Sue for its return
The answers given are limited to the facts as given and presumed by the answer itself. Without seeing actual written documentation or having a conference to more fully explore the issues, this short answer has only limited application. Make sure to seek legal counsel and provide all documentation to get assistance in making informed legal choices. Bstein@dcfsz.com, 305 377 1505
This is a bad situation. You need to act quickly. I am frequently involved in cases involving non-compete agreements, trade secrets, etc---- and so I often see situations in which a former employee leaves with corporate property.
You need to file a lawsuit to seek the return of the property. If you have asked the employee to return the computer but he has not done so, the only remaining option is legal action. You have a number of possible claims. This is clearly trespass to chattels. Depending on what he is doing with the computer (i.e. if he is attempting to sell the data), this may be something worse: misappropriation of trade secrets, etc. You should seek a temporary restraining order for the immediate return of the property.
All you can do is fight to get the computer back. In many instances, the former employee does not have the money to pay a judgment, so if he destroys the property, sells it to someone else, etc-- you may be out of luck. If you need assistance or a referral, please feel free to call my office.
My response to this question is a response to a hypothetical situation based on limited facts. I am not your attorney; you are not my client and we do not have an attorney-client relationship. If you need a lawyer, you should contact one in your area. If you would like to talk with me about your case, you can call my office.
In a situation such as this, you need to move PROMPTLY to prevent potential serious damage to your business. Also, the longer you delay taking action the less likely it is that a court will be inclined to give you a temporary injunction as it will question the timliness of your action as you complaint that the potential for damage to the business is substantial. If your former employee is already competing with you, on his own or with a new employer, you should also get an immediate cease and desist letter out to both the employee and new employer, warning of litigation in the event of a use of the proprietary information. I would speak with an employment lawyer in your areas ASAP.
I represent mostly plaintiffs/employees, and this situation OFTEN comes up. I almost always advise them to immediately return the property in question if it is the property of the employer. I would follow a two step process and act very quickly in doing so. First, I would send a registered letter demanding return of the property within about 72 hours. If the employee fails to comply, your last option is to sue for its immediate return. I certainly would not delay.
This is general information only and does not constitute legal advice, nor does this communication in any way establish an attorney-client relationship. Feel free to contact me for further information.