Let them go, but get back your goods

How can I ensure that fired employees return hospital property, such as smocks and door keys?
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Jan 01, 2007


Kerry Richard
"In most states, employers can take some steps to protect against loss of property," says Kerry Richard, JD, a lawyer with Tobin, O'Connor, Ewing and Richard in Washington, D.C. "But protecting your practice from this kind of loss requires planning."

Richard says some employers require deposits for equipment lent to employees, but more just require new hires to agree in advance in writing to return the property on request or be responsible for the cost. "In many states, the agreement must specify the agreed-on value of the property," she says. "The agreement must also specifically state that the employee authorizes the value of any unreturned property to be deducted from a final paycheck."

That written payroll deduction agreement generally provides enough incentive to an employee who might otherwise "forget" to return practice property, according to Richard. But it might not cover such big-ticket items as laptops and BlackBerrys.

"Federal law limits the amount that an employer may deduct from a paycheck to 25 percent of net disposable income, which is basically net income after taxes," she says. States may further limit the amount.

A final possibility: You can withhold expense reimbursements, if the employee is due any, according to Richard. "If you would've reimbursed the employee for mileage, CE courses, or supplies purchased on a personal credit card, these amounts may all offset the value of unreturned property."