Legally search employees' lockers

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Sep 01, 2007


Dr. Charlotte Lacroix
You're being nice when you offer lockers for team members to stow their personal belongings during working hours, but this positive gesture may create a privacy issue for your team and a safety concern for you.

"You may at some point suspect an employee of engaging in misconduct," says Dr. Charlotte Lacroix, JD, owner of Veterinary Business Advisors in Whitehouse Station, N.J. "Then the burning question is: Do you have the right to search the lockers?"

To head off privacy lawsuits, Dr. Lacroix says to put your workplace search policy in your employee manual. A thorough policy explains the following points:

  • All employees are subject to searches at any time, with or without notice.
  • Certain areas are also subject to search (work areas, storage areas, employee vehicles on company property, backpacks, purses, and so on).
  • There are consequences to refusing a search, including termination.

If you let team members secure their lockers, Dr. Lacroix says you should keep a copy of lock combinations, regardless of who provides the lock. Include this in your policy.

And finally, require team members to sign a document saying they've read, understood, and agreed to these policies. Of course, all this due diligence doesn't mean you can do whatever you want, says Dr. Lacroix. "All searches should be based on reasonable suspicion, conducted in accordance with hospital policy, and well documented," she says.