Far too often favoritism runs rampant in a small business and most of it is unintentional. Most owners and managers try their best to be fair. Yet, in almost every team of good employees there is always one who takes advantage. Pushing the limits, testing the rules, squeezing through every loophole in what seems to be a very satisfactory operating system.

To the employee who arrives early everyday and always puts in his best effort, it looks like favoritism when other employees are allowed to constantly come in late or do not put in the hard work that others do. How long does it take for that guy to go to the bathroom? He is always in there for 20 minutes, right?


The old saying goes, “Rules are meant to be broken,” but it’s hard to enforce rules if there aren’t any. Your standards, your rules, your guidelines, your “Do’s & Do Not’s” should not be word of mouth but written in a handbook as policy.

How do you develop a list of rules? The answer is easy. What have your former employees done that got them fired? What are some of your present employees doing now that you wish they would not? Start developing your rules and guidelines handbook by watching the behaviors of your staff. Include safety violations as well.
Make your
expectations official
and develop
a written rulebook.

If one of your team members keeps coming in right at opening time and never gets in early to help set up and open, then make that a written rule. If you keep telling the crew to stay off the cell phones while working, but they don’t seem to listen, make it a written rule. In the military we used to say, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Sometimes rules are taken more seriously and better followed when the employees see them in writing.

Once you have your list of rules, regulations, and guidelines, print these out for every employee and have them sign a sheet that confirms they did receive and read these rules, and understand that failing to comply with these rules as written above could result in disciplinary actions which could include suspension or termination.


Now how do we enforce the new company rulebook? Make sure every employee has a file folder. This is where you keep the printed form containing the rules they signed. I like to follow the three-strike process. The first violation is “free;” it’s verbal. I advise the employee and remind him of the rule, then explain what he did wrong and warn him the next time, we’ll write him up and it goes in his file. Document in his file the time and date of the verbal warning.

Strike two, the employee gets written up. Sit the employee down and conduct a private session where you explain the violation and put the incident in writing. Ask the employee to sign the document and explain that the next time this occurs, he could be terminated.

Strike three: the employee breaks the rule again for the third time and you need to terminate him. Have a termination form prepared and write out and date the violation and try to get the employee to sign. Though most will refuse, it’s worth the attempt as having their signature helps in case, down the road, there is ever a complaint or suit filed against you for unlawful termination. Remember, you do not need to terminate the employee the minute you see him violate the rule, unless it is something so severe that it requires you to do so. Maybe have a few top rules that would result in immediate termination such as theft or assault of a customer or another employee. There is no time limit; you can conduct 30-day reviews and let the employee know since their last review you have seen them break the rule and this was the third time, so it’s strike three and they are being terminated. I never fire an employee as a reaction. Try to operate in accordance with policy and not emotion.


In addition to accountability purposes, the signed rules form is useful for another important reason. Let’s say you do have to terminate an employee for breaking the rules.

The employee then files for unemployment benefits. In most states, a person who gets terminated for violation of policies, rules, or regulations will not qualify for unemployment benefits.

When the unemployment office calls you and asks why you terminated the employee, you can say that the employee failed to obey company rules and policy and you have a document which they read and signed saying they understand and would follow these rules. You will then also have another form, (strike two) where you warned them in writing that if they broke this rule again they would be terminated.

New employees should be under a stricter policy — perhaps have a 30-day probation period where if the employee breaks any rule the first time they can be terminated within the first 30 days of employment. How many days are they allowed to be late? How many days can they call in sick? Are they conforming to your dress code? Make sure to include all of this in your new rulebook.

Money talks, they say, so you could develop a program where if an employee gets zero write-ups in a one-year period they get a $50 bonus.


Terminating an employee is never fun and should not be the end goal for any owner or manager. But as many know, one bad apple can spoil the whole basket. So can one employee with bad behaviors spoil the productivity and level of professionalism of a really good car wash team. If you develop a clear and concise operating system with very direct and fair rules, regulations, guidelines, and policies that apply to every employee — not just the ones who choose to follow them — this will bring your entire operation to a whole new level.

With written rules there is no question, there is no, “I didn’t know” or “I thought it was okay,” or this fan favorite: “Nobody ever told me.” Once the rules have been written down, read, and signed by the employees, you will find that employees start policing these rules themselves as well. You will start to see the employees who follow the rules start to complain more when they see other employees taking advantage. They have leverage now; it’s on paper; it’s official. So make your expectations official and develop a written rulebook for your car wash soon.

Chuck Lundberg, a 25-year car wash industry professional, is presently general manager of Clean & Green Car Wash of Marlborough, MA and owner of Independent Car Wash Consultants of NH. Chuck has served on the board of directors of the New England Carwash Association. You can contact Chuck via e-mail at clundberg99@gmail.com.