Are prizes employees win on company time the property of the company or the employee? That issue erupted when Kenneth Byrne, a manager at a used car dealership, won a raffle for a 31-inch TV while perusing cars at an auto auction on company time. When Byrne got back to the dealership, the owner said to hand over the TV to the company. Byrne refused and was fired.
He sued and originally won more than $98,000 in damages on his claim that the dealership illegally tried to order him to pay a rebate on his "wages." But a Washington state appeals court overturned the decision, saying the TV was more like a discretionary bonus, which could be taken away. (Courtesy Ford v. Byrne, No. 25583-9-II, Wash. Ct. App., 2001)
Advice: Even though the employer won in the end, it's a safe bet that the legal fees cost more than the TV. You can avoid similar disputes by drafting a policy stating that any prizes, gifts or other property acquired in the course and scope of an employee's work is the property of the employer. Or you can let the employee keep his prize and realize what a cool job he has.
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