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Patrick, Esq.
Patrick, Esq., Lawyer
Category: California Employment Law
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Experience:  Significant experience in all areas of employment law.
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Can my former employer withhold expense reimbursement until

Customer Question

Can my former employer withhold expense reimbursement until I return their laptop?

I left an employer in CA and since I worked remotely I still have their laptop. I have not returned it because I am waiting to get my expenses reimbursed. They haven't actually said it, but I think they are withholding the reimbursement until I return the laptop. So basically, we are playing a game of chicken. Are they within their rights to withhold the expense reimbursement?
Submitted: 4 years ago.
Category: California Employment Law
Expert:  Patrick, Esq. replied 4 years ago.
Good morning and thank you for entrusting me to answer your question. I will do everything I can to assist you.

If your former employer were withholding your final wages, that would be a different story. Labor Code 201 reuqires employers to pay an employee's final wages immediately or face daily penalties for non-payment up to 30 days pursuant to Labor Code 203.

The timeframe for expense reimbursement, on the other hand, is not regulated by statute and CA courts have specifically held that the penalties provided for by Labor Code 203 do not apply to late expense reimbursement.

Obviously, you have a right to these expenses, but your employer has an equal right to their laptop. Sure, you could file a claim with the DLSE or a civil lawsuit to recover your expenses, but your employer could equally sue you for the tort of "conversion" (taking someone's property), and so the question becomes "how far do you want to take this?"

An employee in your circumstance gains nothing from withholding the laptop, aside from perhaps the satisfaction of knowing you are causing inconvenience for your employer (depending on the employer that can be pretty gratifying, to be fair!). You have a right to your expenses, but that right does not somehow trump your employer's right to the return of their property.

How you choose to proceed from here is of course up to you. Please do not hesitate to let me know if you have any questions or concerns regarding the above and I will be more than happy to assist you further.

If you do not require any further assistance, please be so kind as to provide a positive rating of my service so that I may receive credit for assisting you. Very best wishes to you and thank you so much for coming to Just Answer.