Q. We recently fired a veteran sales representative on short notice. He still has a new iPad that we purchased to help make sales presentations. We have repeatedly asked him to return the iPad, but he is ignoring our requests. Can we now just deduct the cost from his last paycheck?
A. No. This is a common question that leads, unfortunately, to one of the more frustrating answers for employers.
In Minnesota, an employer cannot lawfully offset against an employee’s paycheck for such items without the employee’s consent. Your former employee would need to give voluntary authorization to deduct the cost of the iPad.
The Minnesota statute specifically prohibits unauthorized deductions for lost, stolen or damaged property, unless the employee authorizes the deductions after the indebtedness arises. The same law also prohibits such offsets for any indebtedness owed by the employee to the employer (such as prior loans). Any such authorization should be in writing, and should set forth the amount to be deducted during each pay period.
In terms of deducting from a final paycheck, it does not matter that the former sales rep may have once acknowledged that the property belonged to the employer, was to be used solely for company work and was to be immediately returned upon the termination of employment.
However, such an acknowledgment may provide some protection if you decide to file a lawsuit seeking either return of the iPad or payment for its value.