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Employee Privacy Right-Property Searches

The Fourth Amendment provides protection to all individuals in the government sector against unreasonable search and seizure of their home, personal property. However, to receive the protection, an employee must have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The employee cannot be searched if there is no reasonable ground of suspicion and all searches should be conducted in a manner that is reasonably related to the objective of the search and not excessively intrusive.


  • The employee does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a desk or filing cabinet shared with colleagues or a work area exposed to the public.
  • Office searches are permissible, if the employee has a reasonable basis for suspecting the employer of wrong doing and the search is confined to non-personal area of his/her office.
  • Office documents relevant to the company are the property of the employer and can be searched anytime.

Most private sector employers are not covered by this doctrine and there is no law which stops employers from using different technique when suspecting the employee of misconduct. This includes searching the employee’s office or locker without his /her prior permission and requesting the employee to open his/her briefcase or package on leaving a company facility.

However, the employee cannot be searched to discriminate because he/she belongs to a protected class. During the search, the employee cannot be physically, verbally abused or threatened. In most cases, the employer cannot conduct a search in areas which is truly private. The search cannot be conducted in front of third party that harms the reputation of the employee. The employee can sue the employer, if he/she was wrongfully searched and then fired, demoted, suspended, reprimanded or put on probation.

know your rights now!