Do fired workers have right to clean their desk?

by Evil HR Lady on February 15, 2013

Dear Evil HR Lady,

My company for the past six years terminated my employment yesterday. It came unexpectedly, and I’m trying to learn my rights. After years on the job, I have many personal items at my desk — some are obviously mine, like pictures, some are not so obvious, like articles and letters of recommendations buried in stacks of papers. HR is telling me they will not allow me to go clean up my desk and gather my items — not even supervised — and that this is company policy. They say that if I describe to them what I have, they will bring it down to me. The problem is I don’t remember item for item what is mine.

I’m very worried I won’t get something that is mine returned to me. Is this legal? I heard that companies have a legal obligation to let you gather your items, that they can’t go through your stuff without you there.

To read the answer click here: Do fired workers have the right to clean out their desks?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Elizabeth West February 16, 2013 at 1:10 am

I got fired once and was asked to leave that day (suspension, then fired via FedEx). They packed up my stuff and sent it to me, upon receipt of a list of what was mine. I mailed them back my key fob. In that case, it was a blessing. I would not have wanted to go back and pick it up.

When I was downsized at my last job, my boss followed me to my desk after and stood there while I cleaned it out. It was definitely uncomfortable, but I didn’t have to worry about leaving something behind. Unless someone is a security risk, employers should grant this small dignity. So what if it’s awkward? There’s no easy way to get through this situation. You just have to get through it. A good manager will suck it up and do the hard stuff as well as the easy stuff.

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Another Evil HR Director February 16, 2013 at 4:17 pm

This is always a difficult situation. Balancing the security needs of the company against the dignity of the (now) former employee is always a challenge. I have probably erred too often on the side of the dignity of the employee by not even remaining with them while they gather their personal belongings (I try to think about how I would feel). However, the need to protect company information from walking away as well as to prevent sabotage is important. Also, given the many examples in the news of disgruntled former employees becoming violent, such a policy as the OP describes is becoming more and more prudent.

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Evil HR Lady February 16, 2013 at 4:27 pm

News examples are just like news examples of kidnapping. It’s extremely rare and we shouldn’t make our decisions with our children around the fear of a kidnapper lurking behind every tree.

Workers are understandably upset because companies, HR departments included, treat them terribly. Things like this are more likely to make people feel awful and revengeful.

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cncx February 16, 2013 at 5:21 pm

This reminds me of a job I left after being physically assaulted by the boss. I got a “strongly-worded” letter from their lawyer saying that my office was a mess and that I needed at least to come in and clean my desk, which I refused to do because HELLO THE BOSS HIT ME and there was a pending legal case. They then sent me a box of stuff that wasn’t mine, including some pornographic material, because yeah, of course I read that at work. Crazy town. I don’t understand why HR couldn’t, for example, send you a list of what was in your desk and have you tick off what you wanted back.

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bonfab November 22, 2013 at 12:35 am

cncx, that story resonates.

my position was cancelled after i reported my boss who hit me. i saw no need to clean my desk.

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