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My partner is looking to get into her first accounting job. She had an interview for a role.
She was successful and was told she would be working mostly from home (which sounds too good) and they would provide the equipment (A laptop and whatnot).

Today she was told they want to take her but she would have to pay a £99 deposit for the equipment they will give her, because in the past people had taken the job and equipment and quit shortly after taking the equipment with them.

This sounds odd to me for a number of reasons

  • If they trust her to do the job why dopn't they trust her not to steal the equipment?
  • Why wouldn't they take it off the first salary?
  • It's company equipment, keeping the laptop could be considered theft and she would be prosecuted?

The company is listed in government records but their balance sheet was £600 last year although they had just been funded the year prior.
They have a website but are otherwise impossible to find, apparently they are mostly acquiring clients on fairs, at least that's what their facebook profile suggests. The owner also has a facebook profile where she occasionally writes things about accounting.

I find this extremely fishy but seeing it optimistically it could be legit.
The company seems to be very small so I could understand that this is a risk for them but asking for an upfront payment is suspicious.

Is this common (in the UK)? Would it be common or acceptable to take it off the first salary?

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    A balance sheet of £600 is the giveaway that this is a scam. Run. – Ed Heal Aug 12 '16 at 19:56
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    An employer should never have to ask for money up front. They should just deduct it from the first paycheck. This sounds very fishy to me. – David K Aug 12 '16 at 19:57
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    @gnasher729 What makes you think they will give her the laptop once they have the deposit? If they sent the laptop first there would be no point to the deposit. My guess is that if she pays the deposit there will be an initial month materials fee... – Patricia Shanahan Aug 12 '16 at 20:09
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    Thank you everyone for your feedback, you all brought up some very good points,we'll stay far away from this. Even if they took her without a deposit, if there is this kind of mistrust from before she even starts things cannot go well. – Robin Gertenbach Aug 12 '16 at 20:31
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    The laptop my company issues all employees costs over £1000 - what kind of laptop are they issuing where £99 is any kind of deterrent against the employee stealing it, especially when the employee is apparently not concerned with breaking the law to steal it in the first place? Even if it was a cheap £300 laptop, why wouldn't that dishonest employee just take it if it only "costs" them £99? – Johnny Aug 12 '16 at 23:58
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Is it common in the UK? No. Absolutely not.

Companies expect to supply the equipment and software for their employees. It's a business expense. If the employee runs off with the laptop, it's theft, as you say; but in all my years in business, I've never seen a remote user try to steal employer equipment. Laptops get lost and damaged, of course, but that's what insurance is for.

There is no mention of the software needed. When are this company going to ask payment for that? Accounts software is certainly not cheap.

My opinion is that it's a complete scam. There are lots of legit companies out there that need a bookkeeper, she just needs to get on the phone to a few, or call an accounting employment agency.

  • I don't disagree with you at all but there is a potential case where it could be legit (from a software standpoint) and that would be if she were going to be required to do remote desktop or citrix, something of that nature. – Chris E Aug 12 '16 at 20:31
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    +1 Anytime an employer asks you for money, it's a HUGE red flag. This one smells like a scam to me as well. balance sheet was £600 last year? Smells like a rat to me. – Richard U Aug 12 '16 at 21:05
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    I've been on the employer's side on this equation. We had to supply remote employees with about $85 (US) in equipment to do the assigned tasks. We had a few not return the equipment when they quit. It was about 1 in 3 who did not. We just averaged that out, and realized paying $30 to spin up an employee was a lot less than the "soft" costs we had in administration and recruitment, and realized worrying about it was pointless. Of course, no references were provided later for those that didn't return equipment. – Wesley Long Aug 12 '16 at 21:10
  • @WesleyLong we do the same thing, factor that cost into what we charge clients... our ratio is more like 3 out of three... sometimes something comes back and surprises the heck out of us. – Kilisi Aug 13 '16 at 1:34
  • @ChristopherEstep I disagree, I can't see any reasonable reason to charge new hires and I build this stuff for a living – Dan Aug 13 '16 at 6:33
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The whole thing sounds fishy. My advice is to turn away and don't look back. Even if it is legitimate this company is in trouble, and they're basically asking her for money so they can buy a laptop to give her at best.

Small businesses are often careful with money out of necessity but, if they're not investing in core infrastructure, they're going to fail anyway.

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    Yep - whether it's an outright scam is immaterial, the company is a disaster and one way or another it's going to be bad news. – Dan Aug 13 '16 at 6:35
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    @Dan: It's not 100% immaterial, because if it's an outright scam (and it so is), then in addition to running away, the OP's partner should also notify the authorities. – ruakh Aug 14 '16 at 0:06
  • "Small businesses are often careful with money out of necessity but, if they're not investing in core infrastructure, they're going to fail anyway." - It could also be the business had multiple incidences with new employees never showing up with their equipment. In such a case, I would ask for payment up front but it would make more sense to "loan" one out until their first paycheck. – Dan Aug 15 '16 at 17:16
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Though I agree that this is fishy, there are some (limited!) circumstances where this may not be unreasonable.

Perhaps they have reasonable cause

I have been in charge of IT for a small company, and several times people who left the company did not hand in their equipment as completely as they should have. For instance, they return the laptop but not the charger.

This was typically not done out of ill intent, but because they did not have any incentives they were also not in a hurry to comply to requests from 'the it guy of the company where they don't work anymore'. Sure, the company management could have put pressure on them, but who will bother for 50 bucks of equipment.

How to act

So, if you want to act in good faith, but also don't want to take a risk, there is a simple solution as even a simple laptop should be worth 100 bucks:

Make sure to get the laptop before giving them any money

Here are some natural ways to achieve this, in descending order of preference:

  1. Sure, I will bring it with me when I pick up the laptop (I can work on my own computer till I have it).
  2. No problem, I understand. Just take it out of my first paycheck (even easier if you have a signing bonus)
  3. If all else fails: Alright, I will transfer it, when will the equipment arrive? (And then actually hold the transfer untill you have it)

If they keep insisting that they get the money before giving you the laptop, that is a red flag for scam. Break through it with the above hints or run away!

If they state that they need the money to pay for the laptop, that is a red flag for the company in many ways. Run away even faster!


Note

If you deal with this situation succesfully, the first thing I would discuss (before actually using the laptop) is who will cover the costs if the laptop breaks/needs maintenance/support/software.

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