by Carrie Mason-Draffen (

DEAR CARRIE: I am a public-school teacher. The district where I work is planning to issue my colleagues and me laptops. If we lose the computers, can the school make us pay for them? — Property Protocol

DEAR PROPERTY: The key words here are “public school teacher.” Whether or not you and your colleagues are on the hook for lost laptops would depend on what your union contract stipulates, said employment lawyer Christine Malafi, a partner at Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, which is based in Ronkonkoma.

“Public employees may be working under a collective bargaining agreement with their employer, and the terms of that agreement may govern the use of and responsibility for employer property and should be reviewed,” Malafi said.

The law is much simpler for private-sector employees. It prohibits their employers from docking their wages for such things as lost equipment.

 Here is what the New York State Labor Department’s website says:

“Employers are only allowed to deduct certain items from an employee’s wages, such as taxes, insurance premiums, union dues, etc. They are not permitted to charge employees for breakages, cash shortages, fines or any other losses to the business.”

But the company could fire the employee who loses or breaks equipment, unless a union or employment contract prohibits it.

To avoid such workplace entanglements some companies require employees who work with tools or equipment, for example, to bring their own, as a condition of employment, Malafi said.

Read it on the Newsday website.