Question: My ex-employer was extremely upset when I quit to go to work for another company. A few days before I resigned, a laptop that the company provided me went missing from the company office. I told them I did not have it.

They kept my last paycheck from me, so I assumed that was the end of it, but now I have received a letter from their lawyer demanding that I return the laptop.

I’m really upset by this. What action, if any should I take?

Jack W.
Richmond, Kentucky

Answer: Dear Jack,

1. An employee is not responsible for the condition or loss of company equipment given to him or her by the employer for use in company business. Whether it is a pencil, a computer or an automobile, if it is damaged, lost or stolen, that is the employer’s problem, not the employee’s. While that general rule could be changed by a written agreement between an employer and an employee, having such an agreement is extremely rare, although I have seen it in my law practice.

2. Your employer’s withholding your last paycheck is a violation of law. Sometimes people think they can simply “take the law into their own hands,” which often gets them in trouble. Your employer had no right – despite any suspicions they might have had that you took the laptop – to withhold your last paycheck. That surely seems a violation of Kentucky law, specifically Section 337.427 of the Kentucky Code. That law provides that, if the non-payment of your wages was intentional, your former employer could be required to pay you double the amount of the paycheck withheld.

You might want to obtain a Model Letter you can use to Demand Monies Not Yet Paid by Your Former Employer.” To do so, simply [click here].

Of course, if your employer is certain that you stole the laptop, it has every right to either sue you in court, where they must establish you did so, or file a complaint with local law enforcement.

3. Consider sending your former employer’s attorney a letter demanding he or she stop harassing you. You have ever right to demand that your former employer’s attorney stop contacting you. If you do, send your letter by a “verifiable” means, such as Certified Mail, FedEx or UPS overnight services. Mention that you are considering filing a grievance with the Kentucky Bar Association, if they don’t “cease and desist” upsetting you. Information and forms to do that are available from the Kentucky State Bar Association at www.kybar.org. I suggest you put in your letter words to the effect that “I remind you that, if you tell anyone that I stole that laptop, that will make you, and your client, liable to me for defamation.”

Jack, don’t get upset; instead, Get Moving. I hope this both motivates and facilitates your standing up for yourself to both collect what you are due, and get your employer’s attorney to stop contacting you.

Concerned that your former employer is bad-mouthing you? Job hunt or new job being threatened or even sabotaged? We offer a Model Letter Expressing Concern about Post-Employment Bad-Mouthing. “What to Say and How to Say It.”™ To obtain a copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly! 

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Best,
Al Sklover

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.