Employers' Obligation to Return Personal Property of Terminated Employee

by Carol Deeb; Updated September 26, 2017

Terminating an employee requires the consideration of many factors, which differ from laying off members of the workforce. You must ensure that documentation supporting the separation is complete and supports your decision. Carefully handle the termination meeting so that you maintain respect and the employee understands why the termination is necessary. If the employee must leave the workplace immediately due to a termination for incompetence or misconduct, allow him to remove any personal property before exiting. However, when items are left behind, the employer must process them appropriately and not discard them.

Personal Property

Give employees an opportunity to retrieve personal property prior to leaving the workplace after being terminated. Supply a box or other container for the items so that they can be taken out of the building in one trip. When situations do not warrant that the employee return to the work area, make arrangements to have the items picked up at a later time or request an address where they may be mailed. If personal belongings are left behind and the employee cannot be contacted, then dispose of the property according to the abandonment laws of the state.

Company Property

Sometimes personal items take on the characteristics of company property. For example, if an employee uses company data systems on a personal computer, delete the information before releasing it back to the employee. To ensure that these issues are resolved equitably, include a section in the employee handbook devoted to personal property and how it is treated during work and after separation. Also, state Department of Labor laws may regulate how employee and company property should be handled after termination.

Pay

Give a terminated employee the final paycheck for all hours worked prior to leaving the workplace, depending on the rules in your state. It's possible that your company will be allowed to mail or deposit the employee's final check on the regularly scheduled payday. If a terminated employee has possession of company property, your state may not allow you withhold or deduct the paycheck for the value of the property. It's best to collect all company property before the employee exits the workplace.

Considerations

Having compassion and respect when terminating an employee helps to ensure a smooth separation from your company. The employee should not be surprised by the termination, and, ideally, documentation will be in the file supporting your decision. If necessary, include a higher level of management in your meeting to show the company's support of the action. Unless a threat to safety or security, allow an employee the time to collect all personal belongings, return company property and pick up the last paycheck before being escorted to the exit.

About the Author

Carol Deeb has been an editor and writer since 1988. Her work has appeared in magazines, newspapers and online publications, as well as a book on education. Deeb is a real-estate investor and business owner with professional experience in human resources. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from San Diego State University.