An email telling an employee that he needs to drive a nicer car is circulating rapidly around the internet, and it's as horrifying as you'd imagine. It's also legal.

As a general rule, unless something is specifically prohibited by law, it's allowable. But legal doesn't always equal a good idea. 

There are some professions where it makes sense for your employees to have nice cars. If you're driving clients around, it would be nice if it wasn't in a 1984-era hatchback with no air conditioning and seats held together with duct tape.

According to this tweet, the employee in question isn't driving people around, so it shouldn't matter. If he were a real estate agent, it would.

But it's legal to tell an employee to drive a better car. Stupid, in this case, but legal. But there's another part that concerns me: the focus on the credit report.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) governs how you can use credit reports in hiring. While they specifically say they aren't going back and using the hiring credit report, they do reference it for saying that he should have good credit, they know his current salary, and, therefore, he should have a good car.

Credit scores aren't constant, and different groups tend to have different scores. Employment attorney Jon Hyman says,

I'd have serious concerns about disparate impact on minority employees. If you're using "what a car looks like" as a proxy for credit in hiring or firing decisions, then the same rules apply. I also think what car I drive is none of my employer's business. For the record, I drive a Subaru SUV and love it.

If they are saying, "Gee, if Steve doesn't have a nice car, then he must have bad credit; therefore, he's a risk, and if he is a risk, we must fire him," that's a problem.

Plus, let's remember that cars don't appreciate in value. They aren't a good investment. They are tools to get you where you need to go. Employment attorney and HR consultant Kate Bischoff agrees that requiring a nice car is legal but "stupid. If you want them to have a nice car, provide one. And, just because you know a salary doesn't mean you know a financial situation."

Lots of people have nice cars and terrible finances, and lots of people have great finances and old cars. In fact, not replacing your cars frequently can undoubtedly help with your finances. 

I haven't owned a car in 10 years because I live in the city and use public transportation, or rent when necessary. But my last car had 269,000 miles on it (I had an hour commute each way, for nine years), and if I ever buy another car, I'll drive it into the ground again.

So, while requiring a nice car is legal, using it as a proxy for financial health is sketchy, and the whole thing is just dumb. If it's important to your company for employees to drive new cars, provide them. 

Published on: Jan 22, 2020
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