Q. We want to start a policy that would deduct the cost of tools from employees' final paychecks if the tools aren't returned or if they're returned damaged. Can we legally do this? —M.P., Kansas
A. It depends on your state's wage law. Most states let employers deduct from employees' wages for unreturned or damaged company property, as long as the employee signs a form authorizing the employer to do so. Other states ban any wage deductions that don't benefit the employee, even if the employee authorized the deduction in writing.
In states where such deductions aren't allowed, employers still have recourse: They can require employees to sign an agreement promising to pay the employer for lost or damaged property. Of course, without payroll deduction, it may be tough to enforce such an agreement.