How do I enforce the return of company property?
Unfortunately, this can be quite a common situation for many businesses. Particularly as more employees than ever before are working away from the office, either at home or remotely. The concern here is for the price of IT equipment and also protecting confidential information and your business.
So what can you do to make sure you get your company property back?
1) Make it clear in the employment contract
The usual case is that an employee is leaving the company and you require them to return equipment you’ve provided them for doing their job. But this isn’t always the case and you should have a clause in your contract that ensures you have the right to request the return of company property at any time.
Also define what you consider company property to be: for example, mobile phones, laptops, passwords, keys, and client files. Specify that items must be returned in good condition with an awareness that there is a difference between reasonable wear and tear to negligence.
It is also important to consider what the consequences are for failure to return company property. Normally, this is a clause in the contract allowing the employer to make a deduction from an employee’s payslip for the cost of items that have not been returned. However, this right should be exercised with caution and only as a last resort.
2) Keep a record
It is always a good idea to be aware of who has what. This can also be useful for identifying the age of items and when they might need to be replaced or maintained as well as who needs what, what’s kept in the office, and what employees can take home with them.
This doesn’t just apply to IT equipment, but also to keyholders and password holders to client or internal accounts among other records necessary to be kept.
Also keep a record of the receipts and costs of each item to evidence when required the value of the items should you need to reclaim this.
3) Have the arrangements of any notice periods in writing
Have a written record of any arrangements for the end of the employment, however caused. This also reduces the risk of understanding and gives the employer the opportunity to highlight points in the contract. Make clear what needs returning, when by, how it needs to be returned, who or where to, and by what date.
4) Set a deadline
This should normally be the employee’s last working day however some flexibility may be needed where the employee works remotely. This also makes any failure to return items easier to deal with.
Equally, this event may not always be triggered by an employee’s departure. In any event, it would be unreasonable to give no notice of company property needing to be returned, particularly physical items, needing to be returned.
5) Good IT systems
In any event, it is crucial to make sure you can limit or disable employees’ access to systems when you need to, particularly where there is a dispute about items being returned. The data held on an employee’s company laptop after all can likely be more valuable than the laptop itself.
6) Be clear on consequences
Clarity is essential here at each step. Just as an employee needs to be aware when and how they need to return company property, if they fail to do so they need to be clear what will happen next. Communication is key. If an employee does not make the deadline do not automatically deduct the value of the items from their salary. Ask them why and tell them what will happen if the next deadline is not met. It is important to tread carefully: remember that wrongful payment of wages is a breach of contract and it does not matter how long the employee’s service is to make a claim to recoup this.