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Ask HR: Are We Allowed to Search the Bags of Employees and Visitors?
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Employee Experience

Ask HR: Are We Allowed to Search the Bags of Employees and Visitors?

It’s no secret: Security is getting tighter across the United States and

beyond, and workplaces are no exception. How can you keep your workplace

secure while still providing access to visitors?

Our partners at


Support Center offered some guidance recently to a company

struggling with this dilemma.


We’ve been checking the bags of employees and visitors when they leave

the warehouse. Is this allowed?

Answer from Eric, HR Pro:

Yes, you can check the bags and possessions leaving your premises.

However, this should be done only if you have properly notified

employees and visitors in advance of this practice.

By giving advance notice, you set an expectation of privacy on your

premises and can search with a reduced chance of dispute. Employees

are not forced to work for you. Visitors are not forced to enter your

building. So the decision to be there – knowing a search may be involved

– rests with them.

If you have an employee handbook, you can easily notify employees by

having it include a policy addressing inspections and searches. You may

want to specify exactly what belongings you might search, e.g. purses,

back packs, briefcases, so employees know exactly what to expect.

Since visitors do not acknowledge a handbook, they should receive

notice of the search policy by means of a poster or verbal


You’ll want to ensure that you are carrying out your searches in a way

that is clearly non-discriminatory. For instance, if you are executing

searches to prevent theft generally (as opposed to a specific instance

where you have reasonable suspicion), then the searches should be done

with all employees and visitors to prevent any potential discrimination


Be aware that you should never touch someone when executing a

search, nor should you demand that an employee or visitor submit to

the search in order to be allowed to leave. The former is a clear

invasion of privacy, while the latter could lead to a claim of false

imprisonment. Many employers find that a visual inspection of bags while

they’re held open by the employees is sufficient to prevent theft.

In sum, your practice of searching bags of employees and visitors is

fine as long as you’ve notified them of your policy and you conduct

searches in a non-discriminatory way.


has extensive experience in HR, management, and training. He has held

several senior HR positions, including as the HR & Operations Manager

for an award-winning interactive marketing agency and as HR Director for

a national law firm. Eric graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in

Economics from the University of Oregon with a minor in Business

Administration. Eric is also active in the community, volunteering with

the regional Human Resources Management Association Advocacy Team and

with youth training programs.

Do you have questions like this? A year of HR Support Center is cheaper than an hour of a typical attorney’s time. Ask us instead.