I was playing 3-way Rummikub for the first time in a few years with friends. During player 1's turn late in the game, he mixed tiles back and forth trying to play as many as he could. During this same turn he used a joker and put it in a combination on the board (it was a red 12 in a 11, 12, 13 run). Before this same turn was over he realized he didn't need to use the joker, finding a way to use a different red 12 in order to use the joker on another turn. He then picked the joker up from the table and tried to put it back in his tray, but player 2 said this not allowed because "if it was laid, it was played". Player 1 thinks picking up a joker (or any tile) should be legal as long as it is removed from an error-free board before time expires. Player 2 thinks if a joker was placed on the board in a legal combination during a turn, I should not be allowed to put it back in my hand regardless of circumstances. Appreciate your feedback.
It seems to depend on your version of the rules, but if you take this version's Rules: (emphasis added)
... A joker can be retrieved from a set on the table by a player who can replace it during his turn with a tile of the same numerical value and color it represents. The tile used to replace the Joker must come from a player's rack and not from the table. In the case of a group of 3, the joker can be replaced by the tile of either of the missing colors. A joker that has been replaced must be used in the player's same turn with 2 or more tiles from his rack to make a new set. Players cannot retrieve a joker before they have laid their initial set(s). A set containing a joker can have tiles added to it and can be split apart or have tiles removed from it. The joker has a penalty value of 30 points if it remains on a player's rack at the end of a game.
So a replaced Joker must be used in the same turn, but that only applies to Jokers that were already on the table.
In your case, the Joker was not already on the table and was added during the player's turn.
In this version the only rule for building sets during a turn is: (emphasis added)
Building on Sets:
A player may build onto a set in any of the following ways (or in any combination of these ways) as long as there are only legitimate sets on the table and there are no loose tiles left at the end of his turn.
So by placing the Joker down, but rearranging the sets so that the Joker (or any tile) is left without a set, then it triggers the Incomplete Runs rule:
A player who unsuccessfully builds on or manipulates other sets on the table must replace the tiles in their original positions, take back the tiles he played and draw three tiles from the pouch.
So, the player who tried to reclaim their Joker must either:
1) make sure the Joker is used to make proper sets without loose tiles or
2) reset the table, take back any tiles they played that turn to their rack and draw three more tiles from the pouch as penalty. Ouch!