In 2023, a record number of companies will operate in a fully remote work model or a hybrid working model. One costly consequence with part or full-time remote teams is experiencing challenges related to retrieving valuable work equipment (laptops, headsets, etc.). Software like MP’s makes it easy for employers to track equipment for remote workers. This is an essential function as companies across all industries continue to face situations such as:
- team members leaving for new jobs
- laying off part of a remote workforce
- firing people who are working remotely
- employees returning to working in the office, thus no longer needing equipment to work remotely
- employees losing their equipment while travelling (especially with current air travel issues)
MP’s HR compliance experts outline what every company should know if they equip their employees to work from home (even for just a few days a week).
Remote Workers’ Equipment: 5 Best Practices
1. Ensure compliance with state laws.
Employers must understand applicable state laws related to tracking, getting back, or invoicing employees for equipment. If employers allow remote work or flexible work, they must comply with state regulations in the location where their employees perform work. Many states have laws that restrict how employers make a deduction from employees’ final paychecks, including:
- How much may be deducted
- When the deduction can be done
- How the money is deducted
- If employers need a signed acknowledgment stating the employee allows money to be deducted from their paycheck for missing equipment.
- How long of a window employers have to recoup/invoice for missing equipment
- How much can be deducted from a last paycheck
Employers should note that per the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLS), employers must not deduct enough from an employee’s paycheck that their pay falls below the state or national minimum wage. They may need to deduct the cost from multiple paychecks if it’s significant. An organization could work with HR experts, such as the ones at MP, to ensure FLSA compliance and compliance with any relevant state payroll laws. Additionally, MP’s payroll software assists with automating deductions for missing equipment.
2. Protect employee morale and the employer brand.
Especially in the midst of The Great Resignation, employers should consider the impact on employees—past, current, and future—when recouping property. They should give ample time for an employee to return equipment and avoid punishing them financially for missing equipment when possible. This is especially true in the case of a layoff or termination. People may share their thoughts online regarding how an organization handles challenges like this. Choosing less aggressive or punitive measures for recouping equipment will help ensure the employer brand isn’t tarnished. It also minimizes the impact on employee engagement.
3. Simplify returning equipment for current and former remote workers.
Making the process of returning equipment as easy as possible for current or ex-employees. This will improve the likelihood that they’ll return everything quickly and without incident. Provide pre-paid, pre-labeled shipping materials or consider using a third-party service to pick up equipment in person. An employer may also send a company representative to pick up equipment in person. Employers should avoid this action if it might feel antagonistic, or if the relationship between employee and organization is fraught.
4. Write a policy for the employee handbook regarding remote workers and equipment return.
Organizations that offer remote jobs or equip employees to work outside the office should develop a policy regarding procedures and requirements for returning company property. This policy should include:
- An acknowledgment page that employees sign and return (or, in MP’s talent management tools, are electronically signed and stored in employee records).
- A statement that equipment (spell out items employees may receive) is considered company property. Specify that it must be returned when the employee no longer works for the company, their job duties change (so the job description no longer requires that equipment), or they are working in the office full-time.
- A separate authorization (not the general one at the end of the employee handbook) to deduct the value of unreturned equipment from paychecks, severance, or final paychecks. (An organization may need to note that the value will be deducted from a combination of sources, such as the final paycheck and severance.) This should be compliant with relevant state law. An MP HR expert could assist with this task. Employees should sign this authorization before receiving any equipment.
5. Document all steps in the process to recoup work equipment from current or former remote workers.
Employers should send a clear, prompt, written request to return equipment when an employee leaves the company, their employment is terminated, or they return to working in the office full-time. They should retain a record of this request in their files. The request should include a copy of the acknowledgment and the equipment return policy. It should also state a (reasonable) deadline to return equipment and list any resources the employer will offer to facilitate the process. If the deadline passes, the employer should send a follow-up notice and keep a record of it. This follow-up should note penalties, including potentially invoicing the employee for the equipment. If the equipment still isn’t returned, employers should send another follow-up notice before sending an invoice for the value of the missing items. (They should retain a copy in their records). If the employer still hasn’t recouped property, they may choose to take the former or current employee to small claims court. Again, note that this tactic is extreme and may have significant consequences for employee engagement and the employer’s reputation.
Employers may also want to consider if the items have depreciated in value since they were issued to the employee. For example, a new laptop is worth more than one that is a few years old. Additionally, as noted above, invoicing for missing equipment may seriously damage employee morale or employer brand. Sometimes, an organization may choose not to invoice for the value of the missing equipment, or for the total value of the missing equipment.
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