Can my employer conduct a pat down search without permission?

Policy is to empty bags or personal handbag for visual inspection upon leaving the retail establishment where I work. On a day off I stopped in to check my schedule and sign up for a party. Ready to leave, I told the Assistant Manager on duty that I didn’t bring a handbag into the store. She said she would need to pat me down. I laughed thinking she was making a topical joke. She immediately stepped up to me patting me down through my coat. I was not asked or allowed to offer to remove my coat and empty pockets for a visual inspection. This was in a customer area and in view of another employee.

Asked on December 9, 2010 under Employment Labor Law, South Carolina


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

I'm afraid that you may not have too many rights/options here.  Most employment relationships are what is known as "at will".  What this means is that basically an employer can hire or fire someone for any reason or no reason whatsoever, as well has increase/decrease salary/hours, promote/demote, and generally impose requirements as they see fit - even regarding on-site but off-duty hours. In turn, an employee has the choice of work for an employee, or not. 

The exceptions to the above would be if there is a stated company policy contrary to the way in which your situation was handled, or there is a union/employment agreement that does not allow for such  action, or this situation has arisen due to some type of discrimination (i.e., for reasons due to your race, religion, age, disability, sex, national origin).  Absent any of the foregoing, your employer's action did not violate the law.

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