Whether you quit your job for various reasons, or you are terminated from your position, you will need to return any property that belongs to your employer. What that includes will vary according to your position, job function, and the employer’s industry. In any case, failure to return company or employer property could result in serious consequences.

If you have an employment contract, that document may provide guidance regarding what property must be returned when you vacate your position. Some items that commonly belong to an employer include but are not limited to:

  • Key fobs, keys, or entrance badges;
  • Identification badges;
  • Parking permits;
  • Equipment used to perform your job that you did not provide yourself, such as computers, machinery, tools, and various other electronics;
  • Uniforms or clothing required and provided by the employer, such as a shirt or a hat;
  • Documents or other work produced, especially anything that is confidential in nature; and
  • Products or prototypes produced by the company.

It is best to check with the company’s human resources department in order to ascertain what property should be returned upon your departure, and what may be kept. This will show that you are acting in good faith and could help avoid a dispute later on.

Can My Employer Deduct the Value of Unreturned Property From My Final Paycheck?

Federal employment laws allow employers to make paycheck deductions under specific circumstances. Such circumstances include unreturned company property. The only requirement is that the deductions cannot cause your pay to be reduced below the federal minimum wage. Additionally, federal law does not require employers to give employees their final paycheck immediately. What this means is that your employer may be allowed to withhold your final paycheck until you have returned all necessary company property.

It is important to note that making a paycheck deduction, as well as withholding a final paycheck, may violate your state’s specific paycheck laws. Many states have laws in place that restrict or prohibit paycheck deductions, either entirely or only in very specific circumstances. Additionally, most states specify when your final check is due by. An example of this would be a state requiring final paychecks be given to an employee within thirty days of their resignation or termination. A complete list of such requirements may be found on the Department of Labor’s website.

Employers are also allowed by federal law to deduct broken or missing items from your paycheck. Again, the specifics of such actions are subject to state law. Many states require that the employer first gets the employee’s written consent before making a paycheck deduction for any reason. Other states do not allow for deductions at all. An example of this would be California, which considers lost and damaged equipment to be a cost of doing business and only allows deductions if the employee was behaving negligently or acting on purpose.

It is important to remember that even if your state prohibits paycheck deductions in any form, your former employer is still entitled to their property. Or, equitable compensation for their property. As such, if you do not promptly return their property, your former employer could have grounds to file a civil lawsuit against you. In some extreme cases, your former employer may also take criminal action in order to ensure the prompt return of company property, such as a company vehicle.

What Else Should I Know About Paycheck Deductions?

Some employers may charge their employees for costs associated with necessary supplies. Such supplies could include uniforms or tools. They may also deduct the cost of cleaning and maintaining those uniforms or supplies. Although such payroll deductions are undesirable, they are not exactly illegal. Again, this will vary from state to state according to their individual employment and payroll laws.

As previously mentioned, paycheck deductions cannot reduce your pay to below minimum wage. The federal minimum wage for the United States is $7.25 per hour, as of 2020. However, many states exceed the federal minimum wage, and may not fall below the federal minimum wage. Minimum wage laws do not apply to all employees, such as those who are considered to be independent contractors.

Federal wage laws apply to all employers. Your employer should pay whichever law is most generous; meaning, if your state’s minimum wage is higher than the federal wage, your employer should pay your state’s minimum wage.

Do I Need an Attorney for Final Paycheck Deductions for Unreturned Property?

If your former employer has withheld an amount of money from your final paycheck for property that you kept, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable employment law attorney. An experienced employment law attorney will be knowledgeable of your state’s laws regarding whether such withholdings are permitted, as well as your rights and defenses if applicable.

An attorney may also be able to file a wrongful termination suit if you did not actually keep any property. Finally, an attorney can represent you at any necessary court hearings.