If I was terminated from a job, did my employer have the right to go through my personal things?

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If I was terminated from a job, did my employer have the right to go through my personal things?

I was not allowed to get my purse and boxed items from my desk. The department manager had a supervisor bring me my items. After I left, management cleaned out my former desk. There was a personal journal that my co-worker and I shared locked in the drawer of my desk, which did not have our names on the outside cover; only on the inside content. My employer did not return this item to me. Instead the journal was read, given to the other co-worker and the department manager made comments that proved she definitely read the material. There was no company information written anywhere inside of this journal. Was this legal and can the employer be sued for any violations?

Asked on January 12, 2013 under Employment Labor Law, Georgia

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

If it was not 100% clear that the journal was purely personal, it probably was legal: an employer has a right to any/all business related materials. Therefore, it's not unreasonable (or illegal) for an employer to go through a notebook or journal to see if might have business-related content; and similarly,  it can generally go through the belongings of a terminated employer prior to sending them to him/her to see if there is business material/content/property among them.

Also, even if what the employer did was wrongful--e.g. it was unmistakeable that this was purely private or personal--there is likely no point in suing. The law does not award compensation simply because of a rights violation; it awards compensation to remedy a loss or damage. If you did not suffer some economic loss or significant reputational damage that you can trace to the employer's actions, you could not recover enough money to justify the cost of a lawsuit.


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