My employer recently told us at a meeting that we will be disciplined (including termination) if we refuse to consent to searches of our belongings. I know what my rights are as a citizen; only a law enforcement officer can search or detain me, with probable cause, and no citizen, not even a security guard can detain me, unless they are making a citizen's arrest which can only happen if they have evidence of or have witnessed a crime, and only if they inform the police as soon as possible, and they still can not search me or my belongings. So I brought up my concerns at the meeting and the HR representative said she would get back to me, but never did.

I didn't realize that my rights as an employee are different. I learned today that a piece of paper I might have signed 5 1/2 years ago says that the company has a right to randomly search me or do spot-checks of my belongings, including inside my bag or purse. I might have signed that 5 1/2 years ago out of desperation to get the job.

Until today, I have not been aware of a single case of employees being searched by management. But this afternoon three supervisors and a security guard were checking people's bags as they left work. I asked them why they were searching people and they said, "We do random searches from time to time." I told them that I thought what they were doing was illegal. I was asked if I had a guilty conscience, which I found insulting. The foreman told me that if I had a problem I should go to HR, so I did. By this point I was pretty upset and told them I would call the police if the matter was not clarified. The same HR representative from the first meeting took me into a private room and apologized for not following up with me about the legalities of the policy, and then handed me over to the head of HR. He wouldn't answer my question of whether or not searches by the company are legal, just repeated that it is company policy. He actually told me he didn't “have to explain”. I told him that as a representative of our company's Human Resources department, I thought it was part of his job to inform employees of their rights regarding company policy. So he eventually told me that he trusted the lawyers who were involved in the policy-making process, and that he believed (not KNEW) that the actions were legal. I asked him why they needed to search people randomly and he confessed that it wasn't really "random". HR received a tip that an employee might have stolen something. To avoid singling that person out, they searched what would look like "random" people coming out of the plant, even people they knew to be innocent, so that they could search the suspected employee without it looking like they were accusing the employee of something they might not have done. I said, "So you're basically covering your own ass," and he said "You're exactly right." I replied, "So make as many people uncomfortable as possible to avoid making one person uncomfortable." I don't remember his response.

In order to stop a supposed theft by one person, the privacy of a whole bunch of people had to be violated. Some people do bad things, and the solution to this problem seems to be treating all of the people as though they are doing bad things. I am disgusted that this is the best solution my employer could come up with, and I don’t understand why citizens are allowed to do these things to other citizens without involving law enforcement.

After our meeting, the HR representative asked me if I had permission to be away from my work area. He called my foreman to explain where I had been, and my foreman told him that he was just about to call HR looking for me; the foreman I had talked to in the hall, angry that I had questioned what he was doing, had called my supervisor in an attempt to get me in trouble - a passive-aggressive scare tactic, in my opinion.

My foreman later approached me and informed me that the Labour Board and a lawyer would be contacted. Whether I will have an opportunity to voice my concerns in person remains to be seen.

A few things about this bother me. One is that the permission I supposedly gave was given at least 5 1/2 years ago. Does that count as consent to search me today? I don't know. I have asked several people whether they remember signing anything that said they gave consent to have their belongings searched, and none of them remember signing anything to that effect; in fact some swear that they never did, whether they have been working there for 1 year or 30. An older employee shook his head and said he was thankful to be close to retirement, and hated to think what the future would bring for the rest of us.

Another thing that bothers me is that in order to get this job, I had to give up my civil rights to privacy. In other words, the company will only hire people who are willing to give up their right to refuse what would otherwise be an illegal search. Should it be legal for an employer to ask that a prospective employee give up their legal rights upon being hired? I don't think so.

And now, I face the possibility of being fired for refusing to comply with what I consider an unnecessary invasion of my privacy, and I probably have little recourse because of something I might have signed years ago, before I knew what the company was really going to do. The company might choose to exercise this right just because they can, and not because they have probable cause, which means I have to be constantly afraid that my privacy will be violated at any time.

I feel like something insidious and perverted is happening here, and people don't know any better than to let it happen, and the company preyed upon the ignorance of people who are so desperate for work that they will sign their rights away for a pay-cheque. This is not an Orwellian dystopia, but the more rights we give away, the closer that reality becomes. Who allowed this to happen? The answer is, “We all did”. Where does it stop?

The bottom line is that I don't want a company to have the right to search me based on the whims of its management, without directly accusing me of a crime and calling the police. I don't think a company should have that much power. If I am going to be searched, I want there to be probable cause, I want the police called, and I want to be searched by an officer of the law at his/her discretion, not the company's, and not by an employee given authority by a money-making machine, paid to do to others what they would not want done to themselves or their children.

So I have this dilemma... either I let them search me and allow them to violate what I consider to be my right to privacy out of fear of losing my job, or I refuse to comply and lose my job because I believe what they are doing is wrong and I wouldn't want it to happen to anyone else. I'm just trying to protect my self from feeling violated unnecessarily and right a wrong that I apparently consented to 5 1/2 years ago. Someone called me a martyr today, and I was annoyed. If it helps others, that's great. This whole thing left me literally sick to my stomach.

What should I do?


Hi. I read your question with interest. I have worked for a company for 11.5 years and am still working there where every day our belongings are searched and our lockers are randomly searched. It is not uncommon in retail trade where employee theft is a bigger cause of loss for the company than shopplifting, believe it or not. I gathered from your question that your belongings are searched but your person is not. That is what I understand. Correct me if I am wrong. My response is based on that. I do not know the legalities of corporate law and labor laws in every state. I live in CA where there are a tons of labor laws and I have no idea what most of mine say. I just had a suggestion for you based on what others do at my place of employeement who do not want to be searched, they simply do not bring anything in that requires searching. No bag. No lunch. They just show their keys and that is it. Maybe that would work for you. I really have never had any problem with my belongings being searched so it was interesting hearing the other side. Good luck. I hope it works out for you in the end. All my best, Junie

I live in Ontario, Canada. I don't normally carry anything in my bag that it would be a specific problem for a stranger to see. I don't carry anything that is illegal, and not usually anything that would cause me embarrassment. This is not the point. The point is that in order to retain gainful employment, I have to be treated like a criminal, and be searched, and have evidence collected against me by a CORPORATION and not the police. I don't think an employer should have that right, and when I took this job a few years ago I was broke and desperate and didn't know any better. No one takes this job if they don't have to. And now, because I need to eat and pay rent, the corporation has forced me to give up what would otherwise be my legal right to privacy. They don't need to search people. There has never been a case of everyone in the plant being searched. They do it when they have a tip, and purposely search people they know to be innocent just because they can. I don't know if I can do this. I don't even want to go in today.

I realize you're telling me to suck it up, that this happens everywhere. You might as well tell me that statutory rape is ok because it happens everywhere. Somewhere along the way, someone decided that it was ok for us to give up our rights. I want them back.

I think the point is that you *did* consent to this, albeit a number of years ago.

Therefore, with your consent, they are acting within their rights.

Nomatter the circumstances, one has to read the contract and know what you are agreeing to and signing.

I absolutely agree with you.

I think it is obscenely unfortunate that my government allows people who are desperate for a low-income job to sign their civil rights away to a corporation or face unemployment. I want to know the names of the elected officials that let this happen.

We have given away an awful lot of rights that we don't even know about, and it would scare the crap out of most people if they knew the extent to which their lives are observed and controlled by corporations, via our governments, and what corporations (such as telecommunications corporations) have to do for the government with your "private" information. Most citizens would rather not know, or refuse to believe when they find out, because they don't want this world to be that evil. They dismiss this information as a Conspiracy Theory, too crazy to be real. Truth is stranger than fiction.

In an age when passivity, purposeful ignorance and apathy threaten humanity with oblivion, we must learn to take responsibility not only for what we do, but for what we allow to be done. Anyone who doesn't know or believe this is part of the problem.

And when I signed that contract, I was part of the problem, and as long as I work for that company I remain part of the problem.

It comes back to CHOICE. Do I choose to play this game, or be homeless and starving? Even money that other people give me would have blood on it. You can either accept the evil of the reality you live, or die. That is what I have learned this week. The key to happiness is to have no conscience.

Thanks for your responses.

Hi. I responded to you earlier. I did not mean to say suck it up. My personal experience with it was different than yours but I still thought it might be relevant to post, because as I appreciated your point of view, I thought it might help to see a different side, but I guess it was the opposite of helpful. I tried to give a suggestion which was about not bringing anything in like a bag that would be subject to search. Now if they are searching your person and not just your belongings then that suggestion is void. If you must retain employment there, which it sounds like you do not like working there anyway, I was just trying to help you find a tolerable solution to what is intolerable for you. I am sorry to have not been helpful. All my best. Junie

I'm not saying that I don't see your point, Junie, and I should have addressed your suggestion, because for most people it would probably work - they can't search you if there is nothing to search. Unfortunately for me, I don't have a car to leave things in; I carry a backpack with items in it for all eventualities (including medications, extra clothes, hygiene products, personal papers) because I bus everywhere. I spend about two hours on the bus every day. It is not an option for me to leave my personal belongings and bags at home as, if I were to need anything particular, it would be an hour away. As I understand the law at this point, it wouldn't help me if I DID have a car, because they have the right to search that too, apparently.

I have one week to decide whether or not to give my notice. I have booked my last week of vacation, which will be my second week of notice if I give written notice a week from Monday. I have one week to sort out my life, and I have no idea what I'm doing. The only good thing about this job is the paycheque, and even that could be better. Sometimes I want to go off-grid altogether, and then I laugh because no matter what I do at this point, I'll be selling out somewhere, heh. My psychiatrist has already offered to help me out with work stuff in any way she can.

I really did mean "thanks for your responses".

See what Chemar stated. I know you wish the situation was different, and we really do for you too, but once you signed that paper (out of desperation of no other job or whatever), it basically ended for you for freedom at work.

Why dont you quit there and get another job? I know there are not lots of jobs here in the States, but you never know.

I dont mean to be malicious, but what would you need that you couldnt leave at home, other than maybe some meds and your purse?

Everyone sells out a bit with a job. Even if you like it.

Wish I could make things better for you.