Home > Protecting Your Privacy > Personal Possessions in the Workplace

Personal Possessions in the Workplace

By: Matthew Strawbridge - Updated: 22 Apr 2018 | 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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[Add a Comment]
@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
@Carolyn -If your work was having a clear out, it may have mistakenly put your personal item in a bag to go to charity. But I don't know what you imagine you can propose to do about it?
Jimnh - 29-Mar-18 @ 9:16 AM
Can my workplace give away my own personal work mug to charity without my knowledge ? Many thanks
Carolyn - 28-Mar-18 @ 4:03 PM
scouse - Your Question:
My work place are saying they want everyone to hand there car keys,in when we all clock in to work and get them back when we clock out is this illegal

Our Response:
It is not illegal, given your employer has given a good reason. Much depends upon whether you and/or the other employees agree with this measure. If you don't, then you would have to try to solve this problem informally by talking to your manager. If you cannot resolve the issue, then you can make a formal grievance complaint in writing. Please see link here .
EmployeePrivacyRights - 2-Mar-18 @ 1:56 PM
My work place are saying they want everyone to hand there car keys,in when we all clock in to work and get them back when we clock out is this illegal
scouse - 27-Feb-18 @ 8:55 PM
I was let go today because my manager read something I wrote in a personal notebook of mine and was offended. She had NO right to read what I had written in a personal notebook but did so without consent. After reading the first few words and realizing it was not about work she should have stopped but she didn't. Instead she kept going and now I don't have a job. I think its fair to say that if she had not invaded my personal space and read what I had written in a personal notebook I would still have my job. Am I in the right about this or am I just being oversensitive?
Human - 16-Feb-18 @ 5:00 PM
My employers informed me that they sent a copy of one of my pay slips to a previous employee. It has my national insurance number and pay details. They've said that the person they sent it to has destroyed the slip sent to them. They can't prove it so what legal steps can I take against them?
Indie - 29-Jan-18 @ 1:57 PM
Rich - Your Question:
I work at a shop which everyone has there own tools and and you lock them when you are not there. I have 4 tool boxes and all 4 have been broke into by the boss and he is the owner he told one other worker he was looking for something he thot I had taken which is false as I am not a thief and I hate them. so as I go on at home my stuff wasbcover outside in rain o was clean up and I had valuble base ball football and basketball rookie cards I show them to him they were all in thick plastic snap together protectors after I show he gets all excited and wants me to sign them over to and we sell and split the money I laugh and say no I put them in my toolbox and left them now I lock that and open once in a while so I open and cards are gone when I tell him he threw a fit and started rambling on he took my cards broke into my box and broke in all of them and he thinks its funny he has tools and switched them on and caught him as I habe my name engraved on them he steals he is a thief and he denies this but other habe seen him do it what can do the cards he took I believe he sold to his brother inlaw. My my is the. The owner what shpuld I do

Our Response:
I can only answer your question if you are in the UK, as we only have knowledge of British workplace rights and it does not sound as though you are. Unfortunately, you would have to seek some advice in your own country. We hope you manage to resolve these issues.
EmployeePrivacyRights - 19-Jan-18 @ 11:39 AM
I work at a shop which everyone has there own tools and and you lock them when you are not there. I have 4 tool boxes and all 4 have been broke into by the boss and he is the owner he told one other worker he was looking for something he thot I had taken which is false as I am not a thief and I hate them. so as I go on at home my stuff wasbcover outside in rain o was clean up and I had valuble base ball football and basketball rookie cards I show them to him they were all in thick plastic snap together protectors after I show he gets all excited and wants me to sign them over to and we sell and split the money I laugh and say no I put them in my toolbox and left them now I lock that and open once in a while so I open and cards are gone when I tell him he threw a fit and started rambling on he took my cards broke into my box and broke in all of them and he thinks its funny he has tools and switched them on and caught him as I habe my name engraved on them he steals he is a thief and he denies this but other habe seen him do it what can do the cards he took I believe he sold to his brother inlaw. My my is the. The owner what shpuld I do
Rich - 18-Jan-18 @ 5:43 AM
jackobcfc - Your Question:
I labour on Mondays for a building contractors. I wasn’t allowed to take my tool bag home and was told to leave it at work the following 2nd week I went too work and my tools had been messed around with and they had thrown out 2 of my belongings. What can I do?

Our Response:
You would have to speak to your employer directly regarding this and either request your items back, or ask they are replaced. However, if you left your own belongings in a work-owned tool bag, then there is little you can do if they have gone missing. You should make sure you take your own belongings away from the workplace with you. If the items are work owned, then your employer can request they stay in the premesis.
EmployeePrivacyRights - 15-Jan-18 @ 2:06 PM
I labour on Mondays for a building contractors... i wasn’t allowed to take my tool bag home and was told to leave it at work the following 2nd week i went too work and my tools had been messed around with and they had thrown out 2 of my belongings. What can i do?
jackobcfc - 14-Jan-18 @ 7:16 PM
Well let me tell you what happened to me, someone stole my phone at work: I was not allowed to enter with this in the warehouse and I had to leave it in a box along with other phones that is left to the supervisor at the end of the shift when I went to pick up my phone, someone had already picked it up, they told me that they had no responsibilities with my belongings and that they felt so much but nothing they could do. I did a report in the police that did not locate my device by emei I work at the blue arrow agency at John Lewis m1. I would like to know if it's legal for them to keep my belongings and not be liable. I do not have insurance and I'm still paying for 15 months. I do not know what to do but I believe that it is not right that they take my belongings and not take responsibility much thanks for the attention
Sam - 11-Dec-17 @ 8:14 AM
My husband uses his personal laptop for work as he has not been allocated a work one which has all his personal details and family and personal photos. He went into work this morning and noticed things had been moved on it so checked the cctv in the office and his boss has been through it for about 25 mins then took it out of the office and into the conference room, no cctv in there, for another 25/30 mins. What can my husband Do?
Gemini77 - 23-Nov-17 @ 9:13 AM
I was sent home for not having £10 to get a key locker. I am a mobile, (Covering staff on counters) I was short of money not able to withdraw but manager said: sorry you can't work if you don't that have money or your direct manager. He didn't allow me to left my bag under my risk in the staff room. The money was refundable at the end of the day but I just couldn't pay. I found the whole situation very humiliating and embarrassing. Could I make a complaint or he had the right of not allowing me to work? Any advice? Thanks
Mile - 28-Oct-17 @ 4:09 PM
Friday my employer send an email advising to have lockers empty during the weekend, I forgot to empty mine and in the weekend they burst all padlocks (bought and paid by employees) and disappeared with lockers contents. Can they, with such short notice, break into lockers and remove all the personal contents? Is this a criminal matter or to be dealt internally trough HR? Several people didn't even have the time to read the email, due to being off shift or holiday! Thanks for the help
Shenhou - 25-Sep-17 @ 4:47 PM
Hi, was more or less let go today,but as I was self employed nanny I was rang up and told My boss had searched my tote bag and found an empty bottle of wine? I was flummoxed. I was . Told I had smelt of alcohol on a few occasions by him and someone else but I was never asked or even hinted that this was even an issue. For the record I don't drink at work. I have collected my belongings and found the said 'bottle of wine'175m mini bottle in the tote food bag, which happens to be where I put my dressings in for salads etc as it's a cheap screw top way of transportation. My question is what rights do I have? What if he tells people things that are infamatory to my future jobs? I am 49 so not getting any younger! So cross they went through my bag in my room! Any advise thank you x
Hola - 8-Sep-17 @ 7:41 PM
My wrk mate had a grinder in his wrk locker. After they found loose granules at the bottom of his bag. They suspended him. Apparently it had been there ages?
Ian Murie - 17-Aug-17 @ 12:45 PM
I saved something from the bin at work and my contractor went through my personal bag and found it in there, in so sending me home and terminating my contract and accusing me of theft which means they are refusing to pay me, do I have a claim here?
Contractor - 9-Aug-17 @ 11:16 PM
I was suspended from work and handed in my laptop and phone. I have been cleared of all those allegations, but on Friday they added another. They stated that something was found in my laptop bag, but it is on record that they didn't take my laptop bag, only my laptop. I still have the bag at home. The item they have was in a locked tin in my drawer, and it is not an illegal item. So someone has broken into my tin and planted the evidence in a bag that isn't even mine. Apart from offering these people a job in the police force, what can i do? I am being set up. Help
Jim - 23-Jul-17 @ 8:03 AM
Employer sent memo that lockers were going to be inspected and cleaned. It turned out that they had janitors do the job and not management and everyone's items have been mostly stolen. I think it is called "Criminal Conversion". All items in lockers are all work related. Our Union isn't responding to the matter as well.
Lady T - 25-Jun-17 @ 7:14 AM
My boss has put up a notice that our lockers have to be empty at the end of our shift and our keys handed in can he do this
Blondie - 20-Jun-17 @ 4:30 PM
My previous employer had several things of mine on his van before i was laid off these were ladders, reg books and some small hand tools. However i have a hand drill of theres he is insisting my things are not with them and demanding the drill is given back and now have been threatened with court. Where do i stand with this? Ive happily said he can have it back when i get my things back but he is adamant my tools are gone! Thanks
Gem - 7-Jun-17 @ 2:15 PM
I take medication and my boss wants to check my personal belongings and car to make sure my medication is not hindering work. He also want a to check all staffs cars and coats for alcohol and drugs. Are they legally allowed to check my car and my coat for my medication?.
Peanut - 27-May-17 @ 9:37 PM
if the company owner HR or admin are allowed to unlock the lockers assigend to thier employees without consent .if not what would be the legal action and if yes than on what grounds they can unlock the lockers with duplicate keys
Riley - 17-May-17 @ 11:44 AM
Confused - Your Question:
Can an employer keep,sell or get rid of your personall tools used to do the job they hired you for without asking or telling you in some way shape or form if you quit the job and just havent foumd a new one yet ?

Our Response:
This is something only you and your employer can sort out directly. While your employer is not entitled to keep personal items you own - if they have been in your employer's possession a while and you have not collected them you may have less of a case to claim them back. In this case I would write your employer an email including a list of your personal belongings you wish returned asking your employer to either arrange delivery or you will collect them in person. If there is no response, and if you feel you have been treated unfairly you may have to take the matter further/to the small claims court.
EmployeePrivacyRights - 15-May-17 @ 10:52 AM
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