So, when I started a new job, I used my personal laptop for work purposes (because the computers there were full of spam and unsecure). Eventually, the work software caused my laptop to crash. My owner agreed to buy me a new one (because my old one was no longer useable). I purchased the machine in a credit line under my name, but paid the credit line through the business. The laptop is also registered to me personally.

My owner is a jerk (surprise, surprise) and is now claiming that he can take my laptop whenever he wants and that I should watch out, because I am a student and I am lucky he lets me use it for school.

Can he legally take this from me, and if so, how can I make this not the case (do I need to pay for it, part of it...?). I would like to not have to pay for it because it was meant to replace my personal property destroyed while being utilized for company purposes.

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    "My owner agreed to buy me a new one" - what form of agreement was this, verbal or written? Was it in the form of "I'll buy you a new laptop", or was it "I'll buy a new laptop"? Unless you have some sort of proof that he was offering to replace your personal property with company funds, then to an unbiased outsider it looks like he purchased a new company laptop that you're using, and when you're done at the company you'll give up the laptop. (The lesson is to never use personal property for company purposes - or vice versa.) – Adam V Nov 4 '13 at 17:53
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    Why can't you just reimage your old personal laptop and not put any of the buggy work stuff on it? – Amy Blankenship Nov 4 '13 at 18:18
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    Off topic but you could potentially have a claim against the company for the replacement of your laptop. But that does not mean that you are entitled to take company property (the new laptop) as compensation. You would need a lawyer to help with anything like that. Even if you had written documentation that the new laptop was intended to be compensation, should the company demand it back your safest course of action would be to turn over the laptop and seek legal restitution. You could end up facing theft charges, and I seen something similar end in that. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Nov 4 '13 at 18:56
  • @JoeSTrazzere - I think you overestimate the technical competence of the average judge on the small claims circuit. But then again I said "POTENTIALLY" and check with a lawyer. It has not been clarified that the damage was just to the software. It could be physical damage was done. That has never been clarified. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Nov 4 '13 at 21:18
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    Joe back in the day Oracles forms development tools used to cause blue screen crashes every 10 to 15 min. – Neuromancer Nov 5 '13 at 12:45

This is the problem with verbal agreements: everybody involved understands it differently and there's no record to consult.

In this case, because you used the company credit card for the purchase, you are probably out of luck. Your best approach to correcting the problem will be through negotiation, not legal appeals. "Hey boss, when you said you'd replace my personal property that was damaged because of work, I thought you meant the new machine would be mine too. What can we do to make this right? Do you need me to pay some part of the cost since it's a newer, better machine?"

In the future, if personal property is damaged on the job it is much better for you to seek reimbursement for your expenses, rather than having the company pay them directly. That way it's clearer, and if they reimburse you via your paycheck it may even generate a specific line-item for your records.

All that said, it sounds like the company provided you a machine that you decided you didn't want to use. If that happens again, you should discuss the problem with them up front before resorting to the use of personal property. If you can avoid putting yourself in the position of having to use your own property, you can avoid this class of problems.

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    @JoeStrazzere yes, especially for hardware, but you can't always avoid it. For example, I bought my own office chair because I found the standard-issue ones in our office to be ergonomically unsuitable; I could have petitioned for them to evaluate and buy me one, but it was easier for me to just go shopping and pay for it. I made sure they knew that it's personal property (and I'll take it when I leave), and it has a suitable sticker on it now. – Monica Cellio Nov 4 '13 at 20:20
  • I'm using my own mouse/keyboard for similar reasons. And whiteboard, for that matter. But I've got "Personal property of enderland" on all of them in permanent marker... – enderland Nov 4 '13 at 21:19
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    @MonicaCellio I've done the same. While I agree with Joe that it's a suboptimal situation, when the choices boil down to spending a few hundred dollars on a chair that allows you to work comfortably or spending a few hundred dollars on chiropractory in an attempt to mitigate the effects of sitting in a bad chair for 40 hours/week, it becomes painfully apparent that standing on principles is no more than cutting off your nose to spite your face. – Dan Is Fiddling By Firelight Nov 5 '13 at 1:37

OK, unless it's a Mac PowerBook, laptops are incredibly cheap. $500 gets you a really decent machine these days, if you watch the store specials.

  • First, get your original one working, ASAP, and use it for school. You're right back to where you started from. Put in a new hard drive, re-install the OS (If it's Windows, your license key is on a sticker, probably on the bottom of the machine) and get that thing working again.

  • Second, stop using the other laptop for school. Your boss reneged on the agreement, so the new laptop is effectively the company's, now. Get everything for school OFF of that PC. Use DropBox, GoogleDrive, or whatever to keep your stuff "handy."

  • Third, realize your mistake in ever using your own machine for your employer. If their machines are problems, then get a virtualized machine running inside of theirs (VMWare Workstation or Microsoft Virtual PC), and use that for your work. NEVER put your own software on it.

  • Fourth, realize how lucky you are to just lose a laptop to this company. From this day forward, never take anything to work you can't walk away from. Pictures? Bring in copies. Personal knickknacks? Better be cheap and have no sentimental value. Personal computer - absolutely never. Leave it locked in your car or better yet, leave it at home and run LogMeIn to reach it from work if you have to.

  • Fifth, and I hate to say this: Unless you change yourself, this will not be the last time an employer steals from you. They are the business equivalent of an abusive spouse. Abusive employers require employees that don't stand up for themselves to "get away with it." Stop being that employee. They treat you like dirt and make you feel like you're not worth working anywhere else. Finish your degree and get happy at your "Real" job as fast as you can. Don't ever look back on this job.

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    "this will not be the last time an employer steals from you." Care to explain this? How exactly did the employer steal in this case? – jmac Nov 5 '13 at 4:15
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    The employer hasn't stolen from him. He was reimbursed for purchasing a laptop. It doesn't mean he automatically owns it. – Simon O'Doherty Nov 5 '13 at 8:11
  • $500 for a nice machine depends on the country you are in. If Liz is in the US, that's alright, but if she's in Mexico it may be not that cheap, and in Brazil that wouldn't even buy any machine whatsoever. – user10483 Nov 5 '13 at 13:09
  • @jmac - He used personal property for work, and that property was damaged by using it for work. That property was not repaired or replaced by his employer. That's theft where I come from. You may see it differently. – Wesley Long Nov 5 '13 at 19:53
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    (while I get a delightful image when thinking of an employer twisting his mustache saying, "Now for my next evil scheme, I will have work software installed on my employee's personal computer, and when it breaks the computer I will refuse to reimburse it and reap huge profits!", I don't think it's a very plausible scenario -- there are probably far more employees trying to con their employers in to reimbursing them for fraudulent 'work-related' expenses than vice versa) – jmac Nov 6 '13 at 4:05

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