Can an employer search your belongings/purse without cause?

We have a “no cell phone policy” and it wants to start doing random searches.

Asked on May 28, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, Kentucky


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

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

The answer to this question depends on the situation. First of all, does company policy, an employment contract or union agreement prohibit such action? If not then, typically courts have held that, if something was stolen or if you work in a high-risk security area, or as in your case there is a no cell phone policy, then your employer can probably search you as long as the search isn't overly invasive. On the other hand, if an employer regularly searches employees for no good reason or singles out a particular employee for search, its actions may not be legal.

As a general rule, employees are entitled to what is known as a "reasonable expectation of privacy" in order to be free from employer intrusion into their private activities. However, employers can limit these rights in certain circumstances (i.e. company policy clearly allows for this). Basically, a court will consider all the circumstances surrounding an employer's conduct; specifically how and why the employer took its actions).

For more information you should contact an employment law attorney in your state. They can best advise as to specific state law governing such situations.

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