The common problems with employee laptop returns

Last updated April 7, 2023

When remote employees leave a company, they are usually asked to return their laptops. These laptop returns involve some pitfalls you should be aware of.

Legal basis

You can ask an employee to return a company laptop, but you can't expect them to comply unless it's in their employment agreement. Yes, most employees will comply regardless. But as HR professionals know, some employees will refuse to comply with anything not stated in the employment agreement. You need to prepare for them so you can reliably recover your company's equipment.

Obviously your employment agreement should include clear language about returning equipment. It needs to cover what equipment must be returned, how it will be returned, and how quickly. It also needs to specify at least one enforcement mechanism if it's not returned as required (we recommend debt collection). See our contract language template for language you can add directly into your own employment agreements.

Laptop boxes

Every laptop return requires a cardboard box with the right dimensions and padding. Unfortunately, employees usually throw away the box when initially receiving a company-issued laptop. So generally, an employee needs a fresh box to return their laptop when they leave the company.

Many companies will ask the employee to buy a box, then submit a reimbursement request later. That's a double-hassle for the employee, which means the employee is less likely to comply.

Wanting to increase the odds of compliance, some companies will send an empty laptop box to the employee. That's a best practice. However, it does create a burden for the company. Either the company needs to buy a laptop box every time an employee leaves, or needs to stockpile boxes and ship one whenever an employee leaves. Obviously neither option is ideal. They both involve manual effort every time an employee leaves (perhaps even a drive to FedEx or UPS).

A professional laptop return service will stockpile boxes and ship them to your employees on your behalf. This saves time and effort, and probably also saves money.

Postage

Like with boxes, companies can ask employees to pay for postage, or companies can provide prepaid shipping labels. Again, the more successful approach is the one that's easier on the employee. You should prefer prepaid shipping labels.

If you can estimate the weight and dimensions of the parcel, you can buy postage online. Next, you'll need to print it. Ideally you should print on actual shipping label paper, so it's easy to peel and stick on the box. Of course, you also need to mail this label to your employee, in addition to the empty laptop box.

Again, a professional laptop return service can save you hassle here. They will buy and print a prepaid shipping label, and include it in the laptop box they send to your employee.

Monitoring

If you don't actively track which laptops have been returned, it's easy for laptops to disappear forever. Ideally, you should monitor the shipment tracking details. That will tell you whether the employee shipped, and whether the shipment was successfully delivered.

For most companies, monitoring is a manual process. You might set a weekly reminder to manually check whether laptops are being returned as expected. For companies using a professional laptop return service, monitoring is generally automated.

Failure to return

Occasionally, an employee will fail to return a laptop. It is possible the employee is unaware or forgetful. In those cases, you should send reminders. Written reminders are better documentation of your efforts, which is good for legal reasons. However, keep in mind that phone calls tend to be more compelling. It's harder for people to ignore someone they're communicating with person-to-person.

Other times, an employee will fail to return a laptop because they are unmotivated or even obstinate. In those cases, you should lean on your enforcement mechanism (again, we recommend debt collection). To avoid provoking resistance, use "agreement-derived" language that is also specific about what you want. For example, if you have a debt collection mechanism, you might send an email like this:

Dear John,

This is our third request for you to return the 2024 MacBook Pro we issued for your employment. Please return it using the box and prepaid shipping we provided.

If you do not return this equipment, your employment agreement indicates the next step is to invoice you for a debt of $1,200. If you do not pay this debt, your employment agreement indicates the next step is to pursue debt collection efforts.

Sincerely,

Human Resources Department

Easily avoid all these problems

There is an easy way to avoid all these problems. Use a professional laptop return service like ReReady. It will send an empty laptop box with a prepaid shipping label so your employee can easily return their laptop back to your company. It will also monitor the return shipment, and can send reminders to the employee if you've requested that.

ReReady in particular offers integrations so you can automate this part of your offboarding. It also offers the ability to customize the notification & reminders messages that are sent to your employees. Try it now!

Disclaimer: We are not your attorney, and this post contains no legal advice or guarantees of any kind. This post simply contains ideas you may wish to share with your attorney.