I have put in my notice to my current employer and am about to start new employment pretty soon (I am in the IT field). I was given a tee shirt, a coffee mug, some stationery items, and a pair of Bluetooth headphones when I joined. The BT Headphones, believe it or not, are amazing quality. They do not seem to be expensive or anything, they just have excellent sound quality.

When I leave this job, is it acceptable for me to take those headphones with me? If I'd worn that shirt, I obviously wouldn't leave it here for them to give to the next person. I've been drinking coffee out of that coffee mug too, but I really don't want the mug and I am sure they are probably just going to either wash it or throw it in the trash (coffee mug has company logo and it is starting to wear off, so it won't look new enough for a new employee). So, are headphones as disposable as a tee shirt or a coffee mug?

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    Were the headphones specifically for work; that is you're expected to use them at your desk (or is very normal that everybody does). Or was it part of a "gift bag" where you were expected to take them home and do what you want with them?
    – user81330
    Feb 25, 2019 at 16:21
  • Are you asking if this is legally acceptable or socially acceptable?
    – MikeQ
    Feb 25, 2019 at 16:21
  • @Bilkokuya they are headphones, not headset. AKA, it does not have a mic attached to it. So I am assuming they don't really expect me to use it for conference calls or what not. I use it for listening to music and watching videos regarding work. Feb 25, 2019 at 16:22
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    @Justin The only two things printed on these headphones are "Made in China" and the company name. Absolutely no information about what brand these are. They are BT enabled, and the earpieces fold in to make it compact and easy to travel with. That's all I got, sorry! Feb 25, 2019 at 18:10
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    Addressing the close votes on this question, this is not a question regarding what MY company will think and what MY company will do, but a general question with regards to the etiquette regarding taking what was given to me as a welcome gift. This isn't equipment and is purely addressing the societal expectations on keeping gifts when quitting. Feb 25, 2019 at 19:49

6 Answers 6


As a rule of thumb: If it's unrelated to your role, it is a gift

The other answers give you the clear baseline "won't ever get you in trouble" answer; if you feel you cannot make the distinction, please do not hesitate to simply follow their advice and ask somebody.

However - it's unlikely this is something you need to worry about. Employers (especially medium-large businesses) often give small presents when you start, to help you feel welcome and part of the company.

The key thing to determine is: Is this item equipment, or a gift

Equipment, obviously, needs returned (your PC, your keyboard, desk, chair). Gifts, were given for your sole use, and you can pretty-universally keep.

To help decide, asking yourself these questions can give you a good rule of thumb to work by:

  • Do I or others use this to achieve our role's tasks and responsibilities? (Not a gift)

  • Was the item set up for me by IT, or in any other way set up as part of my role? (Not a gift)

  • Am I expected to have this item with me in the office, regularly? (Not a gift)

  • Did I ever have to request this item, or ask for it? (Not a gift)

  • Was the item given to me along with other personal items (t-shirts, stickers, chocolate)? (Likely is a gift)

  • Is the item heavily branded (with the company logo)/looks like consumer merchandise? (Likely a gift)

  • Is the item perishable (chocolate, wine, etc.)? (Likely a gift)

  • Would I report it, if it went missing or was damaged? (If not; it's likely a gift)

Of course, others have reiterated that asking will ensure you are extremely safe. But in general - it's not uncommon to be given gifts by your workplace, especially when joining. These items are not expected to be returned, and nobody will be checking that you left it.

  • Your list + my headphones match about 50%. And they're mine. For a programmer, it isnt a must to have headphones, but being isolated from the office noise can help you focus, creating better result. But it's not an hard requirement/equipment.
    – Martijn
    Feb 26, 2019 at 9:02

I run the tech department at my company. We work in broadcast media, and we issue each employee headphones when they start, and replace them as needed.

We tell employees to take them when they leave on good terms, and we throw them away if they do not.

Because if they've been rubbing on your skin for months / years, who in their right minds would want to give them to someone else?

Now, that's the "Makes Sense" answer. If you have overly petty/possessive office supply coordinators, it may be better to just give them back. However, if I were given "used" headphones when I took a job, I'd decline them.

  • Purely out of interest, do you also do the same for mouse/keyboard?
    – Tas
    Feb 25, 2019 at 22:09
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    We provide cleaning cloths and solution. There are a couple of editors who have brought their own keyboards, mice, and headphones over the years. Love those front-facing USB ports! Feb 25, 2019 at 22:14

What you could do to make it less stingy, is inquire about the make and model of the headphones. "Boss, this headset is really good, do you know which brand they are, so I can get a set for myself?". Most likely he'll say "just keep them". If not, you're probably better off leaving them. Should there be any trouble after keeping them, you can refer to getting the boss' permission.

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    Great idea that opens up the possibility to acquire the same headphones even if company keeps the item.
    – Džuris
    Feb 25, 2019 at 21:16
  • I feel like this is definitely the best answer to the question. You can't be mistaken for wanting to pilfer office supplies and it opens the doors up for a clear positive response if their intention was that you could have the headphones.
    – ptr
    Feb 26, 2019 at 8:01
  • Well, given that the make/model are probably silkscreened on the headphones, might not be the best approach. You could ask if you could "buy" them from the company, though. Mar 1, 2019 at 16:31

Ask your employer or supervisor.

Different companies have different policies regarding equipment and supplies. At some organizations, the headphones are considered a free perk of the job. At others they may be considered company property on loan to the employees.

If there's a chance that taking the headphones without permission will count as theft of office property, then you may face legal consequences (and possibly social consequences of being "that guy who steals office supplies"). Best to play it safe, and ask your boss about this policy before you quit.


The best option is to ask your boss.

However, in addition to that, in two IT companies where I have been working, the items that were expected to be returned were tracked. There was a special intranet web page where I could look up which equipment has been assigned to me; it was assumed that I have some kind of responsibility for it and that I will have to return it if I leave.

You can check whether your company has a similar system. It can be online (i.e. on intranet web pages), or offline (you go to equipment guys and ask what equipment is listed on you). If the headphones are not there, I would assume them to be kind of 'use-once' and nobody would check whether you returned them.


Personally - this sounds acceptable.

In-ear headphones are not really hygienic to pass on to someone else.

Certainly if they're not provided as equipment to work (eg telephone headset in a call centre) then they are probably just freebies you get when joining.

What you could do (instead of outright asking your boss about them), if you are just entering your notice period, is ask for a list of equipment they want you to return. That way you know exactly what you need to give back and what you can keep, without specifically mentioning the headphones. (You'll also see if there's anything unexpected on there).

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