By Jim Workman
West Virginia Press Association
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — When an employee leaves a job, employer-provided property such as uniforms, tools, phones and other items must be returned, regardless if the vacancy is created by resignation or termination.
Potential tension between parties further complicates the matter. A solution is being sought in the West Virginia House of Delegates.
As it stands, an employee’s final paycheck may include a deduction for reimbursement of unreturned property.
The House Judiciary Committee passed HB 2546 by a 16-9 vote Monday, allowing replacement costs of employer-provided property to be deducted from an employee’s final paycheck if the property is not returned within a designated timeframe. It will be sent to the House floor with recommendation for full passage.
Much of the discussion of the bill hinged on amending language that would identify reimbursements as actual cost of replacement or actual cash value of the property at the time of employee termination.
Cost of replacement won Monday, as an amendment was rejected.
Delegate Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, had argued in favor of reimbursing with actual cash value, using iPhones as an example. It would not be fair to ask an employee to replace a smartphone issued five years ago with a newer, updated and more expensive phone, he stated.
Lovejoy also cautioned about property claimed by an employer as depreciating on past tax returns could suddenly show a regained value with a judgment for current replacement value instead.
“There are problems with this bill, as written,” said Lovejoy. “It’s setting up employers for disaster.
“We use actual cash value consistently in our code as the measure of damages,” he added. “That consistency is important to both the employee and the employer. We need a fair measure of damages. There shouldn’t be an unjust enrichment (to the employer).”
Lovejoy’s points were countered by House Judiciary Vice Chair Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, who stated an employer would potentially suffer if the bill only covered actual cash value, especially if the loss of a piece of equipment would hinder the employer from receiving the expected revenue the equipment normally generates.
Replacing it would require the employer the purchase similar equipment, likely at a much higher cost than simply having the property returned by the dismissed employee, Lovejoy said.