Is my employer allowed to confiscate my cell phone while during my shift and then search the device?

As of 08/01 my employer has a new policy going into effect stating they have the right to not only confiscate personal electronic devices (at any time), but will search all of the said devices once confiscated. I work at a hospital where they are now paranoid about HIPAA and patient privacy issues (namely the capacity to take video, pictures, or download data from computers). Most of us keep cell phones hidden in lockers/break areas away from patients and do not use them until we have breaks/lunch/shift end. I myself use my Droid for keeping appointments and professional contacts.

Asked on July 21, 2010 under Employment Labor Law, Pennsylvania

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

An employer could not do this retroactively or without notice, but going forward, if there is no contract or employment agreement to the contrary, an employer could make it their work policy that:

1) There may be no cell phones, etc. brought on site

2) If cell phones, etc. are brought on site, the employer may confiscate them

3) Further, if phones are confiscated, they may be searched.

The key is notice: the  employer would need to publicize the policy to its staff, so that people are on notice that they may not bring phones and that if they do, they do not have an privacy expectations in them. They employer also needs to administer this policy even handedly--no differential enforcement, which could lead to workplace discrimination claim.


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