If after I left my job I sent the key to the store to my ex-employer but he never got it, can he charge me for changing all of the locks?

After I gave my employer a formal 14 day letter of resignation, he did not take it well and had me terminated on the spot.I asked him if I should come in to return the key to the store. He said no, just to mail it to him. I did but he claims he never got it. He said he is going to change the locks and bill me for it, adding that if I do not pay the bill he will withhold my W2 form. I know that withholding the W2 is illegal under federal law but does he have any right to bill me for lock changes? I have it saved in text that I offered to return the key in person and he asked for it to be mailed. I am saving it just incase this leads to court. I regret not turning the key in person and my hindsight I should have sent it certified mail.

Asked on July 24, 2015 under Employment Labor Law, North Carolina


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

Yes, legally if you never returned the key (including it being lost in the mail), he can charge you for the cost to change the locks, since he would have incurred that cost due to your negligence (carelessness) in not getting it to him. He would have to sue you to get the money if you choose to not pay him voluntarily; and to win, he'd have to prove (such as by his testimony) that you never sent it back to him, while you could provide testimony that you did mail it and the letter was never returned as undeliverable, so he should have received it. (If he received the mail, then lost the key later, after having gotten it back from you, that is his responsibility, not yours.) The court would then decide who's story is more credible. You have two advantages in this scenario: first, he may not sue for the money (and you are right: he cannot legally withhold your W2), since it may not be economically worthwhile for him to take legally action over the cost of the locks; and second, if he sues you, the burden of proof is on him, which means he must be more  credible/believale than you--if all things are even, the defendant (the person being sued; i.e. you) wins.

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