What rights do I have when my employer wants to search personal belongings?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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What rights do I have when my employer wants to search personal belongings?

The manager where I work retail store will search every employees bag, purse, and lunchbox on random days as employees are leaving. While the search is happening, we are not being paid for it. Also, one of my co-workers said they were asked to empty their bag on the floor. These searches are conducted on the sales floor in front of customers making it even more embarrassing. Do I have the legal right to refuse without any disciplinary action being taken against me? Is my employer required to pay me during the search? Do I have the legal right to have the search done in private?

Asked on September 28, 2018 under Employment Labor Law, Ohio


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

As a general rule, the law provides that office searches are permissible if an employer has a reasonable basis for suspecting an employee of wrongdoing and the search is confined to non-personal areas of their office. The reasoning is that the office/documents are the property of the employer and can be searched at anytime.However, clearly visible personal items cannot be searched and employers cannot conduct a search if there is no reasonable ground for suspicion. Legitimate searches also depend on whether or not the employee had a reasonable expectation of privacy. That having been said, if there exisits a policy that places workers on notice that routine searches will be conducted, then such searches are legal. This includes handbooks, signs and memos which state that searches are conducted and personal property is subject to search. So whether or not your employer's searches are legal depends on the circumstances under which they are done.

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 AttorneyPages.com 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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