The best way to recover company devices from remote employees
Last updated April 7, 2023
There is only one good option for convincing employees to return company-owned devices: debt collection.
There are many commonly-discussed options for persuading ex-employees to return company-owned property. They are all flawed. The best option is not commonly discussed, which is why we want to spread the word.
Withold their paycheck Ø
Many companies will threaten to withhold an employee's final paycheck until the employee satisfies their exit obligations, including returning devices. This is generally a mistake. Many states explicitly prohibit this practice. Even in states that don't, you can be sued for failing to comply with your obligations.
You can't refuse to honor your obligations until your employee does first. However, you have options if your employee fails to honor their contract.
File a lawsuit Ø
The idea of filing a lawsuit might sound extreme, but it's probably not. If the company-owned devices in the employee's possession are worth less than $10,000, you can probably file suit in small claims court.
In small claims court, no attorney is required. You or someone else at your company can represent your company. You will want to present evidence the employee is in posession of company-owned property, is contractually obligated to return it to the company, and has failed to do so.
In most cases, people who have a lawsuit filed against them will be much more cooperative. But if this sounds too extreme, you won't like the next option.
Call the police Ø
Yes, some companies actually call the police to report the devices as stolen property. This is not a very effective option. It's not likely the police will be issued a warrant to search the employee's home, so generally the most the police will do is show up and ask about the property. More importantly, In fact, it's unlikely the employee's local police will do anything at all.
Even if this option was more effective, it would still be too heavy-handed. Theoretically, your employee could end up with a criminal record. Imagine your employee crying to the news and social media to say, "My employer tried to send me to jail because I was too slow to return their laptop!" That would probably be bad for your brand. Thankfully there's a more discreet option.
Use debt collection ✓
If an employee doesn't return company-owned devices, send an invoice for payment. Be clear their debt will be sent to collections if they don't respond. If they don't respond, send them to collections. Assuming you have the right contract language, this strategy is your best option for ensuring company-owned property gets returned.
First, collections is a credible threat. It's low-effort and low-risk. Unlike the other options, there's no reason to believe you wouldn't follow through. You're simply sending a debt to collections, like you might with any other legitimate debt.
Second, collections is compelling. It might not be as compelling as a lawsuit, but it's not far off. Certain employees with terrible credit scores may be willing to take the hit. But most employees will at least consider the impact of a damaged credit score.
Strangely, this collections option is the least-often discussed by professionals. Although it may not be necessary, most employment agreements don't contain the right contract language. Regardless, it must be clear the company owns the devices, expects them back, will invoice for them otherwise, and will make efforts to collect unpaid debts. This is actually very easy to include in an employment agreement, employees have little reason to object. However, most companies aren't aware they should include it.
Debt collection is the most compelling mechanism to pursuade wayward employees to return company-owned devices. By including collections language in your employment agreement, you maximize your ability to recover devices from employees when their employement ends.
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.