I think my employee lied about damage to a company vehicle

A reader writes:

We had a company vehicle with a high clearance requirement come back with significant roof damage. The employee driving it pointed it out to me, the driver manager, as if it was like that when he got it. The vehicle had gone out daily with several different drivers over the past few days. Unknown to drivers though, that vehicle had GPS tracking on it and I was able to see where it had been over the last several days. When I reviewed the data, I identified a location where I believe the incident occurred, and it happened while the employee who reported the damage was driving.

I gave him a second chance to come clean about it by sending out an email to all drivers that had been driving it recently, asking if anyone had information about the damage and saying that if I didn’t hear back, I would have to resort to looking at the GPS log. I had hoped that this would jog his memory about the incident. It did not. In fact, he dropped by casually asking another employee if we had figured out the damage … kind of like the suspect hanging out at the crime scene asking questions the next day.

In all other respects, I have had no discipline issues with this employee and he has done well over the few months he has been with the company. This dishonesty does not sit well with me, though, and my instinct is to discharge him. Aside from the dishonesty is the potential that this was a hit-and-run involving property damage. Holding me back is our constant struggle finding drivers. It is a tough position to keep staffed and his shift is particularly difficult – nights and weekends. Is there any possible way to overlook this or discipline him yet keep him on?

Are you absolutely sure that the accident occurred while he had the vehicle? If so, then yes, you probably need to fire him. You can’t have someone working for you who’s willing to be dishonest — the risk of other issues is just too high, and you need to be able to trust employees on basic stuff like telling you the truth about job-related accidents.

But I can’t tell from your letter whether the evidence pointing at him is definitive or not. If it’s not (and actually even if it is), then I’d talk with him face-to-face about what you’ve found, explain what it looks like to you, and see what he says. You owe him an open discussion about the situation, and you don’t want to be an employer who fires people for things they might not have done.


{ 165 comments… read them below }

    1. Squirrel!*

      Have you seen videos of what happens when large trucks don’t make their clearance? There’s no way the driver didn’t notice that they didn’t clear something, especially as the OP said the damage was “significant”.

      1. LBK*

        Yeah…often the truck gets physically stuck or the top layer of it gets sheered off. If you can hear it when you drive over a rock, there’s no way you don’t notice when a large chunk of your vehicle gets ripped off.

      2. Chinook*

        I second that. As someone who has accidentally damaged a large vehicle while backing up, you know when you hit something (unless you were going to fast). On top of that, he pointed out the damage when he returned. That beign said, not taking the chance given to come clean is a huge problem. As my boss at the car dealership where I damaged the brand new (still had the plastic on it) camper van said, we all get one freebie. But lieing about it is something else completely.

    2. Biff*

      Why does it matter who was driving it if this was the first incident? I mean, if there was a driver that was known as Accident Adam, that’s one thing. But it sounds like this the first incident. Get it fixed and put standards in place so that you don’t have to do a gps itchhunt in the future:

      1. Have a Vehicle check-out log.
      2. Have a check in log.
      3. Manager signs off on both.

      Added bonus — many issues with the vehicle will get caught when it’s cheaper to fix them.

      This way everyone will be on notice.

        1. Mister Pickle*

          Agreed, the OP seems primarily concerned with the dishonesty. But I think Biff makes a good point: the underlying system shouldn’t allow this kind of question to even arise.

        2. Biff*

          The trouble is… it’s possible that no one is being dishonest. Or, the person that is being dishonest isn’t the person that they think it is. It’s just too complicated, IMO, to pin the tail on the right donkey in this case.

          1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            It’s possible that the employee in question isn’t being the dishonest one, but someone definitely is – if there was significant roof damage to the vehicle, that almost certainly happened while one of the drivers was driving it,* and it would have been noticeable when it happened. Since none of the drivers came forward when the OP asked if anyone had any information, one of them is lying.

            It does sound like more investigation is needed to pin down if it’s definitely this driver, but I don’t think it’s necessarily too complicated to do that investigation.

            *unless I’m mis-imagining what the roof damage is like, and it could have been caused by something like a tree branch falling on the vehicle – but it sounds like a low clearance issue.

            1. Biff*

              I know that I have done damage to my car unintentionally, not realizing the extent of it. I know my partner has done the same, in fact, pretty extensive damage. To me it seems like it would be easy to damage the roof of a separate trailer and not notice for some time if you are focusing on your business, worried about timetables and traffic and all those stressors drivers deal with. Also, I don’t know what the OP means by significant damage. That could mean a really borked paint job, which is an expensive but easy fix, or it could be actual structural damage.

              I don’t know where the OP is, but if they park the truck outside, then there are all kinds of risk factors. I used to live in an area where streetlamps and traffic signals would come down during windstorms. It was not altogether a rare occurrence. It can destroy a passenger vehicle, and t would doubtless mess up a truck.

      1. Artemesia*

        Not firing him for the accident, she would be firing him for the untrustworthiness. Overhead clearance accidents are easy to do if you are inexperienced with large vehicles. Lying workers you can’t trust — that is not something you can live with.

        1. Annie N Moose*

          Seems like OP said “months” of employment, maybe they are still in the probationary period where a seperation is easier than “years”.

          We had a driver swear up and down they didn’t damage something (1st straw). After 3-4years of employment, dedicated vehicle had over $5K in damage when turned back into leasing company(2nd straw). Moved person into office, office supplies, (toilet paper, bandaids, pens, staples, reams of paper gone). I really don’t remember the last straw but there were a couple more and finally the boss had enough and let them go. Funny enough the following year our office supply expense decreased about $3k.
          My vote says go, but I know it is really hard to find blue collar help right now, so keep your eyes peeled with this person and continue to feel them out for trustworthiness. good luck OP and please keep us posted!

    3. Anonsie*

      That’s what I was thinking.

      He may have noticed it at some point during his drive and is unsure of whether he did it and didn’t notice or whether he received it in that condition. So now he’s nervous that it will turn out to have been him, but he’s still more sure that it was someone else. He doesn’t want to volunteer that it may have been him since a) he knows you’ll be suspecting him anyway since he was the last person to drive the vehicle, so it’s not like he’s exactly hiding anything and b) he’s sure you’ll figure it out using the GPS log and then everyone will know for sure, so speculating now is pointless. There’s also the possibility that c) he’s seen the management there be very punitive in the past and doesn’t want to open up the potential to be punished for it unless the GPS log absolutely confirms it was his doing.

      1. Artemesia*

        Overhead damage is pretty obvious when it happens — you hear the scrape or worse — it is a pretty big deal when the damage is significance. Been in the passenger seat — you don’t do this without noticing and it doesn’t happen when the car is parked.

        1. Anonsie*

          Yeah I thought about it and I remembered a time I was in a van that hit the top of a parking garage… It would be hard to miss.

      2. Chinook*

        “So now he’s nervous that it will turn out to have been him, but he’s still more sure that it was someone else.”
        I would so recommend that the employee still get in front of this by admitting that he is pretty sure it is not him but that it could be. Right now he just looks more suspicious and has his boss, the OP, questioning his ethics. Driving skills can be learned and refined, vehciles can be repaired but a damaged reputation from lying cannot almost never be fully repaired.

        1. Anonsie*

          Honestly, this is a work environment thing, and I have not worked in a lot of places where I would feel safe doing this. Especially considering the job specifically, plenty of drivers and people in similar roles are used to hyper-punitive environments where saying “you know, it may have been me and I just don’t know” would get it pinned on you without further investigation. I can’t blame him for not jumping up– he knows he’s going to be considered, there’s no point it adding to that.


        HELLO. I an presently 71 yrs old. and I drove for a very large lumber co. Here in ont.canada . and I did have a couple screw up,s . But I was always,s honest , with my Boss ( joe ). And I know he respected me for my honesty. MY truck was damaged a few times while parked in the CO. yard . there was two supposed drivers who were buddies , and one wanted to get his SON , hired at this CO . and that would have mean,t me getting axed. but MY BOSS > JOE , had it all figured out . and guess what . the guy,s who were causing damage to my truck got caught , and hello. there were two job,s open for two new tractor -trailor driver,s .So honesty is something to be proud of. as I am.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      I question if he knows about the damage, too.

      Having worked with truck drivers, I heard the stories. The bigger the rig the harder it is to know that something is wrong. That seat of the pants feeling you get in a car is just not there.

      Years back, a guy in a truck backed into my poor car. He did stop when he saw me waving and yelling. He said he did not feel a thing. I believed him. He was driving a truck not much bigger than a UPS truck. ( It was not a UPS vehicle, it belonged to another company.) He broke a tail-light on my car which he later made good on.
      This is one of those situations where only OP knows for sure how bad the damage is. These days even a small dent can go into a $1000 or more.
      I think Alison’s advice is spot on. And OP, if you do fire the guy make sure he understands that it is the lie that did him in, not the accident itself- if that is the case.

      1. Chinook*

        “And OP, if you do fire the guy make sure he understands that it is the lie that did him in, not the accident itself- if that is the case.”

        Also, if possible, let it be known to the drivers in general that, as long as they are being careful (i.e. not reckless and stupid), they may not be fired for an accident but lying about it will get them gone every time.

      2. Bea W*

        I can understand it being easy to not notice if you’ve say backed into something or side-swiped a car or the huge death sheet of ice flying off your roof, but the roof hits I’ve seen in action, I can’t imagine scraping under a bridge and not knowing. You’re also going forward with the top of the overpass in your sight. Often times they get stuck and need to be assisted out, and that’s if they’re lucky they weren’t going fast enough to sheer the roof off.

        Here they even hang large black and yellow warning signs that hit you smack in the face if you’re too tall. (Yet sardine canning is a regular occurrence, mostly with UHaul rentals.)

    5. Bea W*

      It’s kind of hard not to notice the roof of your vehicle hitting something. He also reported the damage when he returned the vehicle. That makes it tougher to feign cluelessness. It’s not like it’s that easy to see roof damage on a vehicle that tall. GPS evidence is hard to refute. If there’s only one place in the tracking where this could have occurred, and he was driving the vehicle at the time, he’s pretty much busted. I agree with Alison’s advice to sit him down and lay it all out on the table and see what his response is. He may have been counting on a bluff regarding GPS data, thinking if the company was tracking them with GPS, why mention it now.

      There may actually be a police report in the precinct in which he was driving, depending if they had to come assist him after the accident. Even if he was able to just keep on going, a witness may have reported it.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        Eh, you may not notice the damage depending on the type of vehicle. If there’s a separate (lower) cab, it may be possible to scrape up the trailer roof without noticing.

  1. V*

    Have you tried going to the location where you believe the incident happened? There might be evidence (paint, damage) on the underside of the bridge/structure that you suspect he hit.

  2. Michele*

    I have to admit that I am surprised that your trucks are not inspected or at least get a once over when they come back from a run. Especially with multiple drivers. I know that it would probably be a bit time consuming but it makes sense to me to take 5 or 10 minutes to do a once over to make sure there is no damage.

    1. Joey*

      Exactly. This is one of the reason vehicles with multiple drivers should go through a checklist before they leave and when they return. Check for damage, leaks, oil/fuel levels, gauges, etc.

      It’s really hard to pin down any vehicle problem when drivers can say “it wasn’t me.”

      If you have any doubt about who did it Id take it as a lesson learned and implement a checklist that drivers have to complete at the beginning/end of the day.

  3. Meg Danger*

    Ouch… I feel you on the driver shortage. My company is also having a hard time with staffing. We just can’t train quality drivers fast enough. I like your question about whether there is a way to discipline the driver without discharging him. As long as the damage is superficial enough not to cause serious safety concerns for your company, maybe there is a consequence short of firing (definitely let the employee know he’s been found out, discuss consequences for future dishonesty, maybe some sort of safety probation period(?)).

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      IMO (and, admittedly, I don’t employ drivers or anything similar), I could see something less than firing for the damage, but not for the dishonesty. The truck potentially damaged whatever it ran into, and that could either have legal implications (if the company is liable for damages) or at least business-relationship implications (if it were a customer’s private property, the customer might be rightly angry and stop doing business with the OP’s company over this). Also, if this guy was the one driving, it sounds like he might be hoping someone else gets blamed for it, which is Not Cool At All. This isn’t like a dented bumper where there’s a possibility that some non-employee caused the damage while the truck was parked. One of the employees is responsible.

      If this person is old enough to drive, they should be old enough to know that Don’t Lie is one of the big rules in life.

        1. Mary*

          Exactly my thoughts. You have to expect damage to vans when you have a fleet on the road, but lying about it is the un-acceptable part. Whether this is a straight-to-firing offence is very much down to the culture of your company, and whether you consider the lie a big deal or not. Having GPS tracking is good but is this helpful in this situation?

        2. Joey*

          Sorry- shit doesn’t normally happen when driving a vehicle, especially scraping truck’s roof. Unless you define shit as carelessness. Few accidents are truly non-preventable.

          1. dawnofthenerds*

            We definitely live in different parts of the world. I don’t know anyone living in my neck of the woods who hasn’t hit a deer or hit the ditch at least once. Including a lot of very careful and experienced drivers. Icy roads can turn hitting a teeny tiny ridge into a trip to the ditch. And in the dark, deer are damn hard to see, and they will occasionally quite literally run right out in front of you.

            All of these things mean that the normal and appropriate variation in reflexes and attention span can easily result in an accident, given some bad luck.

            1. Chinook*

              Dawnofthenerds, I am with you. I too live in a place with suicidal deer and moose plus road conditions that can mean no amount of fast reflexes can save someone from an accident if someone else does something stupid. Heck, I have been rear ended while I was stopped for construction. But, those type damages are very noticeable.

              1. dawnofthenerds*

                Heh. Your user name is awesomely appropriate :D

                Didn’t mean to suggest that this particular accident was a normal and unpreventable one. Just got peeved at the suggestion that accidents are rarely accidents. Especially because I hit the ditch two days ago, not three hours after bragging about how I’d never hit the ditch. My ego is still smarting over that one XD

  4. Mister Pickle*

    It occurs to me to wonder why the driver would lie about it? Would the company fire him or discipline him somehow? Also: if there are legal complications (ie the hit and run aspect), is the driver perhaps on parole or something? If he was lying because he didn’t want to go back to prison … not saying that’s good, but it’s a reason I can at least understand.

    1. LBK*

      That’s a valid point…presumably there are protocols and insurance and such in place to deal with accidents. I would assume it’s part of the cost of doing business when your business involves drivers.

    2. Adam V*

      True – you should probably be clear about consequences both ways. He may think if he’s going to be fired either way, better to pretend it wasn’t him and hope you can’t prove otherwise, whereas if he admits it was him he’s gone immediately.

    3. Anna*

      By “hit and run” I don’t think it means anything more than public property, probably a bridge or something. I work near a bridge that gets a lot of damage from semis who don’t know they shouldn’t go that way. Most of them stop to figure out what happened and to tell someone. The company has to pay for any repair work to the bridge. Sometimes though a driver will take off and not report it, leaving the bridge damaged and now potentially unsafe. People who witness that will always call it in and the sheriffs department contacts the company and the company has to pay a fine AND for repairs. It’s not prison-worthy, though, even if you are a parolee or on probation.

      1. Mister Pickle*

        That may be true. But from the viewpoint of someone who is on parole, who doesn’t want to go back to prison – they may not have a firm grasp of the rules and / or they may feel the need to avoid anything that might risk their return to the barry place. There may be other issues (such as drug testing, as Ryno’s Wife suggested) involved.

        I’ve never been on parole, but my understanding is that parolee’s are hyper-sensitive to the fact that their life is in the hands of their parole officer. Which is not a good place to be.

        1. Hillary*

          If this is a cdl job, it’s doubtful someone on parole could be hired in the first place. The expectations and background checks and requirements are extreme. A DUI will disqualify you, as will a failed drug screen. Some kinds of criminal convictions will also disqualify a driver because the company is handing a driver a $150k piece of capital equipment plus however much the cargo is worth. Even if the employer might take a chance, the insurance company won’t.

          1. Natalie*

            True, but there are tons of jobs that involve driving work trucks but don’t require a CDL. Any GC, electrician, plumber, maintenance person, etc who drives a company truck probably does so on a regular license.

        1. JB*

          I’m assuming that’s a joke? She didn’t get in trouble because she got into a car accident. It was the circumstances around the accident.

          1. Mister Pickle*

            No. (Among other things) she was charged with Reckless Driving after she crashed her car, and the authorities revoked her probation.

            1. Wasted Donuts*

              It’s the reckless driving that led to the accident that’s the problem here, not just having an accident. Not everyone who gets into an accident is driving recklessly.

            2. JB*

              Like Wasted Donuts said, it was the reckless driving. Getting into an accident that you in no way caused is not grounds for revoking probation.

        2. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

          Lindsay Lohan’s probation was revoked because she lied to police about who was driving the car, not because she crashed it.

    4. Lynn Whitehat*

      He probably figures he’ll be fired if he confesses, or the manager can prove he did it. Lots of jobs are like that. And lots of people were raised that way. Believe me, it’s hard to overcome if your only chance of NOT getting smacked around for making a mistake was to hide the damage and hope no one figured out it was you.

  5. Cat*

    Without knowing more, it sounds hard for that evidence to be definitive unless the truck had gone very few places all within an area you’re intimately familiar.

    1. Jade*


      Reading it, it seemed to me there were a whole lot of assumptions/jumping to conclusions for someone who might well be the person who noticed and reported it while someone who had it out earlier is dodging responsibility.

      1. Cat*

        Yeah, he might well have done it, but I do feel like some of the behavioral things are also things innocent people would do.

  6. Brett*

    As someone who handles GPS investigation of traffic incidents in my job, you need to go to the site like V suggested above and make sure there is additional evidence of what happened.

    Most vehicle GPS is accurate to 10m at best, and far less than that if you have overheard structures (overpasses, tall buildings, etc). Navigational GPS units rely on compass direction and dead reckoning to fill in the gaps when they do not have sufficient satellite visibility, but when you look at a log this is not reflected.

    That means it is entirely possible that either the GPS information is showing you incorrect tracking information at the location you think is the incident, or that there are gaps in the GPS log where the incident actually occurred.
    (Also, be aware that GPS information is normally shifted to UTC. That means that you might be reading the incorrect time stamps off the GPS. I figured you have made sure that the time stamps are correct, but reading the wrong time zone is a common error when viewing logs.)

  7. Ryno's Wife*

    He’s avoiding culpability because he doesn’t want to be drug tested. Almost all companies require a drug test immediately after a workplace accident.

    1. Anna*

      That’s a huge assumption to make and even if it were the case, they only do urinalysis for those and by the time the manager sent the email out it might not have shown up.

    2. Celeste*

      My understanding is that any company which tests can test at any time for any reason. Since nobody fessed up, you would be within your rights to test everyone. If the one in question is positive, then you can let him go for that as cause.

      1. Wasted Donuts*

        But then you risk other employees also testing positive and being forced to let go of multiple employees.

        1. Celeste*

          It seems like if you test, you would want to know. Unless they are under some state or federal mandate to terminate over a positive, it’s at their discretion.

          1. Wasted Donuts*

            I suppose it depends on how you look at it. Some employers might not actually care whether their employees use drugs privately. While these are drivers and I could see an employer being strict about it under these circumstances, I don’t generally agree with drug testing. I don’t think it indicates much and an employee who uses at home isn’t necessarily using it and then driving. If they were testing at work before operating heavy machinery or doing something dangerous, then I’d be OK with it.

            1. Celeste*

              All good points. Also, you don’t have to be impaired to have bad judgment, inattention, or plain stupidity when driving.

              1. Wasted Donuts*

                I’m not at all surprised by that. And I understand it more for jobs where peoples lives are at risk. I don’t dispute that it’s a law. I just don’t generally agree with drug testing or how its done and I think in most cases its rarely indicative of an employee who is abusing drugs on the job. As far as I’m concerned it’s similar to alcohol. A driver, doctor, pilot, police officer, etc. can all get wasted when not on duty. If they are using alcohol when on the job that is where the problem is.

        2. Tinker*

          Not to mention alienating other employees who genuinely weren’t involved — if that’s a concern in this workplace.

      2. Natalie*

        Depends on what state you are in. Some states forbid post-employment drug testing except under specific circumstances.

    3. Poe*

      I used to work at a steel mill and after any on-site accident, everyone who was on shift at the time in any section got drug tested. When there was a near-miss, everyone in the affected section was tested. The policy was a real pain in the ass, but after a train-related near-miss they found that 9 of 11 guys working the trains that day had high alcohol and other drugs, which was hella scary. We had one serious train derailment while I was there and a lot of people in other sections were fired when the post-incident sweep caught them. I disagree with drug testing in a lot of jobs, but when there has been an accident, the people involved should be tested, especially when it involves a shit-ton of fast-moving metal and the safety of those around them.

  8. James M*

    Wow! I wonder if the GPS device on the truck includes an accelerometer, since that data is the ‘smoking gun’ for vehicle impacts.

    If you do a little more digging and determine whether the truck has been under any other low clearance spots during the time window, you could find the possibility of another culprit. Or, more likely, you will have exhausted that possibility and found the definitive evidence you’re looking for.

  9. soitgoes*

    He might have noticed the damage in the process of doing his job – as in, it was like that when he started his shift – and he’s worried about being blamed for it. The OP didn’t notice the damage until this driver pointed it out. IMO the damage could have been there for a decent amount of time.

    1. Bea W*

      That begs the question though if he noticed it at the beginning of his shift, why wait until he came back to report it? Reporting it as soon as he noticed it could help exonerate him, particularly if it was before he started driving or early into his shift when it would be easier to prove where he’d been between leaving the lot and the report.

      1. Kyrielle*

        But what if he was driving around to a bunch of places, and halfway through his shift he noticed it? What if the company won’t pay overtime and expects you to get everything done in time? If the damage isn’t dangerous – if it’s safe to drive – you might err on the side of finishing your assigned tasks/route, and then inform.

      2. soitgoes*

        To me, it’s relevant that no one noticed the damage until this one employee pointed it out. It might be in a place that a lot of people can’t see easily, or it might not have become apparent until the employee started driving. I’ve been in that position before – you’re the first person to notice an ongoing mistake that other people have been making for a long time, but suddenly you’re on the hook for it.

  10. Anonsie*

    Well it looks like my comment evaporated, so if this is a duplicate from above then disregard!

    But if it wasn’t him, I still think the nervous behavior makes sense. I would be extremely nervous. He’s afraid of being blamed for it since he was the last person to drive the vehicle. He knows he’ll be a suspect, and he probably thinks you’ll clear him with the GPS logs. BUT he’s also got some paranoia that maybe it was his fault and he just doesn’t know it, or even that he’ll be scapegoated and blamed even if there’s no evidence. So even though he’s pretty sure it wasn’t him, he’s still going to be nervous until a conclusion is reached.

    Alternately, he did scrape it on a parking garage or something and he’s playing a really weird game here, as the LW suspects. But like Brett says above, your evidence here may not be as solid as it sounds.

        1. Wasted Donuts*

          Just happened to me twice. Hit submit and the page reloaded and my comment never went through. One time to say just this!

        2. Wasted Donuts*

          It’s still happening. I just tried to post a few things. Hit submit and the page reloaded and my comment never posted. Happened 3 times.

  11. Celeste*

    I would change the log procedure first, to prevent more of the same. I would check out the scene where you think it happened. If by any chance there is a camera there, see if you can get info. Probably there is not, and odds are you won’t find something significant (like paint or one of your hubcaps, etc.).

    Without something definitive, I would keep him and go forward with a repaired vehicle and new procedures. But I’d have my eye on him and would not let him have three strikes.

  12. Anono-Molly*

    OP please, PLEASE do something about this and try to find out more. In my area there have been multiple hit and run accidents resulting in pedestrian deaths in the past few months and three of them were caused by commercial vehicles. Usually the reports say there is no way the vehicle didn’t have damage to it and I’ve wondered what the business owners are thinking when their vehicles are returned with damage and they don’t call the police. I know this is roof damage but you mentioned not knowing if it could be a hit and run which made me think of this. This is not something you should overlook.

    1. Anono-Molly*

      To clarify, its the dishonesty here that worries me. If the employee would lie about hitting an object what would they do if they hit a person? I know two totally different things and someone might do one but not the other due to the seriousness. But it sends up a red flag to me.

  13. Wasted Donuts*

    I’m curious, how do you pinpoint where you think an accident was based on the GPS? What identifiers are included in that information?

    1. Episkey*

      Thinking that since the truck had roof damage on it, the GPS logs showed a location where the OP knows there is a low clearance that the truck shouldn’t have been driven under.

      1. Wasted Donuts*

        That makes sense. Though I honestly can’t imagine being able to remember that just by looking on the GPS map. I guess it depends on where you live. Where I am there are so many roads and its very high population. Lived here all my life and there are still some local roads I have never been on and still need my GPS to get to places even just 10 minutes away from me and there’s usually 50 different ways to go anywhere. However, I could see recognizing something if the drivers follow particular routes or something like that.

        1. PizzaSquared*

          If you’ve driven a tall vehicle through areas with low clearance issues, you’re likely to remember where those low clearances are.

        2. Bea W*

          It depends. I am one of those weird people who sees a map in her head. The only time I need to pull out the GPS is when I’m in a totally new area and I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere and know it. I use it maybe once or twice a year. I can also tell you all 50 different ways to get someplace. My normal mode is navigating without GPS and using couple lines of directions like “L on Main, second R on Teapot Rd, blue house on the left”.

          I actually really don’t like using the GPS because it does not show me a wide enough area. It’s too much of a disembodied street with no meaningful data for me to use. I feel like I am blindly following something that may or may not be taking me in the right direction.

          1. Wasted Donuts*

            Yeah. Some people definitely have skills for that kind of thing. I am terrible with directions and get my lefts and rights wrong, so I often need a GPS. Living in the same heavily populated area for 35+ years, there are a lot of places I still have never been and yet I typically have an idea of where most stuff is. Even then, I can see the general vicinity in my mind but there are so many stores, streets, overpasses and bridges that I usually need a GPS to pinpoint the location or I’m driving back and forth in a 2 block radius. But thats probably worse than a lot of people since I am simply not good with directions.

          2. Melissa*

            That’s one of the reasons I dislike GPS, too. I do have spatial issues – it takes me a long time to map out a place – but I hate only seeing one concentrated area without seeing how all the streets connect and, more importantly, if I make a wrong turn how I can get back where I need to be. GPS navigation directions will tell me to do weird stuff like turn on a dime or pop a U-turn in the middle of the street.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Episkey, you are making me think. OP, is there a person in charge of routing at your work place? If yes, this person needs to be drawn into the conversation.

    2. Jeff A*

      I used to review/occasionally monitor GPS information on trucks in our catering and rental fleet. One of the ways you do this is by replaying the driver’s route, and watching for any extended periods of being stopped or idling. My guess is there’s probably a period of the truck being stopped that corresponds to a location where there’s a low bridge, during the suspected employee’s use of the truck.

  14. Allison*

    OP, are you in Boston by any chance? There’s a road going into the city, along the river, where trucks get stuck under bridges all the time. Kind of annoying when it backs up traffic, especially considering how much signage we have warning drivers not do to it, but they do it. I can almost give Uhaul renters a pass, but professionals should know better.

    Then again, if it happened in Boston it would’ve been all over local news, kinda hard to hide from an employer.

    1. Another IT manager*

      I was thinking of the same bridge! Can’t quite see it from my office, but you can see the rush hour traffic backing up at the end of the day.

    2. HR Manager*

      Lol I was thinking of this place too. Every year students moving in get their darn U-Hauls or rented trucks stuck here because they didn’t bother to read the clearance sign (or didn’t believe it). It’s such a notorious spot for this, that it is indeed hard to avoid the ‘hall of shame’ news report that inevitably follows such an accident.

      1. fposte*

        We have one of those in our town, too. I’ve seen the clearance measurement on it get lower over the years in an attempt to stave off incidents, which has helped but isn’t perfect.

        And if that’s what we’re talking about, that’s not the kind of incident a driver experiences without knowing about it.

      2. Bea W*

        Yup, this is the road I was referring to, the one with the giant signs that smack you in the face before you wedge yourself under one of the bridges.

        1. Bea W*

          They don’t all necessarily make the news, because it is so common. If it’s not so much of a gawker blocker, it may go unsensationalized, although you may well find it on someplace like UniversalHub or Twitter or a traffic report at the time.

    3. Jeff A*

      Haha, one of the trucks from the catering company I previously managed got stuck there one day on the way to the hatch shell. Oops. Sorry!

    4. Not So NewReader*

      I have always heard those signs are a little pessimistic. For example, if the clearance is actually 14 feet, the sign will say 13.5 feet simply because people don’t believe the sign. Is this just an urban myth?

      1. Hillary*

        Flatbed drivers have told me it’s the opposite – they don’t update the signs when they repave. One of them swore up and down that a major tunnel in our city is three inches shorter than the sign. He was measuring the load we’d just finished at the time.

  15. Jill*

    Aside from tightening up policy and maybe clarifying the consequences of poor driving for all of your drivers in general, OP, you’re still left with what to do about this specific incident.

    Aside from GPS, I would gather any other evidence that you can and call the employee in. I would say, in a neutral tone, “Regarding that truck damage from (date), we have GPS evidence, as well as This evidence and That evidence, that all indicate that you were the driver at the time. ” Pause. “What can you tell me about that?” Then don’t say anything.

    If he’s guilty, changes are he will immediately get hostile or jump into being overly defensive, or start pointing fingers at others who “do it too” or other behavior that shows guilt. If he is genuinely clueless or genuinely innocent his body language should show that too. And you can make your discipline decision from there. But I do agree that it’s unfair to fire him without confronting him and letting him explain.

    1. OhNo*

      Depending on what kind of evidence they have (if GPS is as unreliable as was claimed above, which I don’t know), you could use this language and change the wording to “… that all suggest that you were the driver at the time.”

      Either way, you can pay very close attention to his reaction. If he ever utters the words “you can’t prove it”, be very wary. If he apologizes, or otherwise acknowledges his error and offers a reasonable explanation, then depending on your interpretation, maybe you can put him on probation or something rather than fire him.

      1. KJR*

        I like this approach. We had an employee who, many years ago (at least 15), did something quite dishonest. The owner decided to accept his apology, and to give him another chance. He’s been a great employee since then, so it’s possible. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this in every case though.

    2. Anonsie*

      I’m iffy about this. If I was this guy and I really didn’t do it and I was told my employer had decided I was at fault, I’d definitely be defensive and I’d be working to keep from being hostile, while I’m guessing would be noticed.

      Not everyone has uniform reactions to things, so I don’t think it’s a really great way to judge the truth. Not to mention I think panicking when you think you’re about to be fired for something you really didn’t do is pretty normal.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        Me too. I’d be worried it was a situation where they had their mind made up that I was at fault even if I hadn’t done it. My reaction could be defensive also.

    3. Joey*

      firing someone based on what could possibly be a nervous reaction to an accusation is a pretty ballsy thing to do. Lots of people freak out when they’re put on the spot. Does it make it more likely he did it? Probably. But would you be comfortable firing somebody when all you have is a suspect reaction? I wouldn’t.

  16. Jill*

    I also wanted to add, food for thought for OP, does your company have a culture where employees feel safe discussing issues, concerns, and mistakes that come up while driving? Or is fear of getting fired/punished so much a part of the culture that employees are afraid to be honest when there’s a problem or a concern? Just food for thought.

    1. OhNo*

      Interesting that you should mention this. I think, depending on the type of vehicle and what kind of driving they are doing, there may not be a way to make people feel “safe” discussing mistakes that come up while driving – because those mistakes are, and should be, a firing offense 100% of the time.

      Just to share a little story related to this: I’m disabled, use a wheelchair, and I take a paratransit service in my city. A few weeks ago, a driver decided to do something very unsafe, against my advice and against my instructions, and ended up dumping me out of my wheelchair straight onto cement. He was so terrified of being fired that it was all he could talk about – how he hoped nobody checks the cameras, how he hoped nobody reported it, how if I called in he would definitely get fired and then how would he survive (so, trying to guilt me into not calling in). He didn’t ask if I was okay, he didn’t even offer to help me get back up into my chair until I prompted him. The next day I called the company and reported him, and they mentioned that the driver never said anything, and if I hadn’t called in it would have gone unnoticed.

      I bring this up to illustrate my point. Even if the company was a “safe” environment, this would still be a firing offense. If I was like most of the service’s clients (older, fragile, don’t know how to fall safely), I could have been seriously injured. Would he have behaved differently at the scene? Would he have reported the incident himself? Very unlikely, since even in a “safe” reporting environment, you would know that this is a fire-able offense.

      In the context of the OP’s company, it’s possible that hitting a bridge or something and causing “significant” damage to the vehicle would always be a firing offense, safe reporting environment or no. That’s not something you can change, because you don’t want to be the kind of company that continues to employ potentially unsafe drivers, or drivers who rack up huge repair bills, under the guise of making your employees feel “safe” reporting incidents or accidents.

      1. Wasted Donuts*

        That guy is probably pissed that you called and blaming the repercussions he experienced on you rather than his own error in judgement, too. Sorry that happened to you. The fact that he tried to guilt you into not reporting it is also reprehensible.

    2. Joey*

      Feel safe discussing accidents? Sorry that’s not an excuse for lying about an eff up. Be an adult and own up to it. If you have integrity you will absolutely report it even if you know it will result in being fired.

  17. JMegan*

    The question of repair to the structure is bugging me too. If there is “significant” damage to the truck, there’s probably a certain amount of damage to whatever it hit as well. And if that damaged object is over a road – which I think it’s safe to assume it is – there’s a safety hazard there as well. Could be something as small as a sign, or as big as a bridge, but either way it’s something that needs to be reported to somebody.

    I hate to think that the employee’s idea of denying responsibility to you, might lead to somebody else getting hurt on the road because nobody identified the hazard in time to fix it.

    1. JMegan*

      Slightly off-topic, but I can’t help thinking of this:


      This was just this past August. A dump truck driver tried to go under an overpass with the bed of his truck raised, and caused *really* significant damage to the structure. Things like this are a big deal. And whether it was the employee you’re thinking of or not, somebody damaged that truck and didn’t tell you about it. If they’re willing to deny responsibility for something relatively small, how do you get them to take responsibility for something big?

    2. Wasted Donuts*

      I think bridges are generally designed to withstand this kind of accident because it’s expected that it will happen and there will be people who don’t report it. I agree that reporting it would be the right thing to do but I doubt a bridge is going to fall down because a truck didn’t clear it. Unless it was a really big truck that caused very significant damage, and that would have been noticed, likely at the time of the accident. I doubt the vehicle here would have been able to drive away so easily from something like that and would have been worse off than the bridge. I also think most other noticeable hazards (like a broken sign) will be reported by a lot of people who see it because it’s a safety issue. Even just cops driving by.

      1. Celeste*

        Exactly. The vehicle always gets the worst of it. I’m kind of amazed that the truck went all the way through. I’ve seen a lot of times where a tow truck has to remove the stuck truck.

        1. Wasted Donuts*

          I wonder if it could be something like going through a drive through or a parking garage where the clearance marker caused the damage.

        2. Bea W*

          I watched a full on 18 wheeler semi slow scrape its way out from under a low bridge. I was sure the guy was stuck but he managed to find a way to get unstuck and out the other side. He’d actually cleared most of the overpass before reachibg a slight incline in the road that wedged the top of his truck against the underside of the bridge. So he didn’t have far to go once he could get the truck free. The noise was horrible though. The scrape damage was probably pretty spectacular.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Yes, bridges are able to withstand some stuff, but our infrastructure is aging, all over the country. Remember bridge mania? Bridges were collapsing and people were getting killed. And how many hits can a bridge take before it becomes too many hits? I bet no one keeps track. “Yeah, we have had 13 tractor trailers hit that column in the last 15 years, time to replace that column.”

        1. Wasted Donuts*

          That is awful. It does look like there were some design issues with that bridge since it was so old. You’re right though, this is something to pay attention for, particularly with older construction.

      3. Sigrid*

        A pedestrian overpass across a nearby freeway was brought down by a utility truck that hadn’t lowered its boom just last month. The driver died on the sceen, but fortunately it was early in the morning no one else was hurt. If that had happened at rush hour, multiple people probably would have died.

    3. Interviewer*

      My thought too – OP, if you’re going as far as checking GPS logs to pinpoint when and where damage could have occurred, have you visited that location to see if it’s been damaged? Not sure how long ago this took place, but consider that if the structure was damaged, there could be surveillance video nearby that caught the entire thing, and someone could be looking up info on that company vehicle in order to contact you about a claim for damages. So your employee’s future employment status may not be the end of this incident.

      My husband drove a company car for several years. If he caused an accident, he was required to pay the deductible to fix the car. Perhaps your driver is concerned about being found at fault for the same reason – that he’ll have to pay to fix it.

      The company’s insurance carrier also did routine checks on driver histories, and looked for wrecks, tickets, etc. Too many of those and it could jeopardize employment.

      You’ve done some sleuthing but it’s not conclusive, and to me it appears you are operating on “he who smelt it dealt it” logic, assuming because of the “casual” interest in this accident that he has some guilt. Maybe, maybe not. If you confront him, you’ll likely get the same innocent story. So figure out how this never happens again. Since your vehicles have multiple drivers, you could require routine inspections of company vehicles – similar to the check you do on a rental vehicle before you drive away, and when you return.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I totally agree, that if OP is able to narrow it down to a particular place then driving there is an excellent idea. Especially, if it is reasonably close by.

        1. Anna*

          I keep seeing recommendation to “investigate” by driving to the site. There’s actually NO way of knowing that any damage to a site was caused by the truck or another vehicle unless it’s a brand-spanking new structure and that truck was the very first one to drive under it. If that truck was damaged on an overpass or bridge, chances are REALLY good that others have been too. Seeing damage on the structure is only proof that vehicles get damaged on the structure, nothing else. The OP is better off talking to the employee about the indications from the GPS tracking.

          1. Fucshia*

            Right. But if there is zero damage to a structure that should have some if it was hit, then the OP’s hypothesis about the situation is incorrect.

      2. Jenna*

        Routine inspections are good. An extra set of eyes when the vehicle comes and goes might solve a lot. Something else that might work for major damage or roof scrapes if you have the right proprty to make it work well, is a video camera on the entrance and exit. It needs to record enough to capture the damage or lack of damage as the vehicles come and go, but, doubles as security for the building. It won’t work for every situation, but, it might clear up a timeline to a degree.

    4. Chinook*

      As soemone who has taken off the side of a camper van, I can attest to there being building items out there meant to take the impact without being damaged beyond scraped paint. Often overhangs have a metal bar a few inches below that cause enough damage to a vehicle for the driver to be aware that tehya re about to get stuck.

  18. LCL*

    You can’t quite prove this without more info. I was asked once to help the boss nail whoever the driver was when one of our trucks was found to be heavily damaged on the undercarriage. Reviewing the records showed that everyone in the unit had driven that truck in that time period. So nothing happened.

    You should put a sticker on the dash stating clearance, if you haven’t already. An overheight struck struck a bridge truss and caused the bridge to fall down

    1. SerfinUSA*

      Too funny! I just posted a link to that under your comment (awaiting moderation).
      This was a huge mess for a long time.

    1. Chinook*

      “Canadian truck driver ignored the clearance warning, checked a bridge support, and the a span came down, with other vehicles on it.”

      Ignored it or thought the clearanance info was in meters instead of feet? The reverse happens up here when Americans think the speed limits are posted in miles instead of kilometres (and our highway limits are 110)

      1. KerryOwl*

        He didn’t ignore anything. From that Wikipedia article: The truck had been led over the bridge by a pilot escort vehicle.[22][23] A spokesman for the Washington State Department of Transportation said there are no warning signs leading up to the bridge regarding its clearance height.[24] In Washington, only overcrossings of less than 14 feet (4.3 m) (the normal legal height limit) are required to have advance postings of height restrictions.[25]

        The truck was supposed to ride through in the inner lane, which has a higher clearance than the outer.

        1. Anna*

          I’m in Oregon, so we heard a lot about this. The pilot led the truck to the outside lane, I believe ignoring the guide things she had on the pickup she was driving indicating it would be too low. (Agreeing with Wikipedia article.)

  19. Lisa*

    In my state the employee is responsible for incurring a moving violation for being on a road that is forbidden by law for vehicles over a certain height / weight, the company is responsible for any damage done to bridges, overhead walkways, etc. that occurs when their company-owned vehicles hit something owned by the city / state. We had a driver hit a curved bridge and it peeled back the roof on the truch, we had to pay for the inspector (state sent us a bill) and if there was damage then we were on the line to pay for that damage. There wasn’t any damage, thank god!

    Every time I hired a driver, I made them sign something stating that they know if they are stopped by a cop for driving on certain roads that its a $1000 fine and the fine is their responsibility. The fine is a moving violation to the driver; therefore, the company won’t pay it on their behalf and its an instant fireable offense. It wasn’t a fireable offense depending on the driver though, but it kept new drivers in check to make sure they didn’t take 53 ft trucks on bridges that could collapse due to the weight of it.

  20. Ozymandias*

    These trucks need to be monitored more carefully! One wrong move and it’s over baby. Drivers hold lives in their hands, and who knows what is next. This is not an issue worth getting offended about though, to be sure.

  21. Snarkus Ariellius*

    I get where you’re coming from, OP, but you’re making me uncomfortable with your assumptions.  Sure this guy could have done it.  But how many other people could have done it too?  Sure he’s acting nervous.  But that’s because he thinks he’ll probably be the prime suspect because he was the last to drive it.  (And he’s right.)

    Unless you have definitive proof that he’s done it, there’s nothing you can do.  I do recommend presenting the evidence to him and asking directly what happened.

    I’d tread carefully too.  I, too, was accused of something I didn’t do.  I even had evidence proving that I was literally on the other side of the world at the time this incident supposedly took place.  While I did not get fired for it (probably because my boss knew I would have pursued it to the ends of the earth with my boarding passes in hand), I do tell this story when my former employer’s name comes into conversation.  I’m not shy about it.

    If you’re going to have disgruntled employees, at least make sure your butt is completely covered.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, I might be worried, too, if I were that employee. I have seen too many people unjustly accused and fired. They took the firing without objecting because they want to get away from the employer. Some people feel that they know they did not do this or that, and seeing an employer manipulate the situation in to a fire-able accusation is enough to make them realize just how toxic the employer is.
      This is a situation where a person’s upbringing and previous employment experience is going to heavily influence the individual.

      1. Anonsie*

        Yep. This is what I was saying above– especially considering this is blue collar work. That type of environment is the entire reason I moved to white collar office work. If I was this guy and I really had no idea what happened, I would point it out and then quietly lose my mind about how I’m going to get blamed for it and get fired until I heard otherwise.

  22. Kyrielle*

    Speaking of surveillance cameras, are there any at your company that might catch this truck departing/returning from a useful angle? I’m guessing not – but sometimes when we’re stressed we don’t think of things – so I’ll ask. Because if there are, you can see if they caught the truck departing at the beginning of his shift, and if so, check for the damage.

  23. Hillary*

    I jumped straight to assuming the gps was a full onboard recorder, probably because that’s part of my work. If that were the case, the accelerometer logs might have some info. There are also some nifty camera solutions these days that record 20 seconds on either side of g-force events. Our drivers currently hate them, but that will likely change as soon as a camera proves one of our guys wasn’t at fault in an accident.

    OP, it sounds like you may have an opportunity to develop a driver safety program. Pretrips should be a part of every start, particularly on shared vehicles. A transparent point system (like some states use on drivers licenses) can also make reporting more likely because a driver knows they won’t be fired over a minor accident.

  24. LV Ladybug*

    Why not have a vehicle check list before each driver takes out a vehicle. It would just document any damange discovered, etc. that way in the future if something is reported, you have the logs to go back to. It will also hold the drivers more accountable.

    1. Wrench Turner*

      In an ideal world that’s what you have. A check for scratches, dents, lights, safety gear, mileage out – and the same when you get in would be super. BUT that takes time and organization. The driver (that’s me) has to have time to do that. My boss has to make time to let me. HIS boss needs to give him realistic expectations of what can be done so he can give me time to do that, etc.

      At the very least I would love a GPS on my truck – so when management fusses at me for taking too long to get from A to B, I can say “Look, traffic really IS that bad. Check my GPS!”

  25. Wrench Turner*

    My 3rd week in a new job driving a high-clearance vehicle and I did just that – crunched the ladder rack on an unmarked section of a congested Home Depot garage. Thank gods I was going slow, and the rack was the only damage. Once I cleared traffic the very first thing I did was call my boss and report the damage.

    It was totally my fault but I’m not sure how it could have gone differently – the high-clearance section of the garage was full but you wouldn’t see that until you were actually in it, and traffic funneled you to shorter sections. The section I went in was unmarked – but I only saw afterward that the markers had been knocked off and not replaced. I explained all that to the boss while on the roof securing the ladders, and while we were talking 3 other random trucks all hit the ceiling in different places so I didn’t feel quite so bad.

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