Recovering Your Business Hardware from WFH Employees

Recovering Your Business Hardware from WFH Employees

There have been a lot of changes over the last few years to how we work.  The rise of work from home has brought with it several new challenges like recovering your business hardware from terminated WFH employees.  We have seen a few different businesses’ takes on that and have been involved on the IT side assisting them.  Here are some ideas about what we have seen works and doesn’t, along with suggestions for best practices.

So, They Have Your Stuff

Many businesses have been providing laptops and other equipment to their WFH employees to ensure that they have the proper tools to do their jobs.  Unfortunately, in the current economic climate layoffs are becoming commonplace.  In many instances those work from home employees that are perceived as having questionable productivity are the first to go.  If that’s the case what are your options to recover company property?

Don’t Withhold Their Final Paycheck

Some companies may be tempted to withhold their final paycheck until company property is returned.  This is a big mistake.  In most states it is illegal to hold back a final paycheck for any reason whatsoever.  This also opens you up to a lawsuit, which, aside from ruining your reputation as an employer, will likely cost more than the cost of the equipment you’re trying to recover.

What If They Just Keep It?

If you’re a generous employer, or perhaps one that gives out cheap hardware to begin with, it may not be worth your time to try and recover it.  The challenge then becomes removing any sensitive company data or client information from that machine before you let your employee sail off into the sunset.

It’s recommended that if an employee is terminated, you wipe their laptop of any company data and then do a clean install of Windows or Mac OS.  This removes sensitive data but leaves the machine in a usable state.

If you’re generous with one employee, you should be prepared to be generous with all.  We recommend you have an established process for all terminated employees when it comes to hardware and that you follow it the same way for everyone. 

Other Recovery Options

Upset terminated employees may be uncooperative about returning hardware.  You have a couple of options you can try.  Calling the cops is one.  Debt collection is another.

If an employee fails to return a laptop that is company property, it’s essentially theft.  You can place criminal charges against them by calling the local police.  Each police department is a little different on how they would handle this, but they should let you know their procedure when you call.  This should be an absolute last resort because charges could damage the employee’s reputation as well as lead to fines or jail time. 

This is almost never worth doing.  Employees do still have quite a bit of leverage with sites like Glassdoor and others where they can rate an employer online.  With a competitive job market for hiring talented people, the last thing you want is a lousy reputation as an employer online.

Another option is to send them to collections for the value of the laptop.  Debt collectors are typically pretty good at collecting such debts. Collection agencies typically charge around 30% as a collection fee. This can be effective, but will yield a reduced return.

Best Practices

The best way we’ve seen to do this is to plan ahead.  Smart companies that provide hardware to work from home employees will start including language in their employee handbook with every new hire.  It should clearly define that the hardware belongs to the company. Outline your hardware return expectations.  Have them sign acknowledgement with the rest of your new hire paperwork. gave us a good example.

I recognize that any company-issued computer equipment is owned by the company and must be returned to the company within 48 hours upon the termination of my employment for any reason. In the event that I keep any company-owned computer equipment and do not return it, I hereby acknowledge that this is a violation of the HR policy, that the company may reduce any bonus or severance payments to cover the equipment replacement costs, and in lieu of, or in addition to such reductions, may send me an invoice to cover any outstanding replacement costs and fees, which I hereby agree to accept and pay.

Of course, you will want to have your attorney look over that language and make sure this is legal and acceptable in your State or area.  Assuming it is, this is the simplest way to handle wayward laptops.  The employee essentially pre-agrees to return the hardware when terminated.  If they fail to do so they have agreed to pay for it, and it give you the right to deduct from their last check.

Be Practical

Our last bit of advice would simply be to be kind and practical.  If forced to spend 20-man hours recovering a $600 laptop, the juice is not worth the squeeze.  In addition, while you may feel slighted, it likely isn’t in the interest of the company to take any extreme action.  Safeguard your reputation as an employer by doing the right thing.  Plan ahead using clearly written company policy and communicate expectations to your employees.  Get agreement in writing.  Following these best practices will make an always difficult situation easier.

i.t.NOW is not in the laptop recovery business, so don’t call us for this.  It’s just a conversation we’ve had a few times lately and we thought it was worth sharing.  If you need help with your business IT solutions or security we’d love to chat.