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

UPDATED: Jul 21, 2010

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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


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 12 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.

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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