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The current company I work for full-time, started off with me working as a contractor for them being paid hourly. About two years into working with them, the director of IT purchased a laptop for me on the company credit card to use for not only their development work, but also my schooling etc. When I graduated, they offered me a full-time position as a senior app developer at their company, so I brought my laptop (which they bought two years prior). The person who handled my on-boarding asked if they needed to purchase a laptop for me to use (clearly unaware my direct supervisor already purchased one for me 2 years ago) or if I had my own. I answered I had my own, and I did not need one from the company.

My question is, could I claim that laptop as my personal laptop? For example, if I was to leave this job, could I take this laptop with me?

I am also concerned that since I do a lot of extra contract work outside of my full-time job on this same laptop, they could potentially claim my extra projects as their property (This however is probably out of scope for workplace).

EDIT 1: All of our equipment(laptop, desktops, phones) given to employees has stickers/branding on it to help our IT department track where stuff is. My laptop does not have this.

EDIT2: I work for a medium sized company (100M Revenue), with an IT department of three people, including me. My boss is VP of IT who only reports to a hands off owner. I personally have known my boss since I was young, given that, I should probably just directly ask him and be done with it, but I was hoping to be less direct with my solution. I have also personally upgraded the laptop out of my own pocket when I was a contractor.

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You were a contractor. What did your contract say?

The laptop could be company property, or it could have been a part of your compensation as “payment in kind”. It’s impossible for us to say without seeing what was written on your contract.

If there wasn’t anything written on your contract, what I’d recommend you to do is to send an email to your old boss to ask for clarification since you don’t want to accidentally steal company property, or give up something that might be your own property. That way you can get a response in writing that you can refer to if there’s a dispute over the ownership of the laptop in the future.

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  • Never actually received a written contract to do work for them. My boss I know personally, and I assume that is why we never put anything in writing while I was still a contractor. Which means it is probably safe to assume, I have no right to the laptop. While I do believe the laptop was a kind of compensation since he admitted I was well underpaid for the work I was doing. I appreciate the different perspective and friendly answer. – cela Aug 18 '20 at 22:07
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    @cela If there was no written contract and your old boss bought you a laptop on a company credit card, then it was technically him who did something wrong - giving company property to someone who wasn't on the books officially. However considering you have an ongoing relationship with the company, I wouldn't want to leave things in this state. If they do somehow catch wind that this laptop was bought with a company card, it's your word against everyone else as to who "owns" it, and at the very least you'll probably end up fired. Get something in writing and then act accordingly. – Steve-O Aug 19 '20 at 13:58
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This is in no way, shape, or form your property, it is theirs. Depending on the state, everything on it and everything developed on it could be their property as well, so it would behoove you to remove anything you developed on it to an external drive until you can buy a machine of your own.

The lack of a ticket or branding on your laptop does not indicate that it is yours either. In fact, you want to bring this fact to the attention of your on site manager and/or to the attention of IT to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

Right now, it looks like you're going to steal a laptop. If that's your intent, I strongly suggest that you rethink that. Your reputation is everything, don't blow it.

I've done contract work myself. I don't even check my email on their machines, I keep a 100% separation of their stuff, and my stuff. It makes life much easier, and eliminates every last hint of impropriety. As a contractor, you want to be above reproach and act better than the BEST full time employee. If you don't, you may find yourself blacklisted. Don't think it doesn't happen

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    I have no intention of stealing anything nor leaving my current job leading to me having it. I was merely seeking a second opinion on the ownership of my employer's laptop (see what I did there). I did not even mention a theoretical situation where I take said laptop. – cela Aug 18 '20 at 20:02
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    @Alec Good. But I wasn't talking about about your intent but what it looks like which is why my answer was about the appearance of impropriety. You want to be so clean that you squeak. That way, mean people like me can't even make a suggestion that you're in the wrong. – Old_Lamplighter Aug 18 '20 at 20:05
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    @Alec studoku's comment does demonstrate the need for being above reproach. Live your life in such a way that is someone speaks ill of you, nobody would believe it – Old_Lamplighter Aug 18 '20 at 20:30
  • Downvoted because I think this answer is incorrect. It might be company property or it might be his property, depending on what was written on the contract. – nick012000 Aug 18 '20 at 21:33
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is it mine?

No

No, it is not yours, unless you have documentation (a receipt) from the company stating that it is yours.

Furthermore you should not do work for other companies on the equipment this company purchased for you.

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  • And what would this documentation look like, some sort of written consent? – cela Aug 18 '20 at 19:04
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    @Alec nothing short of a bill of sale, or papers from the company stating that it is your property exclusively. – Old_Lamplighter Aug 18 '20 at 20:00
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    @Old_Lamplighter or a contract stating that it was part of his compensation or benefits package. – nick012000 Aug 18 '20 at 21:34
  • @nick012000 last I checked, papers stating that it's your property exclusively could be within a contract, but thanks for pointing it out, as now I know at least one person couldn't extrapolate that fact. – Old_Lamplighter Aug 19 '20 at 12:58
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First, no. They bought it, they paid for it, it is theirs.

Second, you should NOT be doing outside work on the company machine.

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could I claim that laptop as my personal laptop?

No. In what world would this be acceptable? The company paid for it, it belongs to the company.

I am also concerned that since I do a lot of extra contract work outside of my full-time job on this same laptop, they could potentially claim my extra projects as their property.

They might be able to, but that's a question only an attorney can answer authoritatively. The best remedy is to cease this activity on this computer and remove all aspects and components of it from this computer. NEVER conduct business that isn't related to the company with company property.

Based on your edits:

All of our equipment (laptop, desktops, phones) given to employees has stickers/branding on it to help our IT department track where stuff is. My laptop does not have this.

Irrelevant. Their oversight doesn't give you licence to take what isn't yours. If you're implying that the fact that there is no company sticker on it means that the unspoken understanding is that it belongs to you, or that the lack of a company sticker confers ownership to you... well, that's wrong.

I work for a medium sized company (100M Revenue), with an IT department of three people, including me.

Irrelevant

My boss is VP of IT who only reports to a hands off owner.

Irrelevant

I personally have known my boss since I was young, given that, I should probably just directly ask him and be done with it, but I was hoping to be less direct with my solution.

Translation: If enough people on the internet agree with me then I can justify taking something that doesn't belong to me.

I have also personally upgraded the laptop out of my own pocket when I was a contractor.

That doesn't oblige them to give you the laptop nor does it justify your desire to claim it as your own.

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    It's clear from your question that this wasn't a gift or a donation. If you're confused regarding the guise under which it was given to you then ask your manager, not us. – joeqwerty Aug 18 '20 at 19:49
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    @Alec If you genuinely believed it was a gift, why did you ask us instead of your supervisor? – Studoku Aug 18 '20 at 19:49
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    @Alec Again, why not ask the person who gave it to you? – Studoku Aug 18 '20 at 19:59
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Old Lampligher's excellent answer deals with what you should do with respect to the original laptop, but you also were given an opportunity to get a new laptop:

The person who handled my on-boarding asked if they needed to purchase a laptop for me to use (clearly unaware my direct supervisor already purchased one for me 2 years ago) or if I had my own. I answered I had my own, and I did not need one from the company.

If the first laptop is in fact company property, it isn't yours. This might change whether you "need" a new laptop. Especially if you are going to tell the company that the first laptop is theirs you may reconsider whether you need/want a new one. You could say:

Actually, I have a laptop that $OldManager bought for me 2 years ago. This laptop is working fine so I can keep using it for the time being.

Or:

I have a laptop that $OldManager bought for me 2 years ago when I was a contractor. This laptop is functional but it (doesn't have enough memory for current development|has a 2 year old CPU|has a small disk) and if possible I would like a new one.

There may be different equipment allowances for contractors vs full time hires, and there may be an expected age for issued equipment where after a certain number of years the company will give you new equipment. It might help you to tell them you are using 2 year old hardware regardless of whether you want a new laptop now or not.

If you care about what kind of hardware you get, in my personal experience I find that discussing hardware requirements/desires with your manager rather than IT department in general is a good idea.

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  • We are small-medium sized company($100M revenue) with an IT department of 3 people, including me, so I think your part about discussing with my direct manager would hold true in a larger company but in my case the head of IT is also my direct superior. For equipment allowances, we only contract out with one other developer, and we do not provide him with any equipment. Everything he did or does is done on his own stuff. To really throw a wrench into the situation, I have personally upgraded the laptop, 32GB of RAM and 2TB SSD, out of my own pocket while I was still a contractor. – cela Aug 18 '20 at 21:55
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    That's like making upgrades to a house one is renting. You either need to restore the property back to the way you got it when you leave/give it back or your upgrades stay with the property. – D. SM Aug 18 '20 at 22:25
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    Do let us know whether your manager says the laptop is your personal property. – D. SM Aug 18 '20 at 22:27
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    Asked him this morning, he said if I was to ever leave that laptop is mine since its been almost two years since he purchased it. Although we finally did get everything up to par in terms of getting me on the domain and proper branding to keep track of it, so a win-win. – cela Aug 19 '20 at 15:45
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While I agree with the other posters that you should treat the laptop as belonging to the company (unless and until told otherwise), I think there is a chance that the laptop was intended as a reward. If this is a small company with a sort of "family" feel, it's not unheard of.

I suggest you start by asking that manager if your laptop should have a company sticker. There's a chance the manager will say something like "no, that laptop was depreciated already, it's yours now", in which case you can keep it with a clear conscience. If they ask you to put a tag on it, then you know they do consider it company property.

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  • Simple solution, I will try that. thanks – cela Aug 18 '20 at 22:04

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