My employer recently had their office building re-keyed, and in the process of distributing the new keys, each of us had to sign an updated version of a contract. The contract states, among other things, that if the employee loses their key, they will have to pay the whole cost of re-keying each door which the lost key worked on. The cost per door is estimated at $100.

In the USA, state of Utah:

  • Is this a normal or common policy?
  • Is it an enforceable policy? Eh, let's leave this one to the lawyers.
  • If I wish to return my key to avoid being liable for its potential loss, how should I approach this? I am only occasionally the first to arrive or last to leave.

Edit - Additional details:

The policy says I am not allowed to copy the key for any reason. As some comments have guessed, the purpose of re-keying is because the lost key could be in the wrong hands. Replacing the key isn't the issue; disabling the lost key's ability to give access to the office is.

While I don't often arrive first or leave last, I do regularly need to come in on a Saturday to make up a few hours of missed work. If I return the key, I must get a key-carrying coworker to come unlock and re-lock the doors for me.

Some parts of the office, but not the parts I need access to, use a digital fob/card system which can enable & disable individual access fobs/cards, but even these areas require the employees who need access to also have a key - both electronic and key locks are used to lock up.

  • 24
    This kind of thing is exactly why organizations concerned with security tend to use key cards instead of hard keys. Cards that go missing get disabled immediately instead of having to wait for a re-key, leaving the place as secure as it was previously.
    – Blrfl
    Apr 17, 2015 at 12:20
  • @MartinCarney Would you care to share an update (or at least accept one of the below answers)?
    – Lilienthal
    Nov 6, 2015 at 15:41
  • 1
    @Lilienthal My update is pretty lame - I didn't talk to anyone about it and just kept my key and continue going in on weekends, as before. Jared's answer is the best and most sound advice, even if I didn't take it.
    – Mar
    Nov 6, 2015 at 15:59
  • @MartinCarney No worries, you're ultimately best placed to judge the right course of action. Thanks for the update.
    – Lilienthal
    Nov 6, 2015 at 16:06
  • Quick note: If they stay with this policy, I highly recommend an interchangable core lock system. That lets the locks be swapped in seconds without disassembly.
    – keshlam
    Nov 6, 2015 at 23:43

6 Answers 6


You have the moral and legal right to decline the liability for this key. They have the legal (but not so moral) right to determine that this is required for your job and terminate you, so don't be a jerk about this conversation with them!

I suggest you have a conversation with your manager and say:

  • I am not willing to accept this personal liability (and thus this key).
  • I do want to provide the same high-level of work/service that I have in the past, so here are other options:
    • I could work from home on weekends, etc.
    • I could ask people to come let me in when necessary
    • The company could invest in a keycard system, I've heard they're much more secure because individual keycards can be instantly deactivated, etc.
    • The company could agree to limit my liability (i.e. $100 max or something)
  • Ultimately if none of these options work, I'll be forced to curtail my working hours to times when I have access.

It's best to go to your boss with solutions, and not just problems.

  • 5
    Your first paragraph is a good template for the majority of "is it legal?" questions in the US under at-will employmen; the suggested conversation flow is ideal and well-reasoned and your final sentence is advice that cannot be repeated enough. Excellent answer.
    – Lilienthal
    Nov 6, 2015 at 15:33
  • I would reword this in the conversation with the boss: I could ask people to come let me in when necessary. It would be better said as:I could ask you to come let me in when necessary
    – HLGEM
    Nov 6, 2015 at 16:12

If a lost key is such a security issue that they would need to re-key all of those locks, then it seems to me that the potential for keys being copied would be of a similar risk level.

That said, do they plan on re-keying all the locks every time an employee quits or is terminated? Because having this agreement in place ensures that most, if not all, employees are going to have copies of their keys made just in case they lose one.

If I was intent on working there that's the very first thing I'd do. Then I'd leave the original at my house and keep the copy on me.

I think pointing out things like this to management prior to signing such an agreement would encourage them to just pop for the electronic locks.

  • 2
    Note that there are some physical keys that are made to be hard to copy (usually by requiring special key blanks that the manufacturer only sells to approved partners which check eligibility). So the "potential for keys being copied" may not apply (or at least management may believe this).
    – sleske
    Apr 22, 2015 at 8:04
  • 2
    @sleske Some locksmiths respect "do not copy" signs. Many don't. These days physical key-based security is hardly any security at all when the keys are not controlled.
    – Lilienthal
    Nov 6, 2015 at 15:39
  • In many places I've seen automated key-making machines. They're not going to see a "do not copy". Nov 6, 2015 at 22:43
  • 3
    Medico requires their dealers to not copy keys from some systems without clear (and on-record) authorization. Somo other higher-security manufacturers do likewise. That dioesn't make copying impossible; it just makes the risk greater than the reward... but that is, in fact, usually sufficient; if they catch you, you lose all rights to sell their products, and sales and support are worth a heck of a lot more yhan a single copied key. The fact that mechanical security can't be perfect doesn't prevent it from being Quite Good Enough under normal circumstances.
    – keshlam
    Nov 6, 2015 at 23:40

The cost of re-keying (whether it be a physical key or the deactivation of a lost/stolen/dismissed badge) is the cost of doing business. It is unethical of a company to try to pass this along to employees. Are you to be held liable for the cost of accidentally leaving the lights on as well? How about spilled coffee? Or needing to reprint a report that had typos? It sounds as if your employer (or a bean-counter therein) does not understand this basic concept.

  • This is very true, it's an excellent take on this problem, that for some reason the other answerers didn't point out.
    – o0'.
    Apr 22, 2015 at 13:58
  • 3
    The problem is that while unethical, there's very little protection against this practice in the US. Telling the OP that he's on moral high ground is nice but not likely to help him much.
    – Lilienthal
    Nov 6, 2015 at 15:36

Since you're not forced to use the key, put it in your desk so you don't lose it. This way, you don't have to confront anyone.

Most companies just pay the cost out of their own pocket. There may be some precedence at your company where a lot of people kept losing their key.

To encourage people to work on off-hours, they should reconsider this policy. You could mention that with or without returning the key.

  • I wouldn't be crazy about mentioning that not having the key would make it hard for me to work late hours or on weekends :) If the policy is dumb and not going along with it works in my favor, I wouldn't mention the policy as dumb. My fidelity to my employer goes only so far :) Apr 17, 2015 at 2:01
  • 5
    This seems problematic advice. What if the key goes missing from the desk? If you don't want to use it, it seems safer to officially return it.
    – sleske
    Apr 22, 2015 at 7:56
  • @sleske If things go missing from your drawer, then you have a bigger problem in your office environment. Put in a locked drawer if you want. The proposal in this answer is to leave company property on the company's property. The key can happily sit there in the drawer until you are fired or resign. This answer is still the best choice if you don't want a confrontation (which may occur even if you politely officially return it).
    – Brandin
    Apr 23, 2015 at 11:54

Is this a normal or common policy?

I cannot speak for Utah specifically, but from what I know it's unusual, but not unheard of. The usual policy seems to be to somehow split the damage, with the employee paying only some flat fee. In some jurisdictions, the employer may also not be allowed to claim any damages unless the employee acted recklessly or lost the keys on purpose.

If I wish to return my key to avoid being liable for its potential loss, how should I approach this?

This will depend on company culture, but I'd say that returning the key seems a perfectly reasonable solution.

There's no need to make a big fuss. Go to whoever is responsible for managing and distributing the keys, hand them back and ask for a receipt. You don't even have to voluteer a specific reason, just say you do not need them. If they do not have a receipt form, just make one up, and have them sign it. If that approach does not work, you have a good reason to escalate the issue to your manager.

Of course, you can also try to negotiate away the policy - maybe ask to settle on a smaller fee, or point out that the policy will be hard to enforce (inform yourself first). But only you can judge whether that is worth it.


Is this a normal or common policy?

For lost keys specifically or nuisance charges in general?

I can't address every industry, but I've never been asked to pay a fee for losing a key, specifically... but then very few of my jobs these days have needed a key. More often it's been badges only and I haven't had to pay to get a new badge if I lost mine. But I'll say that various rules up to an including termination for losing or disclosing access credentials are common in some jobs (particularly high security).

I HAVE had to pay the cost of replacing things that I have lost that were company property. I seem to remember paying a lost airline ticket fee at some point, for example, since the travel was paid for by work, and the paper ticket was issued to me and then lost while in my possession. (that's so dated-10+ years ago!)

If I wish to return my key to avoid being liable for its potential loss, how should I approach this? I am only occasionally the first to arrive or last to leave.

Later on, however, you pointed out that you regularly do have to come in on off hours and that you need a key then.

As your boss, I'm not sure I'd let you return the key. My reasons would be:

  1. It's not fair to ask others to help you do your job this way - why should I have two employees taking time from their weekends just because one employee doesn't want to be responsible for a key?
  2. If you are trustworthy enough to come in on Saturday when no one is there and do your job, why are you not responsible enough to keep track of a key?
  3. You've created a paperwork hassle - chances are there's a "retrieve key from outgoing employee" process and now the company must remember that you are a special case.

If you really didn't need the key and you always worked the same hours, I'd say just keep it in your desk at work, and never use it. When you leave, it'll be right there and you can give it back easily.

  • 1
    About the $100: The question says the charged cost is "$100 per door", not just $100. So it does not look like a "help with the cost" charge.
    – sleske
    Apr 22, 2015 at 7:58
  • You're probably right - I'm finding that locksmith visits run around $100 per door... and the cost is estimated. Apr 23, 2015 at 0:16

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