Does an employer have a right to search an employee's locker or desk?

Author: Shannon C. Johnson

Yes. An employer will generally have the right to search an employee's locker or desk in certain situations and if employee consent has been obtained. For example, if an employee is suspected of having a firearm, dangerous weapon or drugs, then a search may be appropriate.

There is a distinction between private employees and public employees. Private employers generally have the right to search an employee's locker or desk as long as there is a workplace policy in place that informs employees that they have a limited expectation of privacy in the workplace and that lockers and desks are subject to search for legitimate reasons. However, an employer should be aware that some states have enacted laws pertaining to privacy rights of private employees. Notwithstanding this, certain precautions should be taken to avoid liability, and it is always best for an employer to obtain employee consent to the policy and prior to conducting a search.

A public employer also has the right to search an employee's locker or desk. However, the right to search will be construed under the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. This means that an employer must have a reasonable suspicion that something illegal such as drugs or dangerous weapons are contained within the employee's locker or desk in order to have the right to perform a search.

Both public employers and private employers should only conduct a search of an employee's locker or desk for a legitimate work-related reason or in connection with an employer's reasonable suspicion of criminal or civil wrongdoing or a violation of a workplace policy.