Johnny’s a Thief and Stole the Copier – Can I Deduct it from his Paycheck?
Office worker printing paper on multifunction laser printer.

I’m in my office, talking with Tommy about the terrible MLS schedule. He thinks FCC should not be playing in the knockout stage of CONCACAF to begin the season; “put that game mid-season, we score 3 or 4 goals in the first leg.” Then, I get a call from a client who just fired an employee. Let’s call him Johnny. Johnny was fired for being a bad employee. Case in point, on his way out the door, he managed to lift the copy machine onto his shoulder and walk out the door.

It is not clear exactly how he managed that feat of strength. But, our client wants to know: how do I get the money from Johnny to replace the copier? Can I keep Johnny’s final pay check until he returns my copier? Can I deduct the cost to replace it from his wages?

This story might sound a little outlandish, but the questions are not. What can you do when Johnny steals your copier?  When are employers allowed to withhold or deduct money from the employee’s wages?

The simple answer is: you cannot withhold his final paycheck. Employers are not permitted to withhold paychecks from employees for any reason under Ohio law. Federal and state law require an employer pay employees for all hours worked. Ohio law mandates an employer provide payment for all time spent on the clock until the moment of termination. Payment must occur on the next scheduled payday or within 15 days of termination, whichever occurs first.

So, I cannot withhold his final paycheck, but can I deduct the cost of the copier from Johnny’s paycheck?

Generally, other than legally required standard deductions (e.g., taxes), employers cannot take any withholdings or recover debts from unpaid wages unless the employee expressly authorizes it. Ohio law prohibits an employer from withholding payment of all earned wages without employee authorization, even if the employee has damaged the employer’s property or engaged in some form of misconduct.

Importantly, you cannot take all of his paycheck. Even if authorized, any deduction from an employee’s wages cannot result in the individual’s pay falling below the minimum wage for all hours worked.

There are preventive measures to avoid paying for the stolen copier yourself and a company handbook is a good place to start.

What Should an Employer do?

  1. Include policies in the company handbook to explicitly address company property, including any use or misuse of company property.
  2. Have all employees acknowledge receipt and review of the company handbook.
  3. Include a “return of company property” section in the company handbook and any and all severance and separation agreements to address any stolen, “misplaced” or unreturned company property. (Remember: a handbook policy or general provision to return property upon termination, alone, does not allow an employer to deduct money from an employee’s wages.)
  4. Most importantly, call us. These situations are tricky.

While you cannot withhold paychecks, or any wages without an authorization, solid company policies and practices can bring you closer to getting that industrial-sized copier out of Johnny’s living room and back into your office. These practices help, but remember if you deduct wages when you’re not allowed or deduct too much, you may have more problems than just a missing copier.

The Labor & Employment team at Bricker Graydon can guide you through the decision-making process and ensure you remain compliant with the law. Reach out with any questions. We’re here to help!

*Tommy Rogers is a law clerk and not licensed to practice law.

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