It Does Seem Untoward August 24, 2010 6:56 AM   Subscribe

I didn't want to misbehave in the thread, so I'm here instead. This question is, at its core, asking for assistance in keeping a stolen computer.

Unless the OP had an agreement with their employer that they could keep the laptop in lieu of pay - and the post mentions nothing of the sort - the computer is stolen. I don't think I'm reading too much into the post; the OP states pretty clearly that he just kept it because he got stiffed.

Now the OP appears to be asking for help in keeping their former employer from locating their stolen property. It seems like the sort of thing that probably shouldn't be on AskMe.

If this is just a bad MeTa, I apologize. I mean no harm/drama.
posted by DWRoelands to Etiquette/Policy at 6:56 AM (143 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Just pretend that the parts of the question you don't like don't exist.
posted by smackfu at 7:06 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


"My former employer never paid my last month and half salary. So Should I did not return the laptop they gave me to work on [knowing I will never receive the money they are illegally withholding from me]?"

Sounds a lot less morally ambiguous now, eh?
posted by griphus at 7:11 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Stealing a laptop is a crappy way to deal with an employer's illegal activity. I'd have a little more sympathy if he needed the money for food, but he didn't since he kept the laptop and didn't sell it. And it's been sitting for a year. This question should be deleted.
posted by desjardins at 7:15 AM on August 24, 2010


For all we know he notified his former employer that he was keeping the laptop in lieu of the missing pay.
posted by COD at 7:16 AM on August 24, 2010


I have to agree. I didn't see this meta before commenting, but there are alternative ways for him to try to get the employer to pay him.
posted by anniecat at 7:17 AM on August 24, 2010


Given that meantime doesn't identify their location, any argument you want to make about legality is going to be largely irrelevant.

And that leaves you with the (arguably more important) moral question of whether it's permissible to withhold someone's property as part of negotiating an overdue payment. Personally, I'm happy for the OP to hang onto the laptop, since the OPs employer holds most of the power in the dispute.

Of course, if the employer eventually pays up, I'd also expect the OP to return the laptop in exactly the condition (spyware and all) it was in when they parted company with the employer. And that might be somewhat more difficult.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 7:19 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


For instance, anniecat? Even if he were to spend the money to sue the company and win, getting money out of them would be like pulling teeth and lawyers don't accept company laptops in lieu of payment.
posted by griphus at 7:20 AM on August 24, 2010


Right of retention/lien is an established part of Scots Law.
posted by the cuban at 7:21 AM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sounds a lot less morally ambiguous now, eh?
posted by griphus at 10:11 AM on August 24 [+] [!]


Ummm... no, not really.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 7:22 AM on August 24, 2010 [14 favorites]


Just don't answer the question. Man why does everyone have to prove what a good moral person they are all the time. WHAT ARE YOUR CRIMES IS WHAT I'D LIKE TO KNOW.

Seriously, move on and try to relax. I'm sure karma will someday right this hideous force-disturbing crime.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:25 AM on August 24, 2010 [16 favorites]


Don't be absurd. On the Metafilter Hierarchy of Structural Oppression, employees are above (yeah, above -- the more structurally oppressed you are, the more moral points you get) employers, so there's no moral issue with employees stealing stuff from employers.
posted by planet at 7:25 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Doesn't bother me particularly.
posted by BeerFilter at 7:26 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


If it's been a year the company has already written off and forgotten that laptop. I would rather have 6 weeks pay than a year+ old laptop that I didn't get to pick out myself, but them's the breaks.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:28 AM on August 24, 2010


Sounds a lot less morally ambiguous now, eh?

Morality aside, it's stupid to aid someone in doing something that's almost certainly illegal in response to something that is probably grounds for a civil claim alone (depending on jurisdiction).
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:30 AM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Now the OP appears to be asking for help in keeping their former employer from locating their stolen property.

I think we've all been there; I mean, you've got the corporate jet sitting in your driveway, and your thinking, "Fuck. I knew I should have stopped drinking when I opened that third bottle of scotch..." and you realize that you are probably going to need to figure out a good way of dealing with this situation, because your pretty sure that was the CEOs wife you saw passed out in the copilot's seat, and that's when you turn to AskMe.

It's really what the site was designed for, if you ask me.
posted by quin at 7:35 AM on August 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


His user name is meantime...not nicetime.
posted by Grither at 7:38 AM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Another case of someone including unrelated, unnecesssary, distracting information in their question.

Reword and re-asked: "I recent acquired a used laptop. How can I make sure there is no malware, spyware, or tracking software on it."
posted by blue_beetle at 7:43 AM on August 24, 2010 [26 favorites]


He's stealing their property. I vote delete. Two wrongs don't make a right.
posted by zarq at 7:44 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


It sucks to be the OP, for sure, but if his ex employer files a police report he's going to be in a shit ton of trouble. Too bad it's not that easy for him to get his back pay, but them's the breaks. The right thing for him to do is to give them their laptop back so he's clean with the law and then deal with the back pay issue according to local laws; perhaps small claims.

If that isn't answering his question then he's asking the wrong question and it should be deleted.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:49 AM on August 24, 2010


For instance, anniecat

In Maryland you can file a claim with the labor department (online(, without a need for a lawyer if there are unpaid wages. I don't know if he's a freelancer or whatever, but he didn't mention that.
posted by anniecat at 7:50 AM on August 24, 2010


A large company will not hesitate to take your property if you owe them money long enough. Doing the reverse might be unwise, legally speaking, but since it's been a year and nothing's happened I don't see what the problem is.
posted by creasy boy at 7:55 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is untoward! This is not toward!
posted by anniecat at 7:57 AM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


A large company will not hesitate to take your property if you owe them money long enough.

To be more specific, a large company will not hesitate pursue legal means to recover money you owe them. They'll sue you, pass you to a collections agency, take you to small claims court and then a government lien may be placed on your property or wages. There's a difference, yes?
posted by zarq at 8:00 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


There's a difference, yes?

Yes, the means they have at their disposal.
posted by gman at 8:03 AM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Given that meantime doesn't identify their location, any argument you want to make about legality is going to be largely irrelevant.

In what country is it legal to steal a laptop?
posted by DU at 8:03 AM on August 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


There's a difference, yes?

There's a pretty big difference in available resources and time to accomplish this.
posted by griphus at 8:09 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can we change the name of MetaTalk to MetaMilkMonitors? My we are a judgey little bunch this weather aren't we? Gold stars are in the post.
posted by Gratishades at 8:14 AM on August 24, 2010 [11 favorites]


Some of us, Gratishades, hold the opinion that stealing — even stealing from bad people — is wrong. Not to mention that the kid could be getting himself into some serious trouble. The company hasn't asked for its equipment back to date, but that doesn't mean this can't or won't happen.
posted by Mister_A at 8:17 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


To be more specific, a large company will not hesitate pursue legal means to recover money you owe them. They'll sue you, pass you to a collections agency, take you to small claims court and then a government lien may be placed on your property or wages. There's a difference, yes?

Or, if they already have your shit, they'll just keep it like this guy.
posted by enn at 8:21 AM on August 24, 2010


A lot of us Mister_A, by the current standards in the grey.

Kudos to the OP for not bringing it up in thread but (confirmation bias perhaps) it does seem that MetaTalk (and AskMe) is getting quite preachy of late.
posted by Gratishades at 8:23 AM on August 24, 2010


Some of us, Gratishades, hold the opinion that stealing — even stealing from bad people — is wrong.

Meh, it's just distributive justice but without the middleman.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:25 AM on August 24, 2010


I don't really care that the question is posted, but am I the only one who thinks the poster is lying about the source of the laptop and just claiming it was from an employer to get sympathy points and protect his/her question from deletion?
posted by The ____ of Justice at 8:28 AM on August 24, 2010


There's a pretty big difference in available resources and time to accomplish this.

Yes, the means they have at their disposal.

In general, small claims court levels that playing field. He wouldn't need a lawyer. He could represent himself.

He's asked for help to do something that is clearly illegal. This isn't 24, and he's not some sort of vigilante hero. What he's doing is wrong. He most likely has the ability to settle his dispute with them legally at relatively minimal time, cost and effort. Instead, he's choosing to steal from them, and we're enabling him to do so.
posted by zarq at 8:29 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


> Kudos to the OP for not bringing it up in thread but (confirmation bias perhaps) it does seem that MetaTalk (and AskMe) is getting quite preachy of late.

Eh, calling out potential theft is not preachy. Claiming others are being preachy is kind of preachy, though.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:31 AM on August 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


In general, small claims court levels that playing field. He wouldn't need a lawyer. He could represent himself.

This is naive. The wage theft laws have been very poorly enforced in recent years and many, many people out there haven't and probably won't ever receive pay owed them.

This guy is only doing what storage companies and landlords do every day.
posted by enn at 8:32 AM on August 24, 2010 [12 favorites]


"We have cameras company laptops"
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 8:32 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Judging by the poster's later comments, it was a shitty and immoral company and him keeping the laptop after not being paid for six weeks he worked is the least of the issues here.

The issue for Metafilter is whether these sort of gray area situations should be allowed to stay here. This one instance seems ok, not great at all, but ok. If these sort of questions started being asked on a regular basis, then yeah shut'em down.

But for now, it's rare occurrence, so let it go.
posted by nomadicink at 8:34 AM on August 24, 2010


Generally speaking, the legal issue isn't the bright line we draw with this sort of thing. That said, this question is a bit too far over the "help me steal something" line for our comfort.

Just a reminder, while the "illegal or borderline illegal" category is one listed under the "why your question may have been removed" heading in the faq [as well as being a reason why your anonyme may not have been approved] it's not true that all questions about illegal stuff are never okay. We have to make judgment calls on each of these situations and we've outlined what our general feeling is on illegal questions here in the past.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:35 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I work for a U.S.-based company that recently filed charges against an employee who took a laptop home with them when they quit. The police took our video footage of the incident, and charged them with a felony. There is zero question about the legality of this. You can go to jail for it. I sort of doubt it's is legal anywhere to steal computer equipment.

I have no opinion on whether the question should remain, or whether it's "right" to do, just sayin'.
posted by cj_ at 8:36 AM on August 24, 2010


In what country is it legal to steal a laptop?

Sorry, I didn't realise the OP was asking how to hold up an Apple store.

But seriously, there have been (and are) many examples of lien in the laws of many countries, including the UIS. Not knowing the OP's location, it's impossible to say whether such a situation applies to them, although I'll happily acknowledge that it seems unlikely.

If my employer loaned me equipment, and if they owed me a sum of money, and if they hadn't asked for the equipment to be returned, would I be making the effort to return it? Absolutely not. If they wanted it, they'd be welcome to contact me and arrange a time to come and collect it.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 8:36 AM on August 24, 2010


OTOH the question saved me an askme, because I'm planning to sell a (legally owned!) laptop and didn't know how to wipe it.
posted by desjardins at 8:37 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


(we dropped the charges when he returned it because my employer felt bad, but still)
posted by cj_ at 8:40 AM on August 24, 2010


am I the only one who thinks the poster is lying about the source of the laptop and just claiming it was from an employer to get sympathy points and protect his/her question from deletion?
posted by The ____ of Justice at 11:28 AM on August 24 [+] [!]


yep, you are. if s/he really wanted a bulletproof post, s/he would have used the format blue_beetle proposed.
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:40 AM on August 24, 2010


Oh, fuck it. If I had a laptop provided by the assholes who I worked for writing grants—who insist they gave my paycheck to someone else to give to me, so somehow it's not their fault—I'd sure as shit keep it. I was lucky that I only got fucked out of a few hundred bucks, as opposed to the people around me who got fucked out of thousands of dollars and who, despite having judgments against the company, still have not gotten paid over a year later and likely never will, the CEO having funneled the operating money into some bullshit gay feature films scheme.

And I've definitely seen companies that think that lawyers are cheaper than paying their bills—a couple of them were a big part of why a magazine I worked for was chronically struggling. Since there's no effective way to go after personal assets if an LLC doesn't have the money, I watched a restaurateur simply reincorporate around town again and again until no one would rent to him, fucking employees at every turn (they did make damn fine burritos at the Burro, though).
posted by klangklangston at 8:40 AM on August 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


Ah but Burhanistan, claiming I am preachy squared means that you, sir, are preachy cubed! Now don't go telling me that you can get bigger than cubed- I sat through both math classes, though the middle one was boring.
posted by Gratishades at 8:40 AM on August 24, 2010


On preview, bad deletion.
posted by klangklangston at 8:41 AM on August 24, 2010


This is naive. The wage theft laws have been very poorly enforced in recent years and many, many people out there haven't and probably won't ever receive pay owed them.

"I probably won't win and can't be bothered to try to get my money back legally in a court of law" is not a valid justification for stealing.

This guy is only doing what storage companies and landlords do every day.

If it's wrong when they do it, how is it right when he does it?
posted by zarq at 8:42 AM on August 24, 2010


Shoot, I'm preachy12.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:43 AM on August 24, 2010


Meantime's AskMe question history suggests that s/he is located in the Czech Republic, so I doubt any of us have a really good idea of the relevant laws.

I'm with zarq that it's wrong...but on preview I see it's been closed anyway.
posted by Infinite Jest at 8:48 AM on August 24, 2010


Thank you, Jessamyn.
posted by zarq at 8:51 AM on August 24, 2010


If it's wrong when they do it, how is it right when he does it?

Who thinks it's wrong when storage companies do it? How else could we ever even hope to own something like Rod Blagojevich's very own life-sized Elvis statue?
posted by enn at 8:51 AM on August 24, 2010


"If it's wrong when they do it, how is it right when he does it?"

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread."
posted by klangklangston at 8:53 AM on August 24, 2010 [19 favorites]


That'll teach people to not mention the unsavory details.
posted by smackfu at 8:54 AM on August 24, 2010


If it's wrong when they do it, how is it right when he does it?

They screwed him out of six week's pay. In a moral sense, it's no longer theft, but partial redistribution of funds that were stolen from him.
posted by nomadicink at 8:55 AM on August 24, 2010


On preview, bad deletion.

Yup, not happy about it but we talked about it and decided it was more prudent to delete it than to keep it. And these are still decided on a case by case basis. And whether this guy is doing a morally okay thing by keeping the laptop of his supposedly fucknut employer is not really part of our calculus.

However, after going through the whole airnxtz mess a ways back, the "help me do a thing to avoid getting caught/busted" phrasing [totally avoidable in this question] does nothing to make us charitable towards the asker and everything to raise "this is sketchy" alarm bells among many users.

I encourage people to read the whole entry I linked to in my previous comment for a fuller nuance of how we try to make decisions on borderline illegal questions. This is not as cut and dried as "it's illegal therefore it's deleted"
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:56 AM on August 24, 2010


Infinite Jest- RE the AskMe history showing as Czech for meantime; I am in the Czech Republic and while I have been putting down the call out somewhat I'd like to point out that I am not meantime's sock-puppet (or vice versa).
posted by Gratishades at 8:58 AM on August 24, 2010


Aw crap, it's gone? I have a computer that my work let me take home when they upgraded a few months back that's been just gathering dust, and I was planning on using that thingymajiggy linked to in that thread to wipe it clean.
posted by Kirk Grim at 9:21 AM on August 24, 2010


Kirk Grim, you can still access the thread via the link in the OP here. It's just invisible on the AskMe homepage. Or you can get the greasemonkey deleted threads script and see it inline with all the other questions.
posted by chiababe at 9:26 AM on August 24, 2010


In a moral sense, keeping the laptop has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not the employer paid him or not. This is a false moral equivalency; the fact that someone's wronged you isn't supposed to grant you the right to wrong them back. People often try to draw false moral equivalencies, but I think we all understand on some level that you aren't allowed to kick someone in the shins just because they've unfairly punched you in the back. That's 'an eye for an eye' in the worst way, the kind that Ghandi rightly said just ends up making the whole world blind.

In a practical sense, Meatbomb mentions above that he'd rather have the pay than the laptop, and that's understating the matter significantly, I think. meantime's really screwing her/himself here. At minimum wage, six weeks pay amounts to $1,740 in the United States, and more in a lot of states. That's before taxes, but if you're making that you'll probably still be owed at least $1,400 after taxes. And I don't remember the last time I met a company-issued laptop that was worth more than $400 or $500, tops. Since any tech job that involves a company-issued laptop is almost certainly paid better than minimum wage, likely at least double minimum wage, we're probably talking about thousands of dollars here. No crappy company laptop is worth that much. I get the feeling that meantime doesn't really understand how easy it would be, legally, to go about getting back the $3000 or whatever that s/he's owed.

All the moral and practical stuff is aside from the deletion, however. I don't think we should delete questions simply because they're immoral – unless, of course, they're very immoral. And I think it's good that even legality isn't strictly a line we won't cross; it's good to talk about things like this, and we often have good advice to give even if the question isn't legal. However, I agree with the deletion, as what the poster's doing seems to be a bad idea, and s/he should probably know that.
posted by koeselitz at 9:30 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow...I certainly didnt expect all of this! But I respect your decision. I'm certainly not a great person or anything, but I have to respectfully disagree with the rushed judgement about it being illegal. Oh, and I didnt run in and steal anything, the laptop was for use in the field and it was in my possession. When they let me go, they told me to return it. Having seen them not pay many former employees their final checks (even after losing court cases), I said sure, I will be very happy to return it, but please send me my last check first. I never heard back from them.

If I receive any notice from an authority, I will try to legally remedy my situation (they owe me a lot more than a used laptop), but I would definitely not ignore the law. I think the company is glad to take this "deal" - i have not sued them for the money they owe me and they have not sent me any legal notice to return the laptop. I just wanted to make sure that they wouldn't be snooping around in my stuff.

I dont know if it makes more sense for you to take this down, but if you think so then i'm happy for you do keep the best interest of AskMe in mind. I guess I've learned to be careful when telling this story, some people only hear "illegal!!!"
posted by meantime at 9:45 AM on August 24, 2010 [11 favorites]


le morte de bea arthur: “But seriously, there have been (and are) many examples of lien in the laws of many countries, including the UIS. Not knowing the OP's location, it's impossible to say whether such a situation applies to them, although I'll happily acknowledge that it seems unlikely. ¶ If my employer loaned me equipment, and if they owed me a sum of money, and if they hadn't asked for the equipment to be returned, would I be making the effort to return it? Absolutely not. If they wanted it, they'd be welcome to contact me and arrange a time to come and collect it.”

No. The poster indicates directly that there's no lien involved; s/he says, in regard to the police coming, that "I think I'm ok there" because s/he can claim the money that was owed.

And that's not how morality or justice work. You can't take something from somebody just because they took something from you. Say my ex-wife owes me money; does that mean I should go over to her house when she's not home and take something that I figure is equivalent? The point isn't the value of the objects. The point is that theft is a violation. Anyone who's ever been robbed knows that. And, while it's not as dramatic or painful, I think that, deep down, when we steal things – even from companies that actually owe us money – it hurts us on some level.

It'd be completely different if the poster had done this legally. That would be honest, it would be direct, and it would be open. And they might well have gotten a lot more out of it, given that they're probably owed a heck of a lot of money.
posted by koeselitz at 9:47 AM on August 24, 2010


Argh - sorry, on posting I see:

meantime: “Having seen them not pay many former employees their final checks (even after losing court cases), I said sure, I will be very happy to return it, but please send me my last check first. I never heard back from them.”

That makes it very different, and I think you're pretty much in the right on this. But please note that it doesn't necessarily involve a long, protracted legal battle; small claims court isn't that tough, and at this point it'd probably be cheaper just to pay you than have to hire a lawyer to fight some piddling small claim of a few thousand dollars; that's nothing for a company like that when you're talking about hiring lawyers. But it should be a lot for you – you're owed a lot of money!

Either way, it's your choice. I'm sorry if my above comments offend; I don't think you necessarily did anything wrong here.
posted by koeselitz at 9:51 AM on August 24, 2010


I think that, deep down, when we steal things – even from companies that actually owe us money – it hurts us on some level.

My boss is a timecard-fudging jerk so I stole a Pop-Tart from her junkfood drawer. I guess that could qualify as some form of self-harm.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:52 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


small claims court isn't that tough

Maybe not, but actually recovering on a small claims court judgment can be practically impossible if the other side wants to be dodgy enough (your jurisdiction may vary, of course).

I don't disagree with the deletion but I can't help suspecting that the moralistic pile-on above is mostly composed of people who have never (a) been underpaid by a dodgy employer and (b) had no practical means to get the money back except a legal system which is completely uninterested in taking the side of a worker against an employer.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 10:17 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Taking it definitely wasn't your best idea meantime; you should have beaten your former boss unconscious with the bricked laptop then had as much of pay owed as you could rifle from the fucker's wallet. If that didn't cover it maybe sell a kidney or two to make up the difference.
posted by Abiezer at 10:18 AM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


People often try to draw false moral equivalencies, but I think we all understand on some level that you aren't allowed to kick someone in the shins just because they've unfairly punched you in the back.

If someone steals $5000 from me, and I see a way of getting back $1000 of it -- say it falls out of his pocket on the way out the door -- is it wrong of me to keep it? Am I obligated to give him back the $1000 and then try to sue him for the full $5000? -- It has nothing to do with moral equivalency; one is wrong, the other perfectly reasonable.
posted by creasy boy at 10:20 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


A Thousand Baited Hooks: “I don't disagree with the deletion but I can't help suspecting that the moralistic pile-on above is mostly composed of people who have never (a) been underpaid by a dodgy employer and (b) had no practical means to get the money back except a legal system which is completely uninterested in taking the side of a worker against an employer.”

For what it's worth, I was a freelance DB admin for two years. And at the end of it, I was left unpaid for a one-month chunk of time. I let it go, too, partially because various personal stuff – my ex-contract-holder was the employer of my then recent ex-wife.

"You don't understand what it's like" is probably the easiest and most effective way to draw a moral equivalence. That doesn't make it right. Theft is theft even if you're starving, unfortunately. There's no way to simplify that equation without leaving something essential out. That's why it's tragic and painful when people are forced to steal to survive; because it robs them of dignity by turning them into thieves.
posted by koeselitz at 10:23 AM on August 24, 2010


If I am punched in the back, I can guarantee you there will be a series of neurological and hormonal responses that cause me to do a lot more than kick someone in the shins.

Why? Because I'm a living, breathing, human being, and not a rationalizing, moralizing machine.
posted by polymodus at 10:29 AM on August 24, 2010


creasy boy: “If someone steals $5000 from me, and I see a way of getting back $1000 of it -- say it falls out of his pocket on the way out the door -- is it wrong of me to keep it? Am I obligated to give him back the $1000 and then try to sue him for the full $5000? -- It has nothing to do with moral equivalency; one is wrong, the other perfectly reasonable.”

I don't think it's perfectly reasonable. It's his $1000. You're just trying to come up with a situation where it's easy to steal it. It's no grave injustice, and I wouldn't make a federal case about it, but that doesn't mean you didn't do anything wrong.

What if he has ten children, and you're relatively well-off? Then, stealing $5000 from you might not hurt you much, whereas stealing even $1000 from him takes food off of the plates of his children. In that situation, you are doing much more damage by stealing the $1000 than he did by stealing the $5000.

In fact, that ambiguity in the situation – the fact that you don't know where he is in life, and he doesn't know where you are – is the reason why the situation actually doesn't matter. Theft is a violation no matter what. At best, you're presuming more about what another person wants and needs than you should.
posted by koeselitz at 10:33 AM on August 24, 2010


you aren't allowed to kick someone in the shins just because they've unfairly punched you in the back. That's 'an eye for an eye' in the worst way, the kind that Ghandi rightly said just ends up making the whole world blind.

It was also apparently against Gandhi's principles to go to court to seek redress for personal wrongs, so I guess we gotta throw out the small claims court idea as well. And he was probably talking about violence.

Say my ex-wife owes me money; does that mean I should go over to her house when she's not home and take something that I figure is equivalent? The point isn't the value of the objects. The point is that theft is a violation.


Also not the same, there was no break and enter here, but it's worth noting that's more or less exactly what repo men do when you owe the bank etc. I figure meantime should just enjoy his new laptop and ignore all the fuss over 2 wrongs not making a right.
posted by Kirk Grim at 10:35 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't disagree with the deletion but I can't help suspecting that the moralistic pile-on above is mostly composed of people who have never (a) been underpaid by a dodgy employer and (b) had no practical means to get the money back except a legal system which is completely uninterested in taking the side of a worker against an employer.

I can't speak for anyone else here. I did freelance work for a small business in the 1990's, invoiced them and they refused to pay, so I took them to small claims court. I've also taken two other companies to small claims for non wage-related disputes.

My personal experiences are irrelevant to whether stealing someone else's property is illegal.
posted by zarq at 10:39 AM on August 24, 2010


The good news is he already got his answers in the thread, and the thread was deleted. Everyone wins!
posted by Aizkolari at 10:43 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


but I think we all understand on some level that you aren't allowed to kick someone in the shins just because they've unfairly punched you in the back.

Of course not, you punch them in the face .

In this thread and in the James Patterson thread, you've been getting awfully high horsed and moralistic. It's getting tiring.
posted by nomadicink at 10:50 AM on August 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


For fuck's sake, i'm glad i dont know any of you 'IRL'.

Keeching yourselves over a perfectly reasonable question.
posted by the cuban at 10:51 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm also glad that the cuban doesn't know me.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:53 AM on August 24, 2010


That makes it very different, and I think you're pretty much in the right on this

Theft is a violation no matter what

So where is the right in violation? Or do we conclude that no laptop was stolen?

We know the fictional story of Robin Hood and the real story of Roma Gypsies. Real life is too messy for simple models of morality and dignity.
posted by polymodus at 10:55 AM on August 24, 2010


I don't think it's perfectly reasonable. It's his $1000.

Are you serious? I want to make sure I got this right: if someone takes $5000 off me and on his way out the door he drops $1000 of it, I have to run after him to give him back the money?
posted by creasy boy at 11:04 AM on August 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


I love you guys.
posted by owtytrof at 11:06 AM on August 24, 2010


nomadicink: “In this thread and in the James Patterson thread, you've been getting awfully high horsed and moralistic. It's getting tiring.”

Pushing aside the frustration this make me feel, I'd want to point out that I apologized for that.
posted by koeselitz at 11:07 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


> you've been getting awfully high horsed

Plz share horse, thx.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:09 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey there, it's Gandhi, not Ghandi. (The spellcheck flags only the wrong spelling, for what it's worth.)

G and gh are different alphabets in Hindi, as are d and dh. As for pronouncing it, this is as good as I've found online but it doesn't distinguish between 'd' and 'dh' which doesn't help the misspelling any, so I got my sister to say it into a mic and put it up here. You can probably hear her grinning. :)


Sorry about derailing; I've just so rarely seen Americans spell it right, and I'd love for you guys to assist me in righting this unnecessary wrong. Say it with me!
posted by mondaygreens at 11:18 AM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Heh. Maybe your spell-check only flags the wrong spelling; but that's not Metafilter spell-check, that's your browser. I'm on Chrome, and both Ghandi and Gandhi count as correct for that, apparently. Sorry about that.
posted by koeselitz at 11:20 AM on August 24, 2010


a legal system which is completely uninterested in taking the side of a worker against an employer.

wage theft laws have been very poorly enforced in recent years

Sources? These seem like lazy and self-serving generalizations.
posted by ekroh at 11:24 AM on August 24, 2010


I'm on Chrome too... maybe it's an Indian spell-check!
Anyhow, no need to apologize, man.
posted by mondaygreens at 11:24 AM on August 24, 2010


if someone takes $5000 off me and on his way out the door he drops $1000 of it, I have to run after him to give him back the money?

Are you going to say, "thanks for the partial repayment, you now owe me $4000," or are you never going to let him know he dropped the $1000 and you took it, and claim that he still owes you $5000?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:28 AM on August 24, 2010


the whole airnxtz mess"

Holy shit, I didn't know about that piece of Metafilter lore before. Craziness!
posted by kmz at 11:35 AM on August 24, 2010


Can I suggest that we drop these fictional comparisons poorly related to the one in question?

The laptop (or $1000 if you prefer) is being held with the expectation that he is not getting paid the money he is owed. The OP has made clear that he told the employer that if he would return the laptop (or $1000 if you prefer) once he gets paid. He has not been paid for over a year, and is therefore keeping it. He did not break in and take it. He is not holding it for some arbitrary, unearned ransom.
posted by Kirk Grim at 11:39 AM on August 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


In this thread and in the James Patterson thread, you've been getting awfully high horsed and moralistic. It's getting tiring.

Well there's a difference between legality and morality. I am not a lawyer but technically if someone owes you $X you can't legally just hold on to $Y worth of stuff as compensation. If it went to court, which is the reasonable thing to do if either party wants to resolve the situation, then most likely the court would order the stuff returned and the owed money paid.

On a moral basis I agree with meantime that it wasn't unreasonable to hold the laptop hostage as a way to try to get paid, and that there's not a big moral imperative to unilaterally return things to people who don't want to negotiate with you about what they owe. On the legal side, I understand that the mods here would not want to have a question about using a laptop that is technically stolen.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:39 AM on August 24, 2010


Sources?

You could click the link I provided in the very same comment from which you quoted, which provides further links to many wage theft-related resources from Interfaith Worker Justice including articles, congressional hearing testimony, the GAO report on Department of Labor enforcement issues which I believe was previously discussed on Metafilter, etc., or you could use Google, either of which would have taken fewer keystrokes than calling me lazy and self-serving here.
posted by enn at 11:44 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


If stealing Pop-Tarts is wrong, I don't want to be right.
posted by iconomy at 11:49 AM on August 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Can I suggest that we drop these fictional comparisons poorly related to the one in question?

Encouraging MeFites to leave shit analogies and wannabe Talmudicisms in their rhetorical toolboxes is like forbidding a sclerotic donkey from going to a discotheque! For shame, sir!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:50 AM on August 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


All this way down and no one's mentioned Set Off. I don't know if there's a) it's applicable b) there's an equivalent in the Czech Republic, but hey - it's an interesting legal doctrine.
posted by djgh at 12:15 PM on August 24, 2010


The good news is he already got his answers in the thread, and the thread was deleted. Everyone wins!

Except for people searching for similar information in the future. It's a shame that useful information is going to be unavailable because the poster phrased their question inappropriately, but them's the breaks.
posted by davejay at 12:21 PM on August 24, 2010


To remember how to spell Gandhi, just imagine Gandhi saying hi. Now you know where the h belongs.

Also: we are weird.
posted by pracowity at 12:25 PM on August 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


I've seen plenty of illegal activities condoned by MeFi and AskMe. Seems strange that this one gets axed.
posted by rocket88 at 12:30 PM on August 24, 2010


Sources?

You could click the link I provided in the very same comment from which you quoted, which provides further links to many wage theft-related resources from Interfaith Worker Justice including articles, congressional hearing testimony, the GAO report on Department of Labor enforcement issues which I believe was previously discussed on Metafilter, etc., or you could use Google, either of which would have taken fewer keystrokes than calling me lazy and self-serving here.


I did click on your link. I saw a bunch of articles from an advocacy group, which is not exactly a neutral source. The GAO report says wage theft could be better enforced, not that it is poorly enforced.
posted by ekroh at 12:33 PM on August 24, 2010


Gratishades: I certainly had no attention of accusing you, or anyone. Seems like everyone's discussing in good faith, here.

All this way down and no one's mentioned Set Off. I don't know if there's a) it's applicable b) there's an equivalent in the Czech Republic, but hey - it's an interesting legal doctrine.

Probably only contractual and available in cases where there's an exact monetary debt, I would have thought (not a banker or a banking lawyer, but I work in the sector). Interesting idea though.
posted by Infinite Jest at 12:47 PM on August 24, 2010


I did click on your link. I saw a bunch of articles from an advocacy group, which is not exactly a neutral source.

I am under no fucking obligation whatsoever to provide you with sources whose biases match your own.

The GAO report says wage theft could be better enforced, not that it is poorly enforced.

Bullshit:
GAO found that WHD frequently responded inadequately to complaints, leaving low wage workers vulnerable to wage theft. Posing as fictitious complainants, GAO filed 10 common complaints with WHD district offices across the country. The undercover tests revealed sluggish response times, a poor complaint intake process, and failed conciliation attempts, among other problems. In one case, a WHD investigator lied about investigative work performed and did not investigate GAO’s fictitious complaint. At the end of the undercover tests, GAO was still waiting for WHD to begin investigating three cases—a delay of nearly 5, 4, and 2 months, respectively. The table below provides additional examples of inadequate WHD responses to GAO’s fictitious complaints.
Moreover, my characterization was shared by media coverage of the report: "Labor Agency is Failing Workers, Report Says" was the NYT headline.
posted by enn at 12:47 PM on August 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


I saw a bunch of articles from an advocacy group, which is not exactly a neutral source.

Agreed! I propose we remedy this by including the opinion of an advocacy group focused on defending employers who don't want to pay their employees. It's only fair.
posted by Kirk Grim at 12:55 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I saw a bunch of articles from an advocacy group, which is not exactly a neutral source.

Agreed! I propose we remedy this by including the opinion of an advocacy group focused on defending employers who don't want to pay their employees. It's only fair.


I am under no fucking obligation whatsoever to provide you with sources whose biases match your own.

Woah, now. All I'm saying is that not all sources should be trusted equally. If you wrote a newspaper article based simply on what an advocacy group said (and a faith-based one at that), it would be a bad newspaper article.

The GAO report, however, is indeed a more trustworthy source. I missed the passages you highlighted when I looked. Thanks for pointing those out. Looks pretty bad.
posted by ekroh at 1:11 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've got a laptop sitting at home from a former employer. The company was a clusterfuck, and it was left over from a merge with another company, and I don't think they ever inventoried it. I never used the thing, because it was a piece of shit, forgot all about it until I moved and found it under my computer desk.

I don't feel bad about it at all, really. The laptop is probably worth about a buck fifty at this point.
posted by empath at 1:14 PM on August 24, 2010


I've also got an 8 year old cellphone that technically belongs to the federal government somewhere in my house. I'm terrible about returning shit.
posted by empath at 1:15 PM on August 24, 2010


At the end of the undercover tests, GAO was still waiting for WHD to begin investigating three cases—a delay of nearly 5, 4, and 2 months, respectively.

What purpose does "respectively" serve in that sentence?
posted by pracowity at 1:25 PM on August 24, 2010


Seriously, shouldn't it say "respectfully"?
posted by owtytrof at 1:30 PM on August 24, 2010


What purpose does "respectively" serve in that sentence?

Actually, none.
posted by iconomy at 1:32 PM on August 24, 2010


It's not the best use of respectively, but it's not exactly wrong.

Typically the usage is:

"Tom, Dick and Harry served sentences of 10 years, 5 years, and 22 months, respectively."
posted by empath at 1:33 PM on August 24, 2010


It's just that it says "three cases" without defining anything about them or ordering them. So we don't know which is the 5, the 4 or the 2. So in this case respectively is superfluous. And pracowity hates wasted words. I've been paying attention.
posted by iconomy at 1:37 PM on August 24, 2010


The good news is he already got his answers in the thread, and the thread was deleted. Everyone wins!

That was also sort of my feeling.

I have a years-old cell phone that belongs to Yahoo with some proprietary bicyclecamera OS on it. I'm definitely not trying to act like some sort of arbiter of ethics.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:09 PM on August 24, 2010


FWIW I wasn't saying keeping the laptop was immoral or even unethical, just illegal (felony theft) here in California. Although I suspect this is true nearly everywhere, I do not know this for a fact. Nor do I know for a fact that an informal exchange along the lines of "pay me or I'm keeping this" would change that basic fact, but I doubt it.

I would almost certainly keep the laptop, personally, if they owed me many times its worth and I didn't have any way of recovering the money owed. But it is very easy to get companies to pay up in California, as violating these labor laws is not worth it to them. The last time a company tried to stiff me on my final paycheck, just threatening to report it to the proper agencies had my check cut within minutes. labor code section 200-243 mandates final paychecks cut within 72 hours and the penalty is stiff for every day it goes due. YMMV may vary elsewhere of course.
posted by cj_ at 2:53 PM on August 24, 2010


YMMV may vary

durrr
posted by cj_ at 2:54 PM on August 24, 2010


I think we've all been there; I mean, you've got the corporate jet sitting in your driveway, and your thinking, "Fuck. I knew I should have stopped drinking when I opened that third bottle of scotch..." and you realize that you are probably going to need to figure out a good way of dealing with this situation, because your pretty sure that was the CEOs wife you saw passed out in the copilot's seat, and that's when you turn to AskMe.

Tucker? Is that you?
posted by EarBucket at 2:56 PM on August 24, 2010


There was also nothing in the original post that indicated he was at a disadvantage relative to the employer. Not all employees have less power than the employer, especially if you're talking about a small business (you may well understand the law better and have more resources than the employer). There's a big difference between a 3 person corporation and Wal-Mart, and nowhere here was it clear, so all the "power imbalance" stuff is unknown. Even in the followup I didn't get any clear sense of this.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:58 PM on August 24, 2010


There was also nothing in the original post that indicated he was at a disadvantage relative to the employer.

Well, they did right this: "My former employer never paid my last month and half salary."
posted by nomadicink at 3:06 PM on August 24, 2010


hello thread, the point is that you are under no obligation to ethically agree with whatever lies behind any given question.

If the mods think it's illegal enough they'll delete it.
If the question asks whether their actions are ethically correct you should answer it.
If the ethical status of the poster will change your answer you should mention it.
If you just think the poster is wrong wrong wrong and should be censured in some way, but that has nothing to do with the actual question, put on a sweatshirt, go out on to your porch, deck, or stoop and scream '1000 CURSES UPON HIM!' as you spit three times into your shoe and stamp in a circle backwards, farting. Then for god's sakes don't mention it in the thread or make a MetaTalk because nobody should care about that at all.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:55 PM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Except for people searching for similar information in the future.

Luckily, in this case there are plenty of other questions about erasing hard drives already searchable at AskMe, with lots of stuff about DBAN. humpy's answer sure was great, though. Someone should make sure to put those links in the next DBAN thread.
posted by mediareport at 6:46 PM on August 24, 2010


"I don't think it's perfectly reasonable. It's his $1000. You're just trying to come up with a situation where it's easy to steal it."

This is crazypants Kantian bullshit.
posted by klangklangston at 7:00 PM on August 24, 2010


Yeah, klangklangston, you're right. I didn't understand the example when I read it. I thought he was saying it was a completely different $1000, on a completely different occasion. If a guy drops $1000 on his way out the door right after robbing you, you're clearly not robbing him by picking it up. He never even possessed it, frankly. He just failed to succeed in his attempt to rob you. Don't think it changes the main point, though.
posted by koeselitz at 9:19 PM on August 24, 2010


I took some FunTack from work today because the Wii Sensor keeps falling off the top of my TV.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:16 PM on August 24, 2010


I took a giant stapler from an old job on the day I was abruptly laid off. I have never used it for anything and mostly feel like a petty thief about the whole thing, but at the time it was really important to me for some reason.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:27 PM on August 24, 2010


And you have the unmitigated fucking gall to moderate us?!?

*Shakes head at the unmitigated fucking galliness of it all*

I stole a stapler from an unmanned check-out at a Wal-Mart. Since it was there for the cashier to use and therefore was not merchandise, it technically does not qualify as shoplifting.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:37 PM on August 24, 2010


Was it red?
posted by cj_ at 12:15 AM on August 25, 2010


Without doubt, this is legally theft, a felony. Assisting this OP would be a crime.

Its called taking the law into your own hands.

And there are plenty of legal resources for a person to obtain unpaid wages owed them. Every state enforces wage and hour laws. It just requires trying and putting effort into it. And the more people get the state after bad employers, the more other people are deterred from doing this stuff.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:17 AM on August 25, 2010


Wrong, Ironmouth. The OP is patiently waiting for contact from skeezo former employer to tie up all loose ends.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:10 AM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, klangklangston, you're right. I didn't understand the example when I read it. I thought he was saying it was a completely different $1000, on a completely different occasion.

Allright, let's say someone steals $5000 from me; a week later I see him on the street and $1000 falls out of his pocket; and they look like different bills than the ones I lost. Am I obligated to try to return them to him? Because that seems pretty much equally crazy.

Here is why your original example is bad: if someone punches me in the face, and then I kick them in the shins, it's either self-defense or retribution, but either way it doesn't undo the wrong done to me. Kicking him won't draw the pain out of my face. Whereas if I can get some money back from the thief I really have partly undone the wrong done to me. This is exactly why our society allows repo men but not shin-kicking men: because financial restitution is reasonable in cases where physical retribution isn't.
posted by creasy boy at 4:16 AM on August 25, 2010


Ironmouth, I'm surprised to see you, of all people, saying something like "Without doubt, this is legally theft, a felony." Do you even know what jurisdiction the poster is in?

Here's my analysis of the situation in the form of a one-act play.

THE TRIUMPH OF MEANTIME
&nbsp or
THE APOTHEOSIS OF PC PLOD

[DOORBELL RINGS]
[MEANTIME OPENS THE DOOR}

Meantime: Good day, officer, how may I help you?

PC Plod: Don't "good day" me sonny, I'm here after the laptop you stole.

Meantime: But officer, theft requires an appropriation, As you know, my employer placed the laptop in my care.

PC Plod: You know damn well that an assumption by a person of the rights of an owner amounts to an appropriation and we know that you plan to reformat that laptop. We've been watching you on Metafilter, you know.

[MEANTIME TURNS TO THE AUDIENCE AND MOUTHS "DAMN"]

Meantime: Even if that were the case, I deny that I assumed those rights. They were vested in me by my employer.

PC Plod: Ah, but they fired you, didn't they. That would have brought an end to any vested rights.

Meantime: I think you have to distinguish between rights conferred upon me in my capacity as an employee, and those which were necessarily conferred upon me as bailee of the laptop. I'm simply maintaining the equipment as is my right - and duty.

PC Plod: But you're no longer a bailee - you should have returned it!

Meantime: I think you mean that they should have asked for it back. And if I refused they could have taken a civil action against me.

PC Plod: But you've said you plan to keep it, which means that you are purporting to act as an owner and not a bailee, so the reformatting does amount to an appropriation!

Meantime: Even if that were the case, it would be quite unusual for the constabulary to be used in lieu of a civil suit. My wife and I often talk about the hardships of a copper's life and the tedious paperwork that must accompany each arrest.

PC Plod: Give me one good reason why I shouldn't take you down the station right now.

Meantime: Certainly, officer. I am the bailee of the goods and I am detaining them against a debt owed to me, which I will raise in a countersuit if my former employers proceed to take any legal action.

PC Plod: Sounds good enough to me, I'll mark the case "closed" then. Thank you for your time, sir.

Meantime: No, thank you. It's always pleasant to see an officer about his duties. Incidentally, tip me a wink if you're ever down the pub of an evening. Cheers!

PC Plod: And a very good day to you too sir.

[WELL-WISHERS RUN ON STAGE CHEERING AND THROWING STREAMERS AT THE GLORIOUSLY VINDICATED MEANTIME. PC PLOD RISES TO HEAVEN ON GOLDEN WINGS. MEANTIME'S FORMER EMPLOYERS DESCEND LAMENTING TO HELL, ACCOMPANIED BY DEMONS]
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:26 AM on August 25, 2010 [12 favorites]


That is a good play, even though it leaves out the part where he makes the return of the laptop explicitly conditional on the payment of the missing wages. But considering how many other people apparently failed to read meantime's comment where he mentioned that the former employer has successfully avoided paying judgment debts in the past, I think the omission can be written off as artistic licence.

Maybe meantime could take this to small claims court and get an order which gives him the laptop in lieu of part of the judgment debt, to the fair value of the laptop. But, since like apparently everyone else here I'm not a lawyer licensed to practise in his jurisdiction (wherever that is - Czech republic?), I have no idea whether this is possible. Or whether failure to return a bailed item on request is legally theft there. Or even if small claims courts exist. So, having nothing further to add, I will now quitely exit this thread, stage left.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:35 AM on August 25, 2010


Was it red?

The top half, yeah. The bottom half was wrinkled khaki.
posted by iconomy at 6:21 AM on August 25, 2010


I just wish Metafilter had been around in the thirties so we could have avoided WWII.
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:36 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


A Thousand Baited Hooks wrote: "Maybe not, but actually recovering on a small claims court judgment can be practically impossible if the other side wants to be dodgy enough (your jurisdiction may vary, of course)."

In a lot of jurisdictions, it's just a matter of finding their bank accounts, once you have the judgment in hand. That can be difficult if you don't have an image of one of your paychecks, though. If you do know where they bank, you fill out a form and the court will order the bank to turn over funds from one of their accounts at the bank.

The deadbeat employer isn't involved at all once they lose.

Also, in many jurisdictions, said judgment will entitle you to retain any property of the debtor's you have (up to the value of the judgment, of course) and any you can get your hands on. Some places, if they don't pay up, you pay the sheriff a small fee and one of the fine deputies escorts you to the debtor's home or place of business and lets you remove whatever property is necessary to satisfy the judgment. Generally you have to then sell it and return any overage. More confrontational, to be sure, but also much more satisfying in a big "f u" kind of way.

So yeah, it would be in the Asker's best interest to sue, if they were in the US. Small claims would work if the back pay is a small enough amount.
posted by wierdo at 7:34 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


creasy boy: “Here is why your original example is bad: if someone punches me in the face, and then I kick them in the shins, it's either self-defense or retribution, but either way it doesn't undo the wrong done to me. Kicking him won't draw the pain out of my face. Whereas if I can get some money back from the thief I really have partly undone the wrong done to me. This is exactly why our society allows repo men but not shin-kicking men: because financial restitution is reasonable in cases where physical retribution isn't.”

But that was my entire point. I don't believe that the wrong done in theft has to do with the amount of money taken. I don't think it's about money or objects at all. That's a kind of pure materialism I'm not prepared to subscribe to. I don't believe property is some inherent quality of matter, and in a world where natural disasters can easily take all of that away it's not something absolute we can predicate our lives on. What's more, my example was meant to illustrate the fact that the same object can mean something different to me than it does to you – the same amount of money could, in fact, mean something different to you at different times. If you needed to pay your water bill just before that guy stole the $5000, and because of the theft you suddenly owed your water bill plus a fee, then the money is in a sense worth less to you because you need more of it to take care of the debt than you needed before.

The material fluctuates in its relation to our lives; its putative value rises and falls, ebbs and flows. What remains is the wrong done by theft, which is above and beyond material value. To try to put it succinctly: theft isn't wrong because it means taking money or material away from somebody; it's wrong because it means taking money or material away from somebody. It's the presumptuousness involved in assuming that we know better than someone else just what they should and shouldn't own, and the jarring disrespect we have to have to yank something away from someone without even asking. Theft for theft, tit for tat, doesn't undo that violation at all. It's just two wrongs, and it still doesn't make a right.

The proof of this is in the fact that it's a quantifiably different experience, I think, to lose your car to a hurricane than it is to lose your car because it's stolen. It's hard to have either of those things happen, but the experience of having your car stolen is a violation by other human beings, and it changes your relation to the human race. And frankly it changes the thief's relation to the human race, too. That's what I'm concerned with. Stealing something 'of equal value' (which, as I said, isn't likely even possible to estimate) doesn't take away that violation; it only complicates it.
posted by koeselitz at 8:18 AM on August 25, 2010


So you're insisting here on the personal violation involved in theft? That strikes me as the most far-fetched lens you could possibly use to view this situation.

If he worked for the sort of company that would unlawfully withhold so much pay from him, it was probably long ago abundantly clear to him that they don't respect him as a person. So I'm guessing what he resents at this point is not the disrespect but the actual loss of money.

And as for the other way around -- are you serious that this guy holding a laptop in lieu of payment violates someone's dignity or personal space or hurts someone's feelings at the company? Even though they haven't made any serious attempt to recover it? And they would probably feel a lot more injured if he returned it and then sued for his wages? Do you not think that the company sees their relation to this individual in purely materialistic terms?

Furthermore, your interpretation of "two wrongs don't make a right" seems to assume that every event following some wrong is a wholly independent event. Therefore we can't ever punish anyone for a wrongdoing? Putting a rapist in jail would feel like a disrespectful violation to the rapist, and two wrongs don't make a right? If keeping property in lieu of owed wages is theft, I guess any jail sentence is just kidnapping?

And finally, I hope you're at least consistent enough to be categorically opposed to the existence of repo men. It must feel like quite a presumptuous violation of one's dignity and autonomy to have the bank come into your house and take your furniture away. Sure, you owe the bank money, but two wrongs don't make a right, correct?
posted by creasy boy at 8:58 AM on August 25, 2010


koeselitz wrote: "Stealing something 'of equal value' (which, as I said, isn't likely even possible to estimate) doesn't take away that violation; it only complicates it."

Yet that's exactly what courts do when they award a judgment or grant restitution in the case of criminal theft. It's not stealing only because we have decided as a society that taking through the courts is not theft, but in every other way it is identical to stealing something from someone who stole from you. (or refused to pay something they agreed to pay to you)
posted by wierdo at 8:58 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wrong, Ironmouth. The OP is patiently waiting for contact from skeezo former employer to tie up all loose ends.

Let's look at the facts, shall we?

The OP posted this:

My former employer never paid my last month and half salary. So I did not return the laptop they gave me to work on.

It's been more than a year now, and I'd like to put the computer to use, but I'm afraid that it still has some kind of tracking or spying system on it. I realize that I might be "paranoid" but this company was particularly nasty and I want to be cautious.


The OP has knowingly retained control over an item they do not have title to, originally in an attempt to collect a debt, but now in an attempt to use the item.

Deliberately retaining the item when one no longer has authorization in an attempt to obtain satisfaction for an alleged debt is theft. The OP was required to hand over that computer when he was no longer employed there. The fact that the employer has not asked for it does not provide him with any security interest or title to the computer. If you steal something from me without me being aware of it, it still is theft. The fact that the company has not asked for their computer back is immaterial to the legal analysis of the situation. The person is fully aware they have no interest and is trying to hold on to it to obtain payment for a debt. However, he lacks a security

It boils down to intent. Now, the party wants to make unauthorized use of the item, which he has no title to.

This is theft. Indeed, the thread itself is evidence that the OP has appropriated the computer as an attempt to obtain the money he alleges is owed to him. Metafilter could be subpoenaed, and the information stored on their servers giving the name of the party would have to be turned over. There are very important reasons why the site must be protected from this sort of thing. Now it is unlikely to happen in terms of a laptop, depending on the value of the information stored on it. But the site must be careful.

The examples of the selling of items from storage sites are inapposite--because when you sign up for one of those places you sign a contract which gives the place a security interest in your goods, should you fail to pay. You're agreeing to it. Read the fine print.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:30 AM on August 25, 2010


And finally, I hope you're at least consistent enough to be categorically opposed to the existence of repo men. It must feel like quite a presumptuous violation of one's dignity and autonomy to have the bank come into your house and take your furniture away. Sure, you owe the bank money, but two wrongs don't make a right, correct?

Again, repossession only occurs when one party has a security interest in the property at issue. The loan agreement creates that interest and they have a legal right to get the property back based on your agreement to let them do so.

Read the fine print. This is really basic stuff. Check out the Uniform Commercial Code for more information why the bank can take your car.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:33 AM on August 25, 2010


creasy boy: “So you're insisting here on the personal violation involved in theft? That strikes me as the most far-fetched lens you could possibly use to view this situation.”

I said above that I was ruling this out as a case of theft; it might be, but I don't think so at the moment given the facts that meantime has given. So no, I'm not talking about this situation at the moment. I'm responding generally to a point I was making about theft.

“And as for the other way around -- are you serious that this guy holding a laptop in lieu of payment violates someone's dignity or personal space or hurts someone's feelings at the company? Even though they haven't made any serious attempt to recover it? And they would probably feel a lot more injured if he returned it and then sued for his wages? Do you not think that the company sees their relation to this individual in purely materialistic terms?”

Just to be clear, I think I agree with you on this point. In any case, he's been honest and direct with the company – "I will return this laptop when I get my paycheck, okay?" – and they've given their tacit acceptance of that arrangement by not responding or pressing charges.

And for the record, I really don't want anybody to 'feel bad' about stuff they have that they never returned or whatever. That's totally pointless and counterproductive. I believe in doing the right thing, but that doesn't mean I want to guilt-trip everybody. I'm the worst offender in these situations as far as stealing things by technicality; I don't make any claim to moral superiority at all, and if I did, well... I would be full of shit. Yesterday I found four library books that I never returned from college 8 years ago; and the worst part is, I've known, in the back of my mind, that I must've had them, but I still didn't search them out and send them back. I guess maybe this conversation will be enough motivation to finally get me to do that.

“... I hope you're at least consistent enough to be categorically opposed to the existence of repo men. It must feel like quite a presumptuous violation of one's dignity and autonomy to have the bank come into your house and take your furniture away. Sure, you owe the bank money, but two wrongs don't make a right, correct?”

Absolutely. Repo men / bounty hunters, these things aren't really moral at all, and shouldn't be part of a just society. I'm not really happy with the system of bail bonds, either. They're a confusion of justice with revenge, and they also tend to complicate authority... which leads me to:

“Furthermore, your interpretation of "two wrongs don't make a right" seems to assume that every event following some wrong is a wholly independent event. Therefore we can't ever punish anyone for a wrongdoing? Putting a rapist in jail would feel like a disrespectful violation to the rapist, and two wrongs don't make a right? If keeping property in lieu of owed wages is theft, I guess any jail sentence is just kidnapping?”

This is a big point; weirdo echoes it, too:

me: “Stealing something 'of equal value' (which, as I said, isn't likely even possible to estimate) doesn't take away that violation; it only complicates it.”

weirdo: “Yet that's exactly what courts do when they award a judgment or grant restitution in the case of criminal theft. It's not stealing only because we have decided as a society that taking through the courts is not theft, but in every other way it is identical to stealing something from someone who stole from you. (or refused to pay something they agreed to pay to you)”

I've been thinking about this in the context of the Stefan Molyneux thread, where grumblebee has been making a very similar point here:

grumblebee: “So, I grab (say) cortex, lock him in my basement, he tries to escape and so I kick him down the stairs. Do we all agree that's an evil act? That I'm wrong to do it? I HOPE we agree on that. So the next step is this: I go to police academy, get hired by the cops, put on a uniform, and it's then OKAY for me to lock people up and hit them if they try to escape. Here's where all sorts of arguments and personal values come into play. If you want to say, ‘the difference is that you're now not a private citizen but a representative of the state’ or whatever, I'm not going to argue with you... I'm too unsure at this point. But I will say that I'm deeply uneasy. I am not happy with moral rules applying to some people and not others.”

This is a big question, but to try to begin to give the answer I would give, I'll say this: because we aren't perfect, justice among human beings requires that there be law. Law, in turn, requires that there be an authority to enforce it. Law, and the authority which upholds the law, has to act as an arbiter of right, and to try to make things right in order to achieve the justice which is its reason for existing.

So there is a qualitative and quantitative difference between a rapist being held against his will by the authority appointed to uphold the law and a rapist being held against his will by a private citizen. The difference is in the authority given to the people appointed to uphold the law. That's not to say that their position of authority gives them fiat to do whatever they choose; more importantly, it doesn't mean that justice is simply whatever they want it to be. But it does mean that the situation is different, for very real reasons.

The important reason why this has to be so is because justice requires that punishment be depersonalized and separated from the heat of the moment and the bitterness of the victim. I believe that the purpose of punishment is to help the criminal first and foremost, and thereby to help society, by giving the criminal a way to recover her or his dignity and resolve her or his relation with society. As a practical matter, a just law has to try to rectify the imbalance caused by theft by returning stolen goods; but that's not the chief goal. The chief goal is to improve the thief's relation with other human beings by allowing them to repay the violation they've caused through punishment, and thereby to recover their ability to relate in a dignified and respectable way with the rest of society. That's why an outside authority, an impartial arbiter, is necessary; because in nearly every case the victim of a crime can't judge impersonally enough to act in the criminal's best interest.

And that's why I don't think people should 'take justice into their own hands' when they're wronged – why I think that stealing something back in some way from somebody who's robbed you is wrong.
posted by koeselitz at 10:19 AM on August 25, 2010


Wouldn't it be conversion or embezzlement, and not theft, since the item came into the Asker's possession legally and then the Asker decided to use it as their own?

I thought theft required that one illegally take, not just illegally continue to possess something.

Or is this something that varies widely, even in the US?
posted by wierdo at 10:20 AM on August 25, 2010


me: “I'm responding generally to a point I was making...”

(Heh. I know sometimes I'm a human echo chamber in conversation, but that's stating it a bit too plainly.)
posted by koeselitz at 10:23 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've got a big shrug on this one.

Of some of the depressing stories of interaction with civil servants I've had, having someone laugh at me over the phone when I contacted Hours and Wages (something like that, many moons ago) in an attempt to get back what I still consider A Lot Of Money from a former employer. It was the kind of laugh that suggested I was a dim-witted thirteen year old who had called up the Post Office to put in a present request for Santa. The employer had already paid the payroll taxes on paychecks I had never received. Having had their cut already, well, the nice people on the phone suggested that little incentive remained for action on their part.

Jedicus once said something that very nicely fit in with my experience: "Sometimes, even when the law provides a remedy, it is not necessarily efficient to seek it, and sometimes defendants are judgment proof." That is perhaps the most valuable bit of legal wisdom I have ever heard.

Sometimes, when the social contract has not been upheld, and you want your justice or compensation badly enough, you have to go get it yourself, with all of the risks that implies. Or, you can sit at home and say "But I was Right!" with nothing to show for it.
posted by adipocere at 10:44 AM on August 25, 2010


So, it sounds like you're saying that the state levying fines or imprisoning people is also wrong in principle -- because two wrongs don't make a right -- but you're willing to compromise here because human nature is imperfect and we need law, so at least we should have impartial, institutionalized law.

If the OP lives in a place where workers' rights are simply not effectively enforced against large employers, would you be willing to compromise further and allow for private justice?
posted by creasy boy at 10:45 AM on August 25, 2010


Absolutely. Repo men / bounty hunters, these things aren't really moral at all, and shouldn't be part of a just society. I'm not really happy with the system of bail bonds, either. They're a confusion of justice with revenge, and they also tend to complicate authority... which leads me to:

This is dumb. Hate to say it but dumb. It only helps the rich. Because then, you could only buy houses and cars with cash and you could only get out on bail if you posted the whole amount.

Becasuse no one would lend money for those things if they weren't able to get a security interest in the property. Nor would they lend money for bail if they could not bring you to justice to get their bail money back. This is plain basic knowledge.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:24 AM on August 25, 2010


Deliberately retaining the item when one no longer has authorization in an attempt to obtain satisfaction for an alleged debt is theft. The OP was required to hand over that computer when he was no longer employed there. The fact that the employer has not asked for it does not provide him with any security interest or title to the computer.

Ironmouth, the OP posted earlier in this thread that the company did ask for it and the OP said he would give it back to them once they gave him his wages. He has not heard from them since. Does that change anything legally?
When they let me go, they told me to return it. Having seen them not pay many former employees their final checks (even after losing court cases), I said sure, I will be very happy to return it, but please send me my last check first. I never heard back from them.
posted by nooneyouknow at 12:46 PM on August 25, 2010


FWIW in my jurisdiction, in some circumstances you are allowed to seize property to the amount of outstanding unpaid wages. In which case this would be a totally legitimate question.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:16 PM on August 25, 2010


(they did make damn fine burritos at the Burro, though).

Yes, klang, and they kept Dave V. off the streets for months. BTW, your relative, DNS, says that the first time he heard the Deez joke was from Dave V.

While that comment just above may seem like a derail, it really is not intended to be so. I get bored sometimes by theoretical discussions by people who like everything neatly tied up on a cut & dried moral level.

Life can get messy. I've been fucked over by people with supposedly less power in the equation (I was landlord, they were tenant) and I've been fucked over by employers. In neither case did I come out ahead, and in both cases I took the morally correct path in not taking what was owed to me through any means necessary. Should make me a "better" person, but I'm not a huge believer that this will be all made right in the next life. I can't say that I would do anything different than the AskMe poster meantime if faced with his situation.
posted by beelzbubba at 7:48 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


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