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Ask Leslie: What If A Terminated Employee Takes The Company Laptop?

By Leslie Zieren, The McCalmon Group, Inc.

Dear Leslie:


We terminated one of our sales department members, and instead of leaving everything on his desk when he left - keys, I.D. card, laptop - he left with our laptop. So far, he has ignored our requests that he return it. We don't want to have him criminally prosecuted, but we want our laptop returned. Should we sue him? 


Signed: Logan


Dear Logan:

There are three concerns: one, the security of your organization's data on the laptop; two, the return of your physical property, the laptop; and three, avoiding litigation, if possible.

First, we hope your organization had a written policy, making it clear that all employer-provided equipment belongs to you and that it must be immediately returned upon termination. A signed agreement to this effect is also helpful.

When someone is terminated, cut off any access to your network before the termination conversation takes place. If you had been requiring and maintaining regular back-ups of the information on that laptop, you may be able to remotely wipe your information off of a laptop removed from your premises.

Do not deduct the cost of the laptop from the final wages. States have their own rules regarding what can be deducted from a final paycheck and what documentation is necessary.

You could sue for the return of the laptop; however, this must be done in consultation with your legal counsel. You do not want to draw a counterclaim for a wrongful termination or wage dispute, which could be costly.


Jack McCalmon and Leslie Zieren are attorneys with more than 50 years combined experience assisting employers in lowering their risk, including answering questions, like the one above, through the McCalmon Group's Best Practices Help Line. The Best Practice Help Line is a service of The McCalmon Group, Inc. Your organization may have access to The Best Practice Help Line or a similar service from another provider at no cost to you or at a discount. For questions about The Best Practice Help Line or what similar services are available to you via this Platform, call 888.712.7667.

If you have a question that you would like Jack McCalmon or Leslie Zieren to consider for this column, please submit it to ask@mccalmon.com. Please note that The McCalmon Group cannot guarantee that your question will be answered. Answers are based on generally accepted risk management best practices. They are not, and should not be considered, legal advice. If you need an answer immediately or desire legal advice, please call your local legal counsel.

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