Last week we discussed workplace investigations regarding computer files and communication, and as you learned, the right to search most often lies with the employer. After all, it is your equipment and your office the employee is utilizing. However, general searches are a bit more complex.
The need to search someone’s personal belongings may arise for a number of reasons – perhaps there’s a suspicion of employee substance abuse…or there’s been some type of vandalism committed during today’s lunch break. Or, in a much more serious situation, perhaps there’s been a threat made against others and there’s reason to believe someone is planning to harm someone else or themselves.
Under OSHA, employers must investigate problems and prevent future similar problems from occurring, to the best of their ability. In regards to the prevention of workplace violence, employers have a duty to investigate threats and prevent acts of violence from occurring within the workplace. However, we’d like to stress that in violent situations or threatening situations, local law enforcement should be contacted before attempting to handle on your own as the employer.
So, what about a less serious search – for example – looking in an employee’s briefcase or purse for something? In short, this is not recommended. In general, employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy surrounding their own personal items…. unless of course the employee was told otherwise before accepting a job at your Company.
The key in protecting yourself as the employer in general searchers is to have a good search policy in place BEFOREHAND. If you have made it well known (this includes outlining everything in writing within your employee handbook or company policy) that the entire workplace is subject to search at any time, you have the right to search personal areas when there’s reasonable cause. This includes locked desk drawers or lockers.
A very good search policy will also include personal items that are brought on to the worksite including purses, briefcases, containers, and even cars parked on company property!
Did you know that most PEOs can help you establish your own search policies in addition to employee handbooks and company policies? Call 877-636-9525 to find the best Professional Employer Organization for you. But, if you are in immediate need of a workplace investigation at this time, it is recommended you contact an employment law professional before proceeding.
Join us next week as we dive further into workplace investigations with employee drug testing.