Returning company property

Q. Our employee handbook states: “If you do not return a piece of property, we will withhold from your final paycheck the cost of replacing that piece of property.” One of our employees recently quit on the spot. The employee was given a termination letter that cited the employee handbook section on unreturned property. He admitted he could not find his handbook—even accused management of having it. My boss wants to almost double the actual replacement cost of the item and call it “staff time spent getting the item.” Can we do this?

A. No. Under the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law, an employer can only make deductions from pay that are authorized by the employee (excluding taxes, of course). The provision in the handbook arguably authorizes you to deduct the cost of replacing the property, but certainly not to double the cost.