time should be taken by the driver before selecting their vehicle, including longer test drives and taking a closer look at seat options available.'
Fleet manager, AXA
'No. Drivers should be provided with replacement orthopaedic seats. It
would be preferable if car makers had alternative seats available for this type of user.'
Office services manager, Hereward Housing
'We have managed to avoid anybody having to return their car by carrying out tests, offering professional advice and supplying any corrective or lumbar support. If nothing can be done then the driver should be given another car but not before all avenues have been fully explored.'
Phillippa T Caine
Company secretary, Corgi
'Yes, but it must be accompanied by a letter supporting their claim from a medical professional, such as an osteopath or back specialist. Many drivers will see this as an opportunity to upgrade their vehicle. So companies must be satisfied that there is a valid case.'
Fleet manager, Guide Dogs for the Blind
'If an employee is genuinely suffering medical problems which can be attributed to the car then no responsible employer should refuse to take action. Either an internal or external qualified medical practitioner should be used to evaluate 'the problem' and make recommendations.'
Manager UK Fleet Management, IBM
'In principal yes, but there must also be dialogue prior to reaching the situation where the car is handed back. We have changed one car in this exact situation. We allowed the driver to find the car he was comfortable with as his old one was aggravating his back. He was comfortable in an old shape Laguna, as the softer seats suited him, so we bought the car for him. As we outright purchase this gives us the flexibility to switch.'
Company secretary, Lancaster Partners
'On the basis of a user-chooser policy – no! We would hope an employee would take care to pick the car that suited him or her. Whatever the rights or wrongs we wouldn't want our staff put in the position of having to use a car that clearly affected their ability to do the job.'
R.L, via email
'Yes, conditional on medical evidence, otherwise you would open the floodgates for anyone to return a vehicle and order a 'preferred' model, leaving the company with a fortune to pay in early termination costs. Back pain is an extremely grey area to prove.'
Fleet manager, KABA Door Systems
'If the vehicles are allocated by the fleet department with no driver choice, then the driver may well have a case for wanting to return the vehicle.'
M.R, via email
'In an ideal world the answer would obviously be yes, but I think the cost of such a move would be prohibitive in practice, and would rely on somebody else in the company wanting to take on the 'cast off' vehicle.'
Finance director, Walter-Broadley Machines