What to Do When an Employee Won’t Return Company Property?
4 Minute Read
4 Minute Read

‘I’m keeping it until you pay my wages’- now what?

It’s a query that we get on a regular basis, what do we do when an employee won’t give back company property at the end of their employment? It produces a ‘stand-off’ situation where essentially trust totally breaks down.

The employee doesn’t want to return the company property fearing without their leverage they won’t get paid.

The business doesn’t want to pay wages, where it is their only financial recompense to replace company property if it is never returned or is returned damaged. Here’s what to do!

How to Act When an Employee Doesn’t Return Company Property:

  1. Try and Engage With the Employee

Resorting to legal threats is unlikely to endear or encourage any recovery of trust in the situation and may cause the employee to ‘dig in’ and become more entrenched. Try to discuss the matter with the employee, explain that if the property is returned there is no reason for the business to withhold wages and that you would be prepared to put this in writing, so they have something to rely on in the event that they do not trust your word.

Sometimes employees can feel uncomfortable coming back to the workplace to return items or feel intimidated having someone come to their home, so you could arrange a neutral place for property to be dropped off, or arrange for a courier to be sent to collect items.

  1. Check the Contract

If engaging fails, check your contracts of employment. They provide you with the specific right to withhold pay from an employee in certain circumstances, then you have the legal right to withhold those wages where property is not returned. If an employee still refuses to return the Company property and the wages are insufficient to cover the value of replacement, then you have the ability to issue a civil case against the employee.

For claims worth less than £10,000 this can be done through the small claims court, and it is a cheap, quick, and easy to navigate process to issue a claim.

  1. Your Contracts Don’t Give You the Right to Withhold Wages?

If your contracts don’t give you the right to withhold wages you need to pay the employee. Once the employee has been paid, if they still refuse to return the items you have a solid legal basis for issuing a civil claim against them to have the property returned or be paid for it, and the employee will be unlikely to have much in the way of a defence to your action.

Whilst it may feel like the wrong thing to do, to essentially ‘pay a ransom’ it does give you the legal high ground when you don’t have the right to withhold wages in the contract.

  1. Report To the Police

This option has mixed results. Some responses from the police will be limited to ‘it’s a civil matter’, whereas others may be prepared to put in a phone call or a visit to the employee.

Sometimes the threat alone to report to the police is enough, for other employees it may have no effect at all. If the property is particularly valuable, or the employee has retained property that contains valuable personal data it is advisable to potentially report in any event to cover your bases in the event that the issue escalates.

Generally, the police will only act if there has been dishonesty (so for example if an employee has swiped property as they left that they were not given as part of their employment). However, where the property is valuable it is worth still making the report if everything else has failed as the police may in some circumstances be able to provide you with some assistance or pursue the employee for theft if it meets the legal criteria to do so.

Are You Ready to Be Your Workplace Hero?

Open dialogue, reassurance, and practical solutions like neutral drop-off points can often defuse tensions when returning company property. If negotiations fail, employment contracts may provide grounds for withholding wages, but if not, payment obligations must be met while pursuing legal recourse separately. Involving law enforcement should be a last resort!

Is an employee withholding company property at your workplace? Contact our award-winning employment law lawyers today for specialist legal advice.