Does an employer need to obtain employee consent prior to searching an employee's personal belongings?

Author: Shannon C. Johnson

Yes. Consent should be obtained if possible. Public employees have greater privacy rights under the United States Constitution than private employees. However, some states have enacted laws pertaining to privacy rights of private employees. The best practice for both public employers and private employers is to have a policy in place that permits workplace searches and informs employees of their limited privacy rights in the workplace. It is always best to obtain employee consent to the policy and prior to conducting a search in order to minimize liability. Further, an employer 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.