A. This is a very touchy legal area. As an employer, your search of employee property brought onto company premises approaches invasion of privacy. The employee’s expectation of privacy must be weighed against your interest in productivity, the well-being of your workforce and the security of your premises.
If you want to conduct a search, follow these precautions to mitigate liability. (Note that this is by no means an exhaustive or completely safeguarding list.)
• Distribute in writing to every employee all policies regarding your right to perform searches of lockers, desks, vehicles, etc. Make certain that you receive an acknowledgement from each employee that he or she has read and understands these policies.
• Notify employees that you will maintain keys or combinations to each desk, vehicle or locker used by employees on company property.
• Provide notice that smaller, personal containers like pockets, purses, lunch boxes, tool kits, etc., may also be searched. Before conducting any searches of these items, be sure to obtain employee consent.
• Allow only locks that you provide to be used on company property.
• Ensure that all searches are conducted in a nondiscriminatory and impartial fashion.
• Do not proceed with the search if the employee credibly denies knowledge of your search policy.
Keep the scope of the search reasonable. For example, if you are searching for a stolen laptop, there is no need to search an employee’s wallet. Treat employees with respect before, during and after the search.