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[For reference, I am currently a junior in college, so still definitely learning how to approach workplace issues.] I wrapped up an extended summer internship this past March, and I have unintentionally been holding on to the laptop I received, just because the latter end of the semester was especially taxing, and returning my laptop wasn't exactly on the forefront of my mind.

In my last few weeks at the company, my boss (who was actually leaving the same date as me) had CC'd me in an email with HR explaining my termination, as well as asking for details on how to return my laptop. HR had emailed back noting my termination date, but didn't address anything in regards to returning the technology. I recognize that it's definitely on me that I had not followed up, but again, I was swamped with school, and frankly, just happy that I wouldn't be dealing with work anymore. I remember when the summer internship program was ending, our internship recruiters had given instructions as to how to return the laptops, but promptly after ending my internship, I had been locked out of all my emails, so I couldn't refer back.

My family has seen no issue with my not returning the laptop, insisting if the company wanted it, they would follow up, which I agree with. However now, my mother has been asking if she can use the laptop for her own personal uses, and I'm concerned that they'll be able to track me or I'll get in trouble (old Quora questions have been making claims that I could get sued for holding onto this, which I obviously would love to avoid.) The laptop is really lovely (a 2020 Macbook Pro, I believe), but definitely has company software on it, as I remember a terminal-base thing that was preloaded into the laptop that would link straight to any company pages that were necessary.

Do you think it would be crazy to just email IT and ask if I could buy the laptop off of them or if this would be outrageously expensive? Or would we be able to continue using the laptop until [insert anxiety-inducing scenario here]. I'm thinking it would be best to just email IT asking how to return it, but I know my mother would be extremely disappointed and my family would call me overdramatic for being anxious about this, but just wanted to get outside opinions.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – motosubatsu
    Jun 9 at 9:39
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    This question was asked yesterday on SE Law after they were arrested for not returning the laptop as fast as the company wanted. So yes companies can hunt you down...though it sounds like you have the opposite problem where your company isn't putting enough effort to get the laptop back.
    – noslenkwah
    Jun 9 at 13:55

13 Answers 13

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You should definitely contact the company you had your internship with, remind them that you still have their laptop and ask how to return it. It is company equipment so the ownership is theirs and holding onto it when no longer working for said company could end badly for you.

They probably have some list of devices in their ownership and sooner or later they will take inventory. Best case is they will just contact you and ask for its return.

What your family is encouraging is theft.

It is also worth adding that if you let other people use it, you are essentially letting outside people onto company equipment and if they find that out it could get a lot worse as it might be possible to get hold of things only company employees should see.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Jun 11 at 13:22
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You should promptly contact the company to ask for ways to return the laptop as soon as possible. You should have returned that laptop on your last day of work.

Please pick up the phone now (today), and call HR, or the hiring manager, or recruiter, or the IT department. Some of them will definitely point you to the right person to return the laptop.

In addition to making the phone call, you can also send them an email to have a paper trail in case they accuse you of intentionally not returning the laptop. But, emails tend to be slow or can even get lost. So, make sure you call first, and send a follow-up email if necessary.

This MacBook Pro laptop is expensive. But, even if they had given you a cheap laptop, you should have still returned it ASAP as this is a matter of being professional and responsible.

The longer you keep it, the more likely the company may have unfavorable opinion about you. If they have to track you down to ask for the return of this laptop, they may not even want to offer you the second term of internship the next time.

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    Yes, send the email, then 1 minute later, make the phone call. The phone call will make things go faster, but having an email to prove your good faith effort is important also, so be sure to send the email before you call. Jun 8 at 7:47
  • @StephanBranczyk, that is the right order. Thanks. Jun 8 at 7:48
  • I totally agree that this is the way to go. If the company makes no effort to retrieve the laptop, you will need to follow up after about 2 weeks with another email & phone call. At that point if they still do not make any arrangements for you to return the laptop, send one final email AND a snail-mail copy with registered mail saying that if they do not make arrangements for the return of the laptop within a further 2 weeks you will consider the laptop "abandoned property" and dispose of it. [continued]
    – Dragonel
    Jun 8 at 15:11
  • [continues...] After those further two weeks, having done plenty of documented good faith efforts to return it, then and only then can you consider using the laptop yourself (or your family). Note that this my vary depending on jurisdiction.
    – Dragonel
    Jun 8 at 15:12
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    @Job_September_2020 You should edit your answer to clarify the right order that you've mentioned in your reply to Stephan.
    – cjs
    Jun 9 at 5:27
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Since the other answers thoroughly answer the "can I just keep it?" question, I'll address this part instead:

Do you think it would be crazy to just email IT and ask if I could buy the laptop off of them or if this would be outrageously expensive?

The resale value of the laptop probably won't be the sticking point. Rather, I'd imagine it will be the company's willingness or ability to do it at all.

At the companies I've worked for (past and present), doing something like this is usually incredibly difficult. Most companies, certainly those big enough to take interns and have IT departments, just don't have processes in place to execute the retail sale of depreciable assets. They have to work out the sale price, how to collect money from you, how much sales tax to collect and how to report it, and probably numerous other things.

One you get past the mechanics of the sale itself, you also have to consider the software installed on it. Your company may have installed third-party software that is tied to enterprise licensing that they can't easily (or even legally) transfer to you. It might also contain proprietary data that you're no longer entitled to possess. Even if they can sell it to you, they would probably need to first have it returned to them in order to wipe it and restore it to factory defaults.

There's also the practical matter of who actually owns the laptop. Lots of companies lease their laptop and desktop fleets. The laptop issued to you may in fact be leased, and therefore not the property of your company and not theirs to sell.

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    In Germany they'd have to give a warranty on the device by law, which no (normally non laptop selling) company wants to. That's why they rather trash old PCs than selling them for 0€ without hard drive. Jun 9 at 15:07
  • @ChrᴉzremembersMonica: Not sure how they do it, but the standard procedure at my employer in Germany is that once you get a new work device, they offer you to buy the old one for your personal use at a relatively low price. Thus, it's not just a one-off occurrence, but actually a regular option offered by the employer. Jun 9 at 22:28
  • I have had companies offer to sell me old laptops when they were replaced before. It wasn't a good enough deal to make it worth it, but its not unheard of. Jun 10 at 4:05
  • Another point. For most companies, the value of the laptop is much much higher than the monetary value of a brand new laptop. Many man hours have been spent on customizing the laptop for the purpose it is used for. Not to mention, with the current chip shortage, the lead time alone would be worth an insane amount. For example, at my company, we currently have a lead time of SIX MONTHS for new hardware. Imagine the cost of a new hire being without a laptop for 6 months...
    – Aron
    Jun 10 at 4:42
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    @ChrᴉzremembersMonica: If you sell a laptop for 0€ without hard drive, couldn't you execute the "warranty" by offering a full 0€ refund?
    – Brian
    Jun 10 at 13:00
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The laptop may have controlling software that they can use to block it.

I know of a case where a company executive kept the iPad they had been issued with. Refused to return it over the course of several emails - even told the person in IT who controlled the issuing of devices that they don't have authority over them.

IT shut the device down and the exec was furious :) Got returned eventually. Exec is on the list of "never employ again".

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  • This describes a possible feature of the laptop, but now how to proceed in the current situation or advice. The only viable information here is "If they want it back and you don't return it, they'll lock it and never employ you again". Jun 9 at 15:04
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    There's a good chance this is a MDM enrolled MacBook. When companies enroll their Apple devices, it's impossible to install a new operating system without it being tied to the original company. Their management console allows to remotely enforce policies and track the device. Even if you don't care about that, it makes the computer worthless if you want to sell it.
    – MFlop
    Jun 11 at 8:48
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It's their laptop.

If you do anything to actively conceal that you have their laptop, that could turn it into theft or fraud. For example, if they ask you to return the laptop and you lie that you returned it six months ago.

Your contract may contain duties that you have after leaving the company. For example to return all company property (or destroy any information, paperwork etc. in your possession that doesn't have actual value, except it could cause damage). And if the company doesn't know where the laptop is and who has it, it might be legally lost property, and you would have to do reasonable steps to return it to the owner.

Apart from that, it is likely up to the company to pick it up.

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  • Contract is a solid point. My own contract does state that upon termination any company-supplied equipment should be returned promptly.. That onus is technically on me, but I wouldn't fault an employee for failing to remember it on the day. Hanging onto it or considering it your own property is definitely the wrong move though. Jun 8 at 15:38
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TL;DR

One way or another, the laptop must be returned into the company's possession so that they can securely wipe it.


It sounds like your family is sabotaging your professionalism. From a professional standpoint, your number one priority is to return the laptop, period.

You can certainly ask whether buying the laptop from the company is a possibility.

You can send an email but preferably you should call. Either way, start your conversation like this:

Hi,

I completed my internship in March but was never given instruction on how to return the company laptop, can you help me with this?

If it helps and is a possibility then I would be interested in buying the laptop from the company.

Sincerely, Danielle

(555) 555-5555

If you and your family have been using it for personal reasons then get your files/data off of the laptop if you wish to save it.

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    There's an excellent chance the family is genuinely clueless, especially if they haven't worked jobs where they are personally assigned equipment like laptops. This sounds more like the OP is the first person to have a white collar job.
    – BSMP
    Jun 8 at 18:47
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    The family is clueless, but there's no gaslighting here.
    – Xavier J
    Jun 8 at 22:46
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    @XavierJ "Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which the abuser attempts to sow self-doubt and confusion in their victim's mind. Typically, gaslighters are seeking to gain power and control over the other person, by distorting reality and forcing them to question their own judgment and intuition." describes both "My family has seen no issue with my not returning the laptop, insisting if the company wanted it, they would follow up" and "I know my mother would be extremely disappointed and my family would call me overdramatic for being anxious about this" quite concisely.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Jun 9 at 12:29
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    @MonkeyZeus gaslighting is when someone tries to convince you that what you have genuinely perceived with your five senses never happened. You didn't see what you saw. You didn't hear what you heard. It is crazy making, for the victim. The term is a throwback to a 1944 movie called Gaslight, where the villain does this to one of his victims. You are misapplying the term.
    – Xavier J
    Jun 9 at 16:22
  • @MonkeyZeus There's no evidence here that the family are trying to confuse the OP or gain control over them. Much more likely that they're simply clueless about how these things work, and are giving bad advice without understanding that it's bad advice. That's not gaslighting, it's just plain old "being wrong about something". Jun 14 at 1:31
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You probably won't be sued - but they could report the laptop as stolen (the computer will be listed as an asset, there should be a record somewhere that it was issued to you and there will not be a record that you returned it), and you'd still be in trouble. If there's company installed software on there, then there's also the problem of licences and so on. Just because the company hasn't followed up on it, there's no guarantee that they won't.

Your best course is to approach the company, explain what happened and apologise. You could ask about buying it, but a second hand 2020 MacBook Pro isn't cheap, and they would also have to buy a new replacement themselves.

Either way - make sure you get some evidence from them that you returned or purchased it.

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  • You're much more likely to be threatened with legal action than get arrested for theft. The police often don't care in this kind of situation - try calling the police on someone who's borrowed your tools and see if they care. Getting an in-house lawyer to send a letter saying "we'll sue you" is probably going to be their first step: it's much simpler and quicker than the lawyer dealing with the police and providing the evidence the police will need (even in jurisdictions where this counts as theft). But licences are certainly an issue, as are updates (for security or otherwise).
    – Stuart F
    Jun 13 at 13:37
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It is pretty much possible that the company would give off the computer or sell it off for a small price.

A lot of companies have a policy to give only brand new stuff to their employees. If this is the case, they have nothing to do with returned laptops/phones/etc except to dispose off them in one way or another (e.g. selling them to some refurbrishing/recycling business at a minor price).

This is why some companies simply write off the items given to employees when they leave.

On the other hand Definitely don't assume this is the case until you get it confirmed in written or spoken form.

There are a great deal of companies erring to the other side: WHERE IS THE PENCIL YOU GOT FROM THE COMPANY STORE BACK IN 1973 AND WHY YOU DIDN'T RETURN IT AFTER IT BEING USED UP? IT HAS A BALANCE SHEET COST OF $1.60 AND YOU OWE THIS $1.60 WITH THE PROPER INTEREST RATE FOR 49 YEARS APPLIED.

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Forgetting to return your Laptop is not a crime, because as most crimes the crime in question (theft) requires intent. But keeping it can definitely considered as crime, depending on jurisdiction. Also the company might not be legally allowed to give or sell the device (also depending on situation and jurisdiction). If the company buys the device as company property it might get tax benefits. But this binds the property to be used as company property for some amount of time. Within this time it could even be against tax legislation for the company to sell you the device.

So the best thing to do would be to contact the company, tell them you’ve forgotten to return the Laptop and ask them where to return it. The company will probably care little about this delay.

Most likely if you held on to the laptop you won’t get sued, but if you are (and if they are able to prove that you intentfully kept the laptop) you will have a criminal record, which will make getting a job in the future much harder. If your mother wants to use a Laptop for private purposes she can easily obtain one legally without you having to incriminate yourself for her.

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    I suggested changing "is not a crime, because crime requires intent" to "is not theft, because theft requires intent". Not all crimes require intent (consider e.g. speeding). Jun 9 at 10:31
  • @JonBentley Speeding is usually not taken as crime, but as an infraction. But you’re true about that, there may be some criminal offenses that do not required intent. I will change my wording.
    – Lazy
    Jun 9 at 11:25
  • In the UK it is a crime, but obviously it will vary by jurisdiction. You'll be surprised actually, how many strict and absolute liability crimes exist due to the proliferation of criminal offences for administrative contraventions which tend to ignore intention (e.g. in E&W, the Companies Act 2006 is full of minor offences for things such as failing to file documents or information on time). Jun 9 at 13:37
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Check your contract

Most likely your contract explicitly instructs you to return any company equipment upon termination.
There'll also be a bunch of language around not using the equipment for non-work purposes (social media being a common example these days)

You undoubtedly need to return it.
You hanging onto a company laptop is a security-breach, especially if you have any sensitive info on it (such as VPN access to the company systems)

I would send IT/HR an email and query what you should do with it. Most likely they'll ask you to swing by and drop it off, but if you're too far away they may spring for a courier for you.

They'll most likely just be glad you reached out to return their property.

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I agree that you'll almost certainly have to return it.

To add something else that no one else has mentioned yet, I know that some companies I have worked for will eventually just pass the value of the laptop on to a debt collection company, and have the debt collection company chase you for the money.

If this was to happen it would likely affect your credit scores and stuff, which you probably don't want to happen.

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@JamesSneeringer Have Already posted good answer according Can I buy? part but I would like to extend even further.

Some big tech companies sometimes sell their old equipment that is terminated from the usage. Even if a company implements such a procedure into practice, it certainly won't be the same computer. It probably would be some old model with completely wiped-out software along with operating system. Sometimes they just remove hard disk out of place in order to shred it mechanically to make thinks easier for them.

You have to return it anyway to let them protect their intellectual property (both their direct products/information and 3rd party software licenses)

Against other answers I would recommend not to ask if you can buy it! If I was born as a tech lead/HR officer, after hearing such a question I would assume that my ex-intern have just done something extraordinarily irrational to the equipment. I would then assume that some company asset as information is in danger and I would implement appropriate company policies about that instant. (to wipe it out remotely probably)

Edit

When I was working in a previous company, I managed to buy an old computer from them. It was done through some kind of lottery and it was exclusive for current employees only. You couldn't just point out a specific machine an say 'I take this one'. You had to put x in a spreadsheet on machines you would be interested in and maybe you would be chosen in the lottery.

It was an old machine from before 8 years. The disk was already clean so I had to install some old Windows on it to make it work properly.

My current employer does not sell them but grants them to poor schools or to nurseries instead.

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Several answers emphasize that you can't just keep the laptop without mentioning it, so I'm going to give a bit of advice about strategy to maybe get what you want.

First, you should remind them that you have the laptop before they come calling you. This clarifies that you aren't trying to steal it.

Second, "ask and you shall receive". Directly and politely ask if you could buy the laptop for a nominal price, say, $100. You know it might theoretically bring them more than that at some kind of surplus sale (you'll say), but this would save them the trouble of disposing of it, and would be a favor greatly appreciated by you, very useful in your studies.

Here's some example text:

Dear [office manager],

How have you been? I just finished up my final exams and am about to head home for the summer. Before I leave town, I want to remind you that I still have the laptop you issued me last year, and no one told me where/how to return it. I was wondering, if you don't have plans to issue it to someone else, would it be possible for me to buy it from the company for a nominal fee, say $100? I know that's not the full market value of it, but it would be a really great help for me in my university studies, and would save you the trouble of disposing of it. Please let me know either way!

All the best,

Danielle

I have made such a request at a former employer, and it was granted. The $100 was nowhere near the value of my equipment but (1) every employee got a new computer when hired, so they couldn't re-use the stuff and (2) the process of wiping, re-inventorying, packing and shipping and selling at surplus sale is a hassle for a busy office manager, and really doesn't yield much of a payback for that hassle. You are offering them a way of saving the trouble while doing a good deed for a college student. Ask humbly, so they can really feel good about themselves for granting the request.

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