John Bechtol, Attorney at Law

John B. Bechtol


Posted on August 20, 2014

Imagine the following scenario.

A local business is fed up with one of its employees.  The employee misses too much work, he or she is generally disruptive to other employees, and he or she detracts from the company as a whole.  The employer makes the decision to terminate the employee.  However, the dismissal is accomplished by e-mail while the employee was off work, claiming that his or her car would not start.

The employer later recalls that the employee has a company-issued cell phone, and the employer would like its property returned.  The company instructs its Human Resources manager to call the employee and advise that the cell phone must be returned.  If it is not returned, the employee is informed that his final pay will be withheld.  Does the employer have the legal right to behave in this fashion?

The answer is no.  Taking such action would run afoul of Pennsylvania’s Wage Page and Collection Law.  While this Pennsylvania law allows an employer to assert “a good faith counterclaim or offset,” this must be done in writing.  The employer is also prohibited from withholding any more than the value of what it is that the employer seeks to have returned.

In the above scenario, the proper course for the employer to take would be to send a written letter to the terminated employee.  The letter should spell out the situation with specificity.  For example, the letter might state, “You have a company-owned cell phone valued at $150.  Your final pay is $450.  However, until you return the company’s cell phone, you will receive a final pay of $300 and the $150 value of the phone will be withheld until the return of the cell phone.  After you return the cell phone, you will receive the $150 that has been offset from your final pay.”

As to the value of things not returned, a key or keycard may have imputed to it the value of changing locks or codes.  A computer may only be worth several hundred dollars but the information it contains may have immense value.  As with most, if not all, employee terminations, a company would best serve its interest by contacting legal counsel before making the termination decision.

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