Managing the return of Company Equipment

Wednesday November 25, 2020

The unprecedented COVID-19 lock-downs continue to have ongoing challenges for business. One challenge is the use of company equipment when working from home. More than ever before, having the right policies, guidelines, and documents is essential.

There is an implied level of loyalty, honesty and mutual trust when a business allows employees to remotely use business-owned property to carry out their duties. Sadly, there are cases where trust and honesty are one-way.

Employer Responsibility

When entrusting company equipment and tools to an employee to carry out their duties, the employer needs to set policies for the use of the items. It’s imperative the employee has read, understood and agreed to those terms of use.

Policies should include detailed instructions on the return of the equipment and tools, as well as the care and handling of those tools. It’s also essential to be clear on your expectations regarding the actions that will be taken when equipment or tools are lost, misused or damaged.

Employee Responsibility

It’s the employee’s responsibility to maintain and look after any equipment or tools supplied to them by their employer. It’s also the employee’s responsibility to return equipment, vehicles and tools as reasonably directed by their employer.

As businesses recommence onsite working, they will obviously require the return of any items loaned to facilitate remote working. Therefore, it’s the employee’s responsibility to do so.

Supporting the employees when returning equipment

Depending on the nature of the equipment on loan, it may be difficult for the employee to return them. For example, heavy items such as a desk or a printer may require safe manual handling. Or the employee may not have an appropriate means of transporting the loaned items for return.

In this situation, along with notifying an employee that company property needs to be returned, a means to facilitate that return needs to be provided.

The legal aspect of not returning company property

The legal actions that can be taken when an employee refuses to return company property will depend greatly on your paper trail including:

  • Has your employee signed an agreement to care for and return company equipment?
  • Does your business have policies regarding the use, care and return of company property including, but not limited to, mobile phones, laptops, office furniture, and other equipment?
  • Do you have a policy setting out the implications of returning equipment that is damaged or lost?

Having the right policies and procedures in place makes it possible for your business to take legal action should an employee refuse to return your company property.

In 2019, for example, an employee lost a case of unfair dismissal for misconduct after refusing to return a company vehicle that was a ‘tool of trade’ and not part of her remuneration package. The company was able to prove the employee had been given the correct policies and procedures, fair warning and support in the attempt to retrieve the vehicle.

As you can see, asking for the return of company equipment can be fraught with challenges. We’re here to help.

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