When a remote employee quits without notice or is fired, the difficult job of retrieving the worker’s laptop and other company equipment often falls to the HR team.
HR professionals might be tempted to withhold the employee’s last paycheck until the company property is returned, but state laws forbid this. Some state wage-deduction laws also prohibit HR from pulling the value of the items out of the departing employee’s final pay, even if the worker were to somehow give written consent.
However, here are some actions HR professionals can take as they attempt to retrieve company equipment:
Put the terms in writing. Have employees sign an acknowledgment when they are issued any new company property. The acknowledgment should explain that the employee is responsible for returning the items when employment ends. This document can support an employer’s position if it becomes necessary to file a legal claim to recover the equipment. It can also remind employees that they should care for the property that belongs to the employer.
Ask to meet in person. If a termination meeting is necessary, ask the employee to come into the office and to bring any company-issued equipment. In some cases, managers will ask to meet with employees in the field. Some employers tell employees to bring the equipment because updates are needed; this is a dishonest tactic and shouldn’t be used.
Initiate recovery steps. If an employee refuses to meet a company representative in person, HR will need to begin a process to recover the equipment.
Send the individual a letter or e-mail showing the list of items that need to be returned. Include a copy of the acknowledgment form that was signed when the employee received the equipment, if such a form exists. Also, provide a prepaid shipping label, along with instructions on how to schedule pickup, in the event the person prefers not to deliver the items in person.
If two weeks pass and the individual has not taken action, send a follow-up letter or e-mail stressing the importance of returning the company property. The letter may mention what happens if the individual fails to do so.
If no response is received in 30 days, send another letter or e-mail informing the former employee that the company will exercise its rights under the law for a criminal charge of theft, a civil action seeking the value of the items or both. Then, after seeking legal advice, determine whether to proceed with a claim after weighing the cost of the unrecovered items against the cost of legal action.
HR professionals may also want to consider how it might affect morale among the remaining employees if the company takes legal action against a former employee.
Regan Gross, SHRM-SCP, is an HR Knowledge Advisor for SHRM.
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