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

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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

Answers:

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

Answered 3 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.


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