Steps to Consider When Employee Leaves Behind Personal Belongings

My employee quit without notice and left behind in her office some framed family photos and a few large pieces of artwork. What should I do with these personal items?

There is no specific labor law addressing an employer’s obligation to retain or deliver personal property left behind by a former employee.

You may choose to contact the employee to arrange for her to pick it up, or you could return the property by mail or other delivery service if you know her current physical address.

When a former employee cannot be located, the employer must determine how long to keep the property that was left behind.

What ‘Abandonment’ Means

California’s labor laws do not specify how long an employer must hold on to personal property abandoned by an employee.

In deciding how long to keep the former employee’s things, an employer should keep in mind that in California, “abandonment requires non-use accompanied by unequivocal and decisive acts showing an intent to abandon.” (U.S. v. Crawford 239 F.3d 1086 (2001))

Document Reasonable Efforts

An employer therefore should make every reasonable effort to contact the former employee to arrange for return of the property, and document those efforts. Some suggestions include:

• Attempting to reach the former employee by mail, phone, email and/or text;

• Calling anyone the former employee may have listed as an emergency contact, and asking them if they know how to reach the employee or are willing to ask the former employee to contact you about the personal property;

• Asking current employees who may have become friendly with the individual if they know how to contact him/her.

If these efforts fail, after a reasonable period, the employer may determine that the property has been abandoned and dispose of or donate it.

Note: Unlike personal property, unclaimed wages must be turned over to the local office of the California Labor Commissioner after reasonable attempts have been made to contact the employee.

The Labor Law Helpline is a service to California Chamber of Commerce preferred and executive members. For expert explanations of labor laws and Cal/OSHA regulations, not legal counsel for specific situations, call (800) 348-2262 or submit your question at

Staff Contact: Ellen Savage