Q. Can we open an employee’s personal space or belongings—such as her locker, purse or desk drawer—if we suspect she is stealing?
A. Under Pennsylvania law, employers can probably search employer-owned property used by an employee—and perhaps even an employee’s personal property—if they reasonably suspect that the employee is stealing and the search does not unreasonably intrude on the employee’s privacy.
You should have a written policy or employee handbook provision that advises employees that you may conduct reasonable searches of their work areas, desks and belongings and that they should not have an expectation of privacy in those things.
To minimize the risk of a claim for invasion of privacy, you should conduct the search narrowly and discreetly, with respect for the employee’s privacy. The most prudent approach is to avoid searching an employee’s personal property, such as a purse, without the employee’s permission.
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