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I was given company equipment some time ago to help me with my work. When I received the original equipment I signed nothing. I assumed that this was my equipment to keep - especially due to Covid etc. A few months ago I accidentally damaged one of the items (a special type of laminated paper).

I do not think that the company knows about me damaging this. I spoke to my line manager about it when it happened, when I asked to have a replacement they didn't really say much however I consider it unlikely he told this to the HR department - but I can't be sure.

My company have now given me a form to fill saying that I am responsible for the equipment and for costs incurred to repair damaged equipment when I leave the company and have asked me to sign this form.

Should I sign this form?

This company is within the UK.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – motosubatsu
    Jan 19 at 18:06

6 Answers 6

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The equipment is owned by your company. You are acting as an agent for your company. Therefore the company is liable for anything you do as part of your job. And just to make that clear, accidental mistakes and the consequences are part of your job! Intentional mistakes are not, but I'm sure you didn't damage any equipment intentionally.

Do NOT sign this form. There is no reason for you to sign it. There is no possible benefit for you from signing it, especially since you damaged the equipment. Of course your assumption that "this was your equipment to keep" is naive. It's their equipment, which is why it is their problem if it's broken.

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    Equipment wear and tear is part of company operations. The damage should be part of normal operating costs. If they want to bill you for that, you should bill them the electric that you use when working remotely.
    – Nelson
    Jan 18 at 0:25
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    it is quite a red flag that when he mention about the damage the company does not try to discuss or negotiate but instead they give you a form to sign. Jan 18 at 3:53
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    +1. And if he signs the document, how to be sure they'll not charge cost for other equipment or tools much more expensive ? Who's in charge of defining responsibilities ? Seems like a red flag. Prepare for whatever consequence comes with not signing it.
    – Tim
    Jan 18 at 6:23
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    @jwenting The OP is specifically asking about the UK, though.
    – Stef
    Jan 18 at 12:30
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    @FreeMan That doesn't mean you are responsible for accidental damage. Take my laptop, it belongs to my employer, it's quite high spec for various reasons, but I can't insure it (it's not mine), there is no such thing as personal liability insurance in the UK, so expecting an employee to cough up a four figure sum if the laptop gets damaged accidentally just wouldn't fly here. If I destroy it with a hammer, that's a different issue. Jan 18 at 17:35
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  1. Company property is company property, they can certainly have it returned if they want to.
  2. In most cases employees are NOT responsible for accidental damage to company property unless it was grossly negligent or related to some sort of misconduct.
  3. Every company has the right to make their own policies as long as these do not conflict with local labor law (I believe the UK has a free advisory service for this type of thing).

It appears that in the UK the employer can only make you pay for damages if your contract says so, (https://www.peninsulagrouplimited.com/topic/employee-conduct/damage-to-company-property). That's probably why they want you to sign this after the fact. I don't think they can legally force you to sign it, but not doing so will strain the relationship with your employer.

In this case you have to weigh the money against your future career outlook at this employer. Even if you decide to sign it, you can refuse to take company property home stating that you are not comfortable with taking full responsibility for it.

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    @hilmar, Yes, but they could charge $200 for something that's only worth $20, so they should be careful about what they sign. Jan 18 at 2:59
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    I can't see that signing it, then refusing to take equipment home would be any better than not signing it at all from the companies point of view, it won't satisfy their goals.
    – Charemer
    Jan 18 at 10:10
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    @Hilmar This item might be only $20, but what happens if he accidentally drops a company laptop the next day?
    – Barmar
    Jan 18 at 15:55
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    "you can refuse to take company property home" -- that might make it impossible to do your job. E.g. if you're working from home you probably need to take a laptop home.
    – Barmar
    Jan 18 at 15:58
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    @Livarooney06 if you told your manager in writing (got an email?), then you have proof that the damage occurred before signing the paper. Just make sure to keep (I'd suggest printing a paper copy) the email for future reference.
    – FreeMan
    Jan 18 at 17:22
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I would send them the following email:

Hi (Janet),

Two weeks ago (insert real date here), I notified my line manager that I accidentally damaged (item A) during the course of my work.

Is the new agreement you just sent me related to that incident? Will my acceptance to pay for accidental damages apply retroactively? Or will that agreement only apply to accidental damages going forward?

These questions are best asked over email, this way you have a times stamped record of them. And if you use your work email, make sure to keep a copy for your own personal records.

Most likely, they will tell you that you will only be responsible for new damages going forward, and that will be the end of it (but please do let us know if they respond any other way).

Then, it will be your choice whether you're willing to accept the new risks going forward, or not. If they gave you a work laptop for instance, you may want them to pay for insurance for that laptop before you sign anything like that.

And if you have children, or pets, or an insecure environment you're living in, you may want to consider the ramifications if any of the equipment and materials get damaged again. Or if it's normal to damage that laminated paper during the course of your work, then I would ask a clarification about that.

The same goes if they expect you to mail the equipment and materials back to them once your contract is over. Will they be willing to pay for Priority Mail/return-receipt/tracking, or for extra insurance? I ask because sometimes it makes no sense to pay $15 in tracking or insurance, if the used item is only valued at $20 brand new.

But if you think that the company is going to be acting petty, then it's in your interest to be extremely cautious about such things.

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  • I wouldn't send anything like this - it's giving them power they don't have. The email OP should send is "Under UK law [citation], employees are not responsible of accidental damage to company assets, unless caused through gross negligence, which is not the case here. Accordingly I am not signing your form, nor agreeing in any capacity, to pay for replacement of [item]. I await the replacement of the item forthwith."
    – Bohemian
    Jan 19 at 21:56
  • @Bohemian, You can always send what you wrote after they've answered the first message. Note that I didn't commit to anything in my message. I'm just asking for clarification. Also, I don't want to jump to conclusions, perhaps they want the OP to sign this document because they plan on sending them more expensive equipment. The truth is. We know very little about the larger business context here. For all we know, this employer could be a Work-From-Home scammer, or that employer could have legitimate concerns about their people mistreating the equipment/materials they receive. Jan 19 at 23:21
  • And if the latter is the case, it really doesn't cost anything to be tactful about this. Maybe there is a way to alleviate their worry without needing to take on the liability. Jan 19 at 23:23
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    This opens a can of worms, to no advantage for the OP
    – Stilez
    Jan 20 at 9:39
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    ... If what they actually asked isn't what they intended to ask, a flat "no" and explanation of the issue will get them thinking its not well worded and word it better for a more reasonable request. But in any other case, you don't even want to imply a "foot in the door" is okay, or it might somehow be okay. Under no circumstances is arbitrary liability billed at the time of departure ever going to be okay, of any kind, so be direct and say so. Flat hard no - courteous, but flat hard - is the only answer.
    – Stilez
    Jan 21 at 1:25
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No. Absolutely not. Because 'when you leave the company' is an open door for them to decide on some arbitrary amount, no doubt with a bias against you for normal wear and tear. One person's "it was like that when you lent it to me" might be another's "It was perfect when we lent it to you." Thus you get ambushed when you decide to pack it in. Also it gives shady operators a way to withhold wages 'in-case'. "We've deducted a £250 refurbishment cost" is a scam.

I can see their point as many home workers have no respect for loaned equipment, even to the point of selling it!

With some things like PPE for example, it's common for the company to pay up front with a loan against wages in writing so that you can't get new boots on day one and walk out scot-free on day two. These then become yours.

You already have a duty to care for other people's property. If you're negligent then they can legally sue you, so this form is superfluous.

Write to say you're not happy with such a system that's open to possible abuse. Going forward, it's perfectly reasonable to have a schedule of equipment provided and for the company to claim against you at the time when damage occurs. Then you can argue about it while the evidence is fresh. The same goes for when equipment breaks, needs servicing and end of job. Things wear out, lack of training might lead to damage. Neither of these are your fault.

If their agreement with you is vague and hasn't covered this already then there's a lot wrong. For example what happens if your house catches fire? Who insures the equipment against that? It should already be in writing.

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Besides all points mentioned by gnasher729's answer already, it's important to take care of the fact when and why your item got damaged.

In Germany, the item must only be used (until stated otherwise) while working for the given company, with no private use. The private use is, until explicitly stated somewhere, illegal. This has been judged in a german judgement "2 AZR 581/04". I guess that doesn't differ much with other countries.

So the following questions come to my mind:

  1. Did it get damaged during work or private use?
  2. Did you need to take out of company buildings to work?
  3. repair damaged equipment when I leave the company - When you work somewhere else (at client or at home) or when you go home after work?

I think the company wants to make sure that you don't use that paper in private. The given document should not be signed as, if you mean "private time" by leave it's already clear and if it's work time you shouldn't (and aren't) liable for damaged equipment, as long as it's not intentional.

TL;DR;

Good case - signing it is obsolete

Bad case - signing it may have bad consequences

--> Don't sign

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    Are you sure private use without permission is illegal? That seems unlikely, it's not generally illegal to use property without permission. Vehicles are a special case where 'taking without owner's permission' is a crime, but that's about vehicles only. What would the name of the crime be?
    – bdsl
    Jan 18 at 18:07
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    @bdsl: I think you meant to say that permission doesn't usually distinguish between work and private use? Because if you don't have permission to use another's property and you do anyway, you're bound for big trouble. Why do you think "taking without owner's permission" narrowly applies to vehicles? Once you cross the line from "using" to "taking" (without permission) it's clearly a crime.
    – Ben Voigt
    Jan 18 at 23:32
  • @BenVoigt "narrowly applies to vehicles?" -- e.g., the UK has such a vehicle-specific law.
    – nanoman
    Jan 19 at 4:29
  • @bdsl in germany, company devices and phones must not be used privately until explicitely stated in a judgement(2 AZR 581/04). The usage of internet ist granted as long as it is only a small part. I added that to my post. Jan 19 at 7:43
  • @BenVoigt I don't know so much about other countries, but in England and Wales the offence of Taking Without Owner's Consent (twoccing for short) is specific to vehicles: legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1968/60/section/12 The nearest equivalent for other items is probably theft, but that means taking permanently.
    – bdsl
    Jan 19 at 9:25
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You consider it unlikely that they know of the damage. However you asked for replacement paper, and your line manager may have asked if damage is covered or something. Either way this form has arrived. Whether by chance timing or connected, we don't know.

I would not accept that form. Its a classic thing in employment, don't accept extra obligations without some form of compensation (pay, etc).

It's also a classic of negotiation/discussion to state your own position, rather than just weakly defending against/objecting to theirs.

Hence, instead, I'd reply something like this:

Hi,

Regarding your email and form, I am confused by these.

Of course, like all of us, any employee is responsible for deliberate damage done to company property. That's normal and expected, and should be in any contract of employment anyway.

However your form is suggesting something completely different. At face value, it's suggesting that all employees are liable for all costs to any damaged equipment - whether accidental or otherwise. Also in addition, that this should be retrospective from today back to whenever they first joined the company, and that thus may be claimed when they leave.

I don't think that is the intent behind it, but that's actually what the wording implies, and therefore with regret I cannot sign it. It literally leaves too many doors open and is too open ended and vague.

By way of example, if a chair breaks, or a tool fails, during use, or a person accidentally pulls a cable out and breaks it, will there be a bill on their final day of work for all such matters? Including all those from first starting until today? I cannot imagine that is the intent. But it is the actual wording.

Standard UK law is that employees are not responsible for run of the mill accidents, loss, or damage, provided they did not do them deliberately. I look forward to confirmation that this is actually what is intended by your email.

Best regards, ...

If they argue, maybe add this observation (in your own words) to any reply:

It also gives leeway for anyone who wanted, to charge pretty much any amount to anyone, after any amount of time passed - after all, who broke a cable years ago? Who else had used that chair and perhaps weakened it? Should the "damage" include just the cable, or the full cost of a service call and lost time of a department? There is massive potential open-ended liability, enough to potentially bankrupt any employee.

You may get pushback.

Companies tend to want forms signed and contracts changed when they want it. But in this case, it's too big to do that.

Even if they agree to a list of past damage they propose to charge, or confirm there isn't any known, they could "discover" some later, or blame you tomorrow for something with a 4 figure bill.

You can't sign this, or anything like it. You dare not. Even if it costs your job. So there is no point in discussing it or negotiating it, as if you could sign it. You have to state your position and that's that.

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