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Personal Possessions in the Workplace

By: Matthew Strawbridge - Updated: 26 Feb 2020 | comments*Discuss
 
Personal Possessions Search Workplace

It is natural to want to bring items from home into your workplace. Some of these are harmless and can help to personalise your working environment, making you feel more at home. For example, potted plants, magazines, sweets and CDs are found in offices up and down the land. However, some other items you may be tempted to bring in to work, such as a credit card bill you want to pay over the phone from your desk, need to be kept confidential and secured.

In this article we will look at what items have the potential to harm your privacy, and what steps you can take to safeguard it. Finally, we will look at the issue of whether your employer is allowed to search you.

Your First Defence

The simplest way to protect personal possessions is to leave them at home. This might seem obvious, but take a moment to think about the personal items that you have recently taken to work. Were they all necessary? Did you bring anything in to work that has the potential to compromise your security? Was there anything containing your home address, telephone number, financial information, PINs or passwords? If so, you were putting yourself at risk.

Identifying Personal Possessions

Any of the following items could compromise your privacy:

  • bank statements or other financial correspondence
  • bills, especially those for credit cards
  • keys to your car or home
  • medical paperwork and prescriptions
  • payslips, assessment forms and other items relating to the terms and conditions of your employment and your performance in your job

Securing Your Belongings

If you feel you must bring personal items to work, and these contain information about you, then you should ensure that they are kept in a secure, locked area. This could be a drawer of your desk or a locker provided by the company. This affords you some defence against all but the most determined thieves.

Do Employers Have the Right to Search You?

Employers should not look through your personal possessions without your prior agreement. In addition, you should be present at the inspection. If someone damages your property during this process, they should pay to have it repaired or replaced.

Anyone frisking you without your consent could be committing assault. At the very least, someone of the same gender as you should carry this out with witnesses present and in accordance with a written policy. If you do not wish to participate, be assertive and stand up for your right to privacy, which is a fundamental human right protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.

Taking Steps to Protect Yourself

Personal belongings in the workplace are not very safe from prying eyes and fingers. Keeping sensitive materials locked up can help, but a better solution is not to bring them to work at all. If you do have items at work that you wish to keep private, and someone in authority wishes to search you or your possessions, then you have good grounds to refuse unless you have signed up to a policy that explicitly allows these intrusions. By following these steps, you will go a long way towards protecting your privacy in the workplace.

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My workplace (a window blind shop/manufacturer) has a no mobile phone use during work rule. We are not provided any personal secure lockers so most staff keep their phones in their pocket. Naturally some have responded occasional messages etc but never any excessive or disruptive use of phones during work. We were recently toldwe must place our phones in a filling cabinet that is locked by our manager and unlocked during breaks, lunch and end of day. All staff have access to this cabinet during the unlocked periods meaning any phone can be picked up by any member of staff during these periods. Although phones do have various security measures I don't feel comfortable leaving my phone that contains sensitive information, banking details and the likes at risk like this. Should my employer provide individual lockers for personal items like this. I feel this is in effect a breech of personal privacy / security having to place my phone in this non private non secure cabinet.
Steve75 - 26-Feb-20 @ 8:41 AM
I was questioned by a lead if I was drinking alcohol on the premises I told him no I was told that I would have to go down and take a breathalyzer they took a container that I had soda in and kept it take me to the Work Med to be tested for alcohol as well as tested me for drugs both tests were 100% clean and when I asked for them to give me my container back I was told that I had to wait till the next business day to get it from our supervisor the supervisor has been notified that my test came up negative and still refuses to return my property as well as on the drug test reasons it was put down as a post-accident there was no accident involved it was hearsay. It was not fired and was told to return to work on my next working day and then I could come in I retrieve my personal belongings from the supervisor the next day I feel that this company had no right to keep my personal belongings once I've proven that I was not under the influence whatsoever at all I don't feel that he has the legal right to hold my stuff
Angel - 3-Feb-20 @ 3:25 AM
The general manager at my workplace (I work in retail/entertainment) has banned everyone from going into the staff room (if you can even call it that, it's basically just a small room under the stairs) as certain members of staff kept leaving it messy. Meaning they've taken the lockers out and put them in the managers office. The office has a codes door that only the managers know, so no other member of staff can get in to retrieve they're belongings without a manager to open the door for them. Also the lockers a tiny and can't even fit a back pack in and we've been told to not being in anything that doesn't fit in the locker, (also meaning if I need to buy essentials on my break, I'm unable to actually store them safely). Is this even allowed??? Also we've got nowhere to hang coats up either.
Rhi - 1-Jan-20 @ 6:21 PM
While at work my wife's purse was placed by her in a company provided locker...At the end of my shift I was given permission from my wife to remove the purse from the locker and take it in the bathroom where I could count the money she had placed inside her purse without prying eyes of other on me plus I had to perform excrement in the facilities at the same time... upon completing the requested task I place the purse back in my wife's locker ...Then about ten minutes later our boss comes and request us to the back dinningroom at which time he presented one of my wife's un=used insulin syringeswhile simultaneouslyaccusing me and my wife of criminal drug use in front of another manager....His statements were quick and very incorrect jugements that had no place being made in the workplace...Do we have a deformation case?
Dani - 16-Dec-19 @ 12:37 PM
I am a delivery van driver and have a bag with my lunch coat wet weather gear and sanitary products in amongst other things. My employer are now saying I have to use a mesh bag that they can see inside of. Legally do I have to use this bag as customers will then see my personal things or can i carry on using my rucksack. Thsnks
Bubbles - 9-Sep-19 @ 7:35 AM
I thank lots of medication from the doctor and I work in a care home there is no lockers for domestics ( me) and others.What should I do.
Apple - 1-Aug-19 @ 8:48 PM
Whilst suspended from work my.employer has searched the cab of my van which is ok with me, however they also searched thriugh my personal clothing in the van without me there or my permission. Is this legal?
Arnold - 18-Jul-19 @ 9:22 PM
Hi .my work place has decided to lock the staff room to keep staff out when not on dinners. They do provide a locker for all staff but have decided to lock the full staff room.. If we need to get into the room we have to go and ask for the key to open the door. Please could you advise.. Is this allowed? Thank you bbs
Bbs - 22-May-19 @ 5:32 PM
my employer has disclosed my email address to other collegues is that a breach of data protection please can you advise
mrtee - 19-Jan-19 @ 11:38 PM
At my workplace they don't allow us to keep our valuables on us so they provided us with lockers. Today someone broke into my locker and stole my phone and some money. They searched everyone but not their cars, it was reported at the police as well but no luck. The manager says there is nothing more they can do. Is that legal? Since they are making us locking our things in there shouldn't they be responsible for them?
Anas7asia - 20-Sep-18 @ 7:01 PM
While i have been off sick my boss has "sorted through" all of my personal resources and materials in my classroom. Several have been removed from my room to shared storage areas. I was never asked if this was ok, or notified that it would be happening. Is this legal? These are items and paperwork which are my personal property.
Potter - 14-Sep-18 @ 4:05 PM
@Vik - You don't really have any rights regarding this apart from complaining to your boss's line manager regarding her treatment of you.
Annie - 13-Jul-18 @ 12:56 PM
I have my own notebook which I bought when I start to work. My notes like how you do thinks on excel or how you use an account program. I have only a couple of pageswhich show our supplier and one page was on my languae some recipes.Firstly she made a comment that these are not a words. As I am leaving today and my boss yesterday wanted to take my notebook. I told her that is mine. She said I can not take anything from the office. Without my permission she went thru my notebook and rip out all pages. Has she had right to do this and what is my right?
Vik - 13-Jul-18 @ 7:26 AM
Is a manager allowed to go through lockers without any notification, our consent or witness present?
Em - 21-Jun-18 @ 10:53 AM
Dream - Your Question:
If I discover pictures on my phone that I didn't take while my phone was on my desk and find out after filing a complaint with HR I find out it was my executive manager what are my rights?

Our Response:
If you have filed a grievance, please see link here . Mediation is when an independent, impartial third party discusses a problem with you and your employer (or between you and another employee) to try and find a solution. It’s often used after informal discussions haven’t solved the issue.
EmployeePrivacyRights - 12-Jun-18 @ 1:50 PM
If I discover pictures on my phone that I didn't take while my phone was on my desk and find out after filing a complaint with HR I find out it was my executive manager what are my rights?
Dream - 11-Jun-18 @ 8:50 PM
My sore is closing and there selling the lockers on one of my days off my am broke into my locker to move them does he have the right to do this
DJ117 - 2-Jun-18 @ 3:05 PM
I have a personal diary from 2016 in my tray at work(it has my name on it) that has my personal user names n passwords in ..my direct manager has gone through it and found a swear word in it as my password and taken it to do an investigation and a disiplinary on me..Does she have that right as it is my personal diary in my personal tray.. .she also knew it was my diary ..
Finn - 30-May-18 @ 8:39 PM
I have a question about in my workplace every single day we going true security search on private car. Is there any low what say what is legal to do by security ? Because they keep touch and open our car and we have to step back and watch :/ I'm not happy about it .even they open offen the boot of my car where is thecar enginee :(
Babybodri - 30-May-18 @ 8:30 PM
I left my personal mobile on the office desk and another manager as claimed they have looked at my mobile and accused me of recording her, which is untrue. Can this be classed as an invasion of privacy for looking at my mobile. This seems so wrong
Phil - 23-May-18 @ 8:35 PM
@Sammy - if your manager insists, then even if it is not company policy you kind of have to do what your manager says. Presumably it will be for a valid reason.
Ruthi - 21-May-18 @ 1:59 PM
Can my manager make me put my belongings in a locked locker even if its NOT company policy. I work in a retail store. Thanks
Sammy - 18-May-18 @ 6:28 PM
I have a locker at my work place that I had left some empty pop bottles in and forgot to take them home, now we did sign a letter saying they would be taken home everyday but had a lot of things going on and forgot them. I had a day off work and when I came back my locker was gone through and the bottles were taken and given to someone else. What action can I take here
Frustrated - 4-May-18 @ 6:27 PM
StB, I understand that an apology is probably all I will get but it just seems that this is another layer of a multilayered cake of malpractice that’s continues to happen at my place of work, by this particular person so I’m not too sure what to do! Thanks for your reply anyway ??
Wizzle - 26-Apr-18 @ 11:56 PM
@Wizzle - Of course you have grounds to complain. However, it's unlikely you will get more than an apology. So, it's whether complaining is worth the hassle of doing so in order to get not very much back in return.
StB - 23-Apr-18 @ 11:22 AM
Hi, we have had an office change, this was supposed to happen at the beginning of the year but has been put back many times! I was recently on leave, and while I wasn’t at work my locker, along with my colleagues lockers, were opened and had the possessions taken out for the move and haphazardly put back in! Now, I wasn’t informed this was going to happen, nothing has ever stopped the company contacting me while not at work before, my belongings were moved without my consent, and my privacy invaded. Do I have grounds to complain?
Wizzle - 22-Apr-18 @ 2:14 PM
Spider - Your Question:
I work for a local authority. Currently I have a small locker in which I keep my work laptop, rain jacket, stationary, mug, notes and training documentation etc.I have been informed by my line manager to empty my locker and return my key. This is so that my locker can be allocated to new staff joining our office.Is my employer obliged to provide me a locker for private /work items? We have a clear desk policy and my laptop goes into my locker when I leave the office. If I cannot secure this item who will know be liable if it stolen?Thank you for your assistance in this matter.

Our Response:
You would have to discuss this with your employer/line manager directly. Individual companies have individual policies in their workplace.
EmployeePrivacyRights - 6-Apr-18 @ 2:00 PM
@Fran - you can make a complaint - but I don't know how far it would get you. If you were on maternity leave then you should have made sure you cleared your desk. You can't expect your employer to keep stuff if you have been off for months. It's up to you to look after your own stuff really.
HR - 3-Apr-18 @ 12:24 PM
I went on maternity leave and left personal possessions at work including pay slips and sensitive information in my desk drawer. It also included irreplaceable items such as photos and trinkets. On return it has disappeared and no one has admitted to touching it. My boss says she assumes it has been destroyed. Can I make a complaint?
Fran - 2-Apr-18 @ 8:30 AM
I work for a local authority. Currently I have a small locker in which I keep my work laptop, rain jacket, stationary, mug, notes and training documentation etc. I have been informed by my line manager to empty my locker and return my key. This is so that my locker can be allocated to new staff joining our office. Is my employer obliged to provide me a locker for private /work items? We have a clear desk policy and my laptop goes into my locker when I leave the office. If I cannot secure this item who will know be liable if it stolen? Thank you for your assistance in this matter.
Spider - 30-Mar-18 @ 10:53 PM
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