California Employment Law
California Employment Law Questions Answered by Legal Experts
Can California employers lawfully search contents of employee person, including but not limited to clothing, bags/purses/packs/letters/vehicles for any reason as long as the search is conducted on company property, to include the parking lot?
A: First, there is a huge difference between government and private employers where this issue is concerned. Government is restricted by the U.S. Constitution, 4th Amendment prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure -- whereas private employers are not restricted. I will assume a private employer here.
There is practically no California law on this subject. The small amount that exists, suggests that an employer that notifies employees in advance that their possessions or persons may be subject to search, can do so, because by providing notice, the employee no longer has a reasonable expectation of privacy -- except, for example in locations such as dressing/locker and restrooms, where a clear expectation of privacy exists.
So, the issue must be resolved approximately as that the employer can search, and the employee can quit and thereby avoid a search. A physicial search of a locked vehicle, would almost certainly be unlawful, because the employee has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the vehicle, as long as it is locked on employer property. Similarly, a locked box or bag would be protected, but ultimately, the employer can demand that the employee open the bag, and if the employee refuses, then the employer can terminate the employee. Thus, the employee's rights are secured, but so are the employers.
Concerning a patdown or other body search, once again, the issue is one of whether the employee has notice that he or she will be subjected to a search. If no, then it's arguable that a patdown is probably beyond the employer's authority -- however, the issue always resolves as being a choice between submitting to a search and quiting one's job or be fired for refusing. It's not a great choice but it is a choice, and the employee and employer can each make their choice, without the court's interference.
With respect to any searches of person, ("pat-down" or "frisking") a same-sex Company Representative is available to conduct any searches of male/female employees.
If bodily "pat-down" searches would be non-compliant with state/federal law, but other "extended property" searches such as bags and vehicles are compliant, is it lawful to require that the contents of pockets to articles of clothing (bodily property) be displayed?
A: Same answer as above. You are characterizing the choice of employer demands and employee must comply. But, the real choice is that employer demands, and employee can quit or refuse and potentially be fired. So, you have to consider the full range of options before considering the answer. It's not as cut and dry as may first appear.
Regardless of the law defining this matter, are employers RESPONSIBLE for the contents of employee persons, bags, cars, etc...?
A: If the employer provides storage for an employee's possessions, then that would bring responsibility on the employer as a "bailee," unless the employer notifies employees in advance that it won't be responsible for possessions stored on employer premises. However, in a job description where it's impossible to perform the job without storing personal possessions (car keys, wallet, purse, etc.), then the employer would likely be unable to waive liability, because the employee is actually storing possession for the employer's benefit, rather than for the employees.
Example A: The use/possession of any illegal substances (drugs) while on a break or otherwise on company property.
A: This issue has been in part addressed by the California Supreme Court -- to wit: "
NOTICE: My goal here is to educate others about the law. I am always available to answer your follow-up questions after you click Accept – however, if you do not click Accept, the website gets paid, and I receive nothing. This is true, even if you are on a subscription plan. So please click Accept, so that I will be able to continue to provide this service for others in the future.
And, if you need to contact me again, please put my user id on the title line of your question (“To Socrateaser”), and the system will send me an alert. Thanks!
DISCLAIMER: Answers from Experts on JustAnswer are not substitutes for the advice of an attorney. JustAnswer is a public forum and questions and responses are not private or confidential or protected by the attorney-client privilege. The Expert above is not your attorney, and the response above is not legal advice. You should not read this response to propose specific action or address specific circumstances, but only to give you a sense of general principles of law that might affect the situation you describe. Application of these general principles to particular circumstances must be done by a lawyer who has spoken with you in confidence, learned all relevant information, and explored various options. Before acting on these general principles, you should hire a lawyer licensed to practice law in the jurisdiction to which your question pertains.
The responses above are from individual Experts, not JustAnswer. The site and services are provided “as is”. To view the verified credential of an Expert, click on the “Verified” symbol in the Expert’s profile. This site is not for emergency questions which should be directed immediately by telephone or in-person to qualified professionals. Please carefully read the Terms of Service (last updated February 8, 2012).