Can an employee refuse to allow a search of their personal pocketbook if it contains personal detailed medical information?

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Can an employee refuse to allow a search of their personal pocketbook if it contains personal detailed medical information?

I was clocked out and leaving the workplace when a “loss prevention” employee demanded to look in my pocketbook. I refused because I was receiving treatment for a medical condition of a personal nature. He then told me that I had no choice and threatened to “arrest” me. (He is not a police officer.) I was prepared to be fired to maintain my privacy, but I was then accused of shoplifting and told that refusing the search was evidence of “suspicious behavior”.

Asked on October 3, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, Rhode Island

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

What can happen is what did happen: you can refuse, in the sense that the "loss prevention" employee has no power to force you to allow the search. If he believes based on whatever evidence (your behavior; tip from another employer; workplace video security camera; something is missing that you had access to; etc.) that you shoplifted or stole, he can contact to the police and make a report. If the police believe the evidence is credible, they may arrest you...if they don't believe it's credible, they won't take action. If this person contacted the police or otherwise claimed to anyone that you stole when you did not, you may be able to take legal action against him and/or the company, possibly for defamation. Good luck.


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