Does an employer have the right to search an employee's purse or bag?

Author: Shannon C. Johnson

Yes. A private employer generally has the right to search an employee's purse or bag 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 personal belongings such as bags and purses 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 purse or bag. 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 purse or bag 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 personal belongings 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.