Can an employer search your belongings/purse without cause?

UPDATED: May 28, 2012

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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 10 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.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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