My work laptop got stolen. Whose insurance is liable?
October 26, 2019 12:17 AM   Subscribe

My bag fell off my bike during my commute and got picked up by someone who swiftly used all my credit cards and (to the best of my knowledge) discarded my bag and its contents. Unfortunately, the bag included my work laptop. Is it reasonable for my employer to hold me liable for the cost of the laptop?

I've been avoiding reporting the theft to my homeowner's insurance because the laptop wasn't my property, and I don't want to drive my premium up by making a claim (this has happened to me before). I did immediately report it to the police, to my supervisor, and to my organization's IT department. The IT department worked with an investigator who worked with the police to trace the laptop to an address, where someone claimed not to have it, then 2 days later said they'd thrown it in the garbage after the cops first visited. So it is very much gone and unlikely to ever be recovered.

Unfortunately for me, my employer is a nonprofit where the culture of frugality is often implemented in a punitive way, like by having all staff sign an agreement to have the replacement cost of lost/damaged technology deducted directly out of their paychecks. Is this a common policy? Is it reasonable? I can dip into my savings and afford it if I must, but it seems like the company's insurance should be covering it. My supervisor fortunately agrees with me, but HR hasn't answered his inquiries about it so far. I have no idea how other organizations handle this so I'm interested in responses from folks who have been through a similar situation, or are aware of their companies' policies on this sort of thing.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It is illegal under U.S. federal labor law for your employer to dock your pay for lost or damaged work property. See here.
posted by killdevil at 1:11 AM on October 26, 2019 [36 favorites]

Do they want to charge you the cost they paid for it new, or the current amount that it would cost for that exact same model purchased from a used computer vendor?
posted by Sophont at 4:51 AM on October 26, 2019

Note that linked DoL guidance is concerned with FLSA-exempt employees: “It is our opinion that such deductions or reimbursements would violate the salary basis requirements of FLSA section 13(a)(1).”

Otherwise, it explains, “with respect to nonexempt employees, an employer may not lawfully require an employee to pay for an expense of the employer’s business if doing so reduces the employee’s pay below any statutorily-required minimum wage or overtime premium that is due, because employers must pay all statutorily-required minimum wage and overtime premium finally and unconditionally, or “free and clear.” 29 C.F.R. § 531.35”
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:13 AM on October 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

Any employer who required me to pay for damaged equipment I used solely for work would be an ex-employer real fast.
posted by spitbull at 6:01 AM on October 26, 2019 [7 favorites]

Were you transporting it for work purposes (even if that purpose was just having it at hand in case of emergency)? Then the employer should pay and it would be no different than your laptop being damaged after having fallen off your desk at work.

If you were transporting it because personal non work related use is a perk and you take it home to for that reason I'd replace it though I wouldn't feel legally obligated and a work place that valued you wouldn't ask/accept.
posted by Mitheral at 7:34 AM on October 26, 2019

You may have a tiny bit of negligence for not having it properly secured, but that should generate a raised eyebrow and gentle suggestion of better laptop care in future. I worked in IT for many years and have seen outright stupid and/or vindictive abuse of equipment and have never heard of staff being charged. Illegal? Good, it should be. If you take it home for your convenience,you probably do work anyway.

One sales rep was walking to his car, got a call, put down the laptop bag, went inside to talk on the phone(business), came back out, got in the car, backed over the laptop bag. On his repaired laptop, we put a wallpaper of tire tracks, because we kew he had a sense of humor. A VP got a repair because she used the laptop for a, music and b, a place to put a candle which, duh, melted on the keyboard. Throwing a laptop in a hissy fit will affect its operability. Srsly, you deserve one raised eyebrow and your company should shape up.

the replacement cost of lost/damaged technology is a crappy policy and the implementation may be sketchy. Also, that laptop model is probably easily available on ebay, cheap. I am a regular champion of used Thinkpads, my last one is an older model but was @ 50 bucks, shipped, and is a workhorse.
posted by theora55 at 8:38 AM on October 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

Some good advice above.

We don't know where you are but in many jurisdictions I've worked in there has been a useful question to ask: if, instead of property damage, this event had resulted in an injury would this have been treated as a workplace injury?

Travelling to work, from work, at work, for work - that's regrettable but not your problem.
posted by mce at 8:48 AM on October 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

In theory, damage to company equipment is just the cost of doing business, even if the employee is negligent. The employee is not personally on the hook for business expenses. If they were, it would also open up for discussion the concept of employees sharing more in profits as well. And employers don't want that, right?

Employees who are negligent with equipment could get yelled at, poor reports, delayed promotion, delayed bonus, or termination in extreme cases. But they can't be forced to pay out cash or forfeit wages to recover business expenses.
posted by ovvl at 10:16 AM on October 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

FYI insurance issues are not an HR problem but a Finance one. Don't give HR the chance to get involved, take it up with your financial controller/manager.
posted by Zedcaster at 11:10 AM on October 26, 2019

When my work laptop was stolen from my apartment during a break in, my work's insurance dealt with it.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:34 AM on October 28, 2019

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