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TLDR

My contract was abruptly ended, I didn't return their laptops.

The long version:

I was working as an IT consultant for one of the largest consulting firms in North America when Covid-19 hit. The client (also one of the largest in NA) abruptly ended the project in the last week of March 2020. They called a meeting and announced the project has been shelved and at EOD the project will stand dormant.

We had a meeting with our manager from the consulting firm in question where they told us our contract ends at 5:00 PM the same day. They would be sending out prepaid shipping boxes for us to return the laptops.

I somehow (wrongfully) concluded that the consulting house should have given 2 weeks notice and paid for those weeks from their pocket.

The way to get even was to not return the laptops. Again, completely wrong and unethical thought process.

I had at that time two laptops, one brand new Lenovo T14 (i5, 8GB) and an older P50 (i7, 32GG), I intentionally didn't return them.

More than 3 years have passed, what should I do now?

I still have their prepaid shipping label, should I 'just' return those laptops and act as though nothing happened?

Should I try to send a check? If so, how much? To whom? I'm not in contact with anybody.

Not sure if this is relevant, in 2021, I did a short contract with them for a different client. So apparently they don't hold a grudge against me.

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4 Answers 4

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I’m gonna ignore why you did what you did and focus on the problem at hand.

The simplest way to resolve this is just contact the old company, say you didn’t realise you still had these laptops but found them recently and can you still use the prepaid shipping label to return them or is there a new address?

The idea is to skip over any discussion of who, what, where, why etc. and go straight to ‘they’re being returned, how do we make that happen’ with as little input required from them as possible.

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    I'm pretty sure the prepaid label expires, otherwise companies will just buy tons of them to hedge against price hikes...
    – Nelson
    Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 8:56
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    Even when I didn't get the prepaid labels, I paid for the shipping myself. It is cheaper than asking a lawyer any question.
    – David R
    Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 13:47
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I hope that isn't your actual name.

You can be charged in civil court with "adverse possession" of their property, unless you can prove that ownership was transferred to you. "Getting even" is in no way an excuse.

Tell them "oops", explain that because they didn't follow up this fell through the cracks, and get them to either tell you how to return the equipment or to explicitly tell you that you don't have to return the equipment. If the latter, get it in writing.

If they still don't respond, there are rules regarding abandoned equipment... but you probably need a lawyer to tell you whether and how they apply in your specific case.

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  • It's probably not stealing as they were given to the OP. Certainly breach of contract though. Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 7:36
  • Loaned is not given.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 13:10
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    Where I am, theft requires you to take property, not merely retain it. Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 17:28
  • Do you really want to defend that in court? They can afford bigger lawyers than you can... In any case, they could certainly bring a civil case against you that they would probably win. Not an argument with having. Return the stuff or get explicit permission to keep it.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 21:43
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    It wouldn't get to court. The prosecution would deem this a civil matter. Commented Jun 29, 2023 at 1:04
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It's a strange question. Have the laptops been in use at all, or just left rotting away?

If you've been using them continuously, then I don't see any reason to worry about the situation now. I would simply continue using them.

If they've been rotting because you have no need to use them, or if the time has otherwise come for disposal, you could choose between asking the employer in writing to collect (and then disposing after a period of time, if they fail to collect), or delivering them up yourself (at your own expense).

I don't think this is necessarily a theft case, because you acquired possession legitimately in the first place, and you are simply still in possession.

A failure to return the goods under your own steam could be some kind of breach of the original employment contract, but that is not a criminal matter, and a hard-stop limitation period may now have passed on contractual disputes.

The fact that you had a grievance against the employer, which is why you originally weren't willing to render any effort in bagging the goods up and posting them, doesn't itself translate into dishonesty or theft.

And if you haven't acted inconsistently with the owner's right to regain possession by collecting the goods from you, then there can be no theft.

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  • Does "theft by conversion" not apply? legalmatch.com/law-library/article/theft-by-conversion.html
    – DJohnM
    Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 18:50
  • @DJohnM, this will be jurisdiction-specific and I'm familiar only with British law, but with tortious conversion there must typically be something done which is inconsistent with the owner's rights - which in this case, where the owner isn't in possession (because he bailed them to the OP in connection with his employment), is the right to re-take possession by collecting the goods. It's not clear the goods have been converted on that analysis. The OP's use of the laptops (if any) may only be a simple trespass to goods, with no injury.
    – Steve
    Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 20:18
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Yes, your actions have been unethical and unprofessional. But you realise that, which is good.

Now for your company equipment problem at hand: You say more than 3 years have passed. Did the company ever inquire about the laptops ? Because if they haven't and because you described it as "one of the largest consulting firms in North America", i'd take an educated guess and say nobody remembers either you or these laptops anymore.

If you want to return these laptops for your own good conscience, then go ahead and do so. Just keep in mind there is the unlikely but non zero chance of somebody following up why they were only returned now and give you trouble for keeping them.

I'd say let sleeping dogs sleep, store those laptops safely somewhere and if you ever get contacted by the company about the laptops, you can still do the "my bad, i forgot" routine other answers suggest.

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  • "i'd take an educated guess and say nobody remembers either you or these laptops anymore." Especially large companies tend to manage their equipment with some ERP and let ppl sign an acknowledgment of receipt once it's handed out to them.. So I wouldn't assume that they just forgot about it..
    – iLuvLogix
    Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 8:35
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    It seems a bit inconsistent to describe the actions as unethical...and then recommend they keep the laptops. Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 8:45
  • @iLuvLogix, if there isn't some clear action taken on a continuous basis since then to recover from departed staff, then the records aren't likely to count for much. After all, if by the employer's own case they forgot to collect or chase a valuable laptop for 3 years, do you think the judge will put much stock in whether they keep their records in order?
    – Steve
    Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 10:01
  • @steve Fully agree, just because they have such a system implemented doesn't mean they also automatically take action in cases like above. But depending on the juristriction and the local laws a company might still be able to cause significant trouble if they choose to persue a legal route even after three years.. I'd rather keep my records clean with former employers, especially when it comes to equipment in the 4 digit dollar range..
    – iLuvLogix
    Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 10:07
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    @mattfreake It was unethical in the first place, OP shouldn't have kept the laptops at their termination (i certainly wouldn't have). But it's been 3 years without the company trying getting them back either by directly contacting OP or going through legal means. Why change the status quo risking negative consequences when there are certainly no positives in the bag for OP, besides their own good consience.
    – user112367
    Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 11:51

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