Home > Protecting Your Privacy > Personal Possessions in the Workplace

Personal Possessions in the Workplace

By: Matthew Strawbridge - Updated: 5 Sep 2023 | 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]
Hi. I was wrongly dismissed and am in the process of employment tribunal. My locker which was in a police station has been accessed without my presence or permission and all my personal belongings and paperwork has been removed. Is the company allowed to remove my stuff without my permission. I offered to make myself present to empty the lockers but the company refused.
ESAD757 - 5-Sep-23 @ 2:44 PM
workbooks are available to all at work to write down any notes on information and anything you need to put on there related to work. Mine has my name on the front and the other day I was pulled into the office as the manager had received information (and actually I found out had been handed my book by an unknown person )with information on the job, My notes on the work I was doing, but I also had notes in there which -was what the meeting was about -over the quality Person not doing their work properly which it is well known they don’t and other information which were complaints which we are all able to give and I was told off about this information, and if there was any proof that this quality person was not doing their work when in actual fact, this is a big problem at the moment and HR are aware of this sowas that looking into my private property? where do I stand on this?
Sars - 31-Mar-23 @ 8:50 AM
So, I left my chilli's thermal water flask on my desk next to my coffee cup ad a plastic bought bottle of water. I then unfortunately fell ill and was on long term sickleave. Upon agreeing with my now former employer to resign and agree on a date to collect my personal belongings, I found that my thermal flask is missing. They say they can't find it and neither will they give me the money to replace it. All they offered is one of their cheap tacky branded company logo flasks, which I feel is not an adequate replacement for my chilli's flask retailing at approx £30-£40. What can I do? What are my rights in this matter? Thanks.
Anja73 - 17-Mar-23 @ 9:53 PM
So I left my dairy at somewhere at work one day and as I was at work I wasn't to concerned I knew it would be around somewhere, and I'd find it before I left. I can't remember but either the next day or the day after my manager calls me in for a random meeting and in the meeting was other senior staff, I was totally blindsided but I wasn't thinking anything of it. So as I sit down and we go through all. The formalities, she's out my dairy on the table and asked do I know what this is ??????? As we're leaving the meeting I see photo copy's of my dairy in her files My dairy is clear labelled inside with my name. Was any of that legal at all?
What will be - 29-Jun-21 @ 3:00 PM
Somebody has been going through my handbag at work , taking all my pens apart ,god knows why , nothing has been stolen but it's been going on for ages , my bag is kept in a drawer with other people's bags .it only ever happens on a Monday . What action can I take please ?
Why me - 19-Apr-21 @ 12:00 PM
SO my employer used my drivers license to see if i was registered to vote... is this criminal?
dd - 3-Nov-20 @ 8:13 PM
I've just gone to my locked locker to get out the breakfast cereal I put in there yesterday,along with two other full boxes and six pks of snack chews for my breaks. Our café still hasn't opened so I'm having to bring my own vegetarian food in. I have an absorption issue so have to split my unpaid HR break into chunks so I can take in sml amounts of nutrition. When I went to get my cereal our for my brekkie everything had gone from my locker. It's locked and in a locked room that only one evening staff member would have the key for,is this a criminal offence and can I sue her in sml claims court for my food back,it amounted to £68? I'm on a low income and this was to last me at work for the next few months
Mollysmum - 23-Sep-20 @ 12:04 PM
Why did you have Soda in a containerNot a bottle
Poison - 17-Sep-20 @ 2:18 AM
If you did not label the drawers private they can because they own the desk.
Poison - 17-Sep-20 @ 2:00 AM
I was put on furlough in April, and I’m still on furlough. But before I left the office I put all my personal belongings in my desk drawers and locked them. Following on from a meeting I had in the office a couple of weeks ago, I went to my desk to get a few bits out that I wanted at home to find that someone (either my manager or a co worker) had broken the lock to my drawers and gone through them, I was not aware that this had happened. Is this allowed, is it legal? Also spoke to another co worker who had said they had left me a note In My drawers as he had “borrowed” some change from my drawers and a pen! Again people are going through my drawers which have personal belongings in, and we’re originally locked at no point have I been asked or notified that my drawers needed to be open and i was not present.
Help required - 8-Aug-20 @ 1:28 PM
Yesterday at work after finishing my morning break and by company policy went through security no problem.Then a member said I had to empty the contents of my flask into a plastic container because they could not see the bottom of my flask to be sure I wasn’t ,for a better word stealing stock.I told themI was not prepared to do this as then I would not have a drink for my second break in the afternoon.I was told to read an a4 piece of paper hung up on the wall with the policies of the company, the policy reads your are not allowed to take food/drink out of the canteen area unless it is in a sealed container and only to go back to the locker room, I told them this is what I’m doing, security argued with me saying that my flask is not a sealed unit, I disagreed with them and turned my flask upside down and said if that was not sealed the liquid would leak all over. Again security was arguing with me and his manner was very poor towards me and talking down to me.When he asked me for my works I.d. card I refused to give it to him because I did not want to have any dealings with him,he called another security member and happily gave him my card for them to take my details.Today in work I had to go into an investigation with security regarding the matter and after taken statements I was told that all the paperwork will be given to h.r. and they will see what actions are taken next.I feel I have done nothing wrong and still today security are claiming my flask is not sealed. Where do I go from here if I get reprimanded over this as I find this a very poor matter of affairs Thank you Paul
Mrb - 13-Jul-20 @ 7:07 PM
My office is practically reopening in mid-July although I will continue to work from home. In order to create a safe environment for those who will be in the office, my desk will be assigned to someone else. My boss will not allow me or colleagues to go in and collect my possessions, but says that either she or HR will do so. Other employees have been working in the office indicating there is no health risk. I would like 10 minutes to collect my possessions, and bring them home. I do not like the idea of HR or my boss rifling through my possessions. While I have nothing to hide, I do not understand why I am not allowed brief access, when clearly other people are already there. Thank you for your guidance. I have read this thread and appreciate all the advice you have been dispensing.
Miss K - 19-Jun-20 @ 6:23 AM
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
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