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Can your employer search you at work?

Can your employer search you at work?

As an American, you have a fundamental right to privacy. The United States Supreme Court first recognized this right in the landmark 1965 case of Griswold v. Connecticut. But does this right exist at all times and in all places? Does it, for instance, extend to your workplace?

According to the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, not necessarily. Under certain circumstances, your employer has the right to search you and your work areas.

Valid business reason

Your employer must have a valid business reason for conducting a search of you or the areas in which you work. For instance, if your employer has reasonable grounds to believe that you have stolen company property, or are in the process of doing so, he or she can search you and the nonpersonal areas where you work for such property.

Company policies

The other time when your employer can conduct a valid search is if one of the company’s policies, stated in the employee handbook, expressly grants such a right. For instance, if your company’s employee handbook specifically states that your employer allows any of the following, then your right to privacy does not override them:

  • Recording of the phone calls you make at work on a company phone
  • Monitoring of the emails you send from work using company computers and other devices
  • Random searches for such things as drug or alcohol usage while at work

Wisest strategy

Employee privacy remains a rather fuzzy area of the law. Consequently, if you wonder how much privacy you have at work. err on the safe side. Assume that you have no real privacy at work and that whatever you do there may well be subject to a search or monitoring.

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