Let’s begin by saying: hopefully a workplace search, where you feel like your privacy has been invaded, never happens to you. That being said, sometimes workplace searches and interrogations are necessary in order to ensure things like information breaches, illegal activities and issues with drugs and contraband are handled properly.
Workplace searches can happen with great frequency or completely at random depending on the nature of your company and corporate policies. One of the biggest immediate differences between workplace searches and non-work searches has to do with what is being searched: company property. The majority (with the exception of your person) of what is being searched is company property. Or, put differently, your employer is simply searching something that you are borrowing and they own. A Washington workplace search might include items like: desks, lockers, computer files and offices.
State and federal laws govern this very important area of employment law. There are two main questions to look at in any workplace case are:
1. Is there a reasonable suspicion of employee wrongdoing? What this question is really getting at is whether the employer had good reason to believe that some wrongdoing was happening BEFORE the search take place. This can be something as simple as a concern that the employee was drinking on the job because his or her manager smelled alcohol on their breath before. This first point also comes up when it has to do with concerns over breaches in company policy. In many scenarios, the right to search an employee’s workplace communications in search of breaches in company policies requires very little suspicion.
2. Was the item searched something that had any expectation of privacy? Compare the privacy expectation you have in a company cubicle versus a company locker that you carry the combination for. It is easy to see how something easily accessible in your desk carries very little privacy as compared to your locker where you keep your personal effects. The tricky part is that although the two things might have different privacy expectations, they are both company property on company property. When it comes to a workplace search of a personal item such as a purse or wallet, the employer should seek a court-order before taking a look into their employee’s property.
Like most employment law issues, the analysis really comes down to the particular facts of the case at hand. But it is easy to see how a legal workplace search can quickly turn into an illegal invasion of privacy depending on the nature or extent of the search. If you believe that you have been a victim of an illegal workplace search or interrogation, you should get in touch with a Washington employment lawyer to discuss your options.
Unfortunately for many Washington employees, failure to comply with an illegal workplace search results in adverse reactions such as: wrongful discharge, demotion or suspension. All of these are illegal Washington workplace retaliations and there are many remedies available to employees.