Employment Law Blog

News, trends and analysis in employment law and HR

Oct 21, 2015

When is it okay to search an employee’s locker?

Q&ADrug and AlcoholPrivacy & Confidentiality 

Q: Our custodial staff found beer cans in the lunchroom. We don’t know who could have been drinking at work and we’d like to search employee lockers in order to find out. Is that okay?

A: As long as you warn employees and have a legitimate business purpose, you may conduct searches of items and areas located on company property, including company-owned lockers. As an employer you must always show that your business needs justified your actions and how those needs outweighed an employee’s reasonable expectation of privacy. Before conducting any searches, you should have a policy in place that explicitly tells employees that personal items on company property are subject to a search. In this case, as long as you have a written policy allowing for searches, you can conduct the search due to the evidence of alcohol consumption on company property. When you conduct the search, you should do so in a manner that respects the employee’s privacy as much as possible. For example, inform employees ahead of time and allow employees to be present while the search is taking place. This will help the employee feel more comfortable that you aren’t unnecessarily rummaging through their belongings or taking their possessions. It’s also a good idea to specifically assign lockers to individuals and prohibit use of personal locks. Taking these steps will help reinforce the idea that employees don’t have an expectation of privacy in a locker located on company property.

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