Most workplaces experience incidents of thefts, threats of violence, misbehavior, or
suspicion of illegal activity. Any of these incidents, may prompt the management or the owner to conduct an investigation. However, the dilemma occurs, when figuring out the extent of limitation and privacy rights.
The U.S. Constitution protects rights of privacy and penalizes unreasonable searches.
However, its scope to private offices is limited. Workers receive rights to privacy in specific ways. One example is the installation of surveillance cameras in comfort rooms. Another example is the provision for secret one-way mirror.
State Department of Labor stipulates specific grounds and limitations on prohibited and unwarranted searches. The law has not listed extensive list of situations granting a legal search. The court usually decides whether a specific search has been reasonable. One example is when an employer receives report that an employee carries or leaves a gun in his drawer or locker.
In this case, the employer can conduct a workplace investigation because the action will be reasonable to do so. Areas that are reasonably considered as highly private areas such as comfort rooms are considered as covered in employee privacy rights. The employer must notify the employers on an ongoing search in the workplace involving such areas.
Expectation, employer's policies, history, and reasonable judgment are some of the factors being considered in evaluating the legitimacy of a search. When an employer conducts extreme searches even on private areas in the workplace such as changing rooms without knowledge or notice, employees can file an invasion of privacy lawsuit.
Here are the do's and don'ts in conducting an investigation in the workplace:
1. Conduct a search or investigation only when there is a reasonable complaint, issue, or incident needing such act. A business reason such as theft and threat to security and safety may constitute a valid ground for search.
2. Verify details. Check sources of information such as security cameras and time cards.
3. Stipulate search policy in advance. Inform and update employees on search policies
consistently. This may be included in the employer's handbook.
4. Avoid random search. Random search weakens the employer's claim on alleged misconduct of theft, or any wrongdoing.
5. Avoid searching an employee's body. Even though you have strong basis for searching an employee's body, let the police and authorities conduct more legitimate means.
6. Avoid placing security cameras on comfort rooms. Even though you will only locate on certain areas in the comfort room, consider other means of obtaining evidence for your complaint.
7. Avoid putting the workers under "false imprisonment". This is a legal theory in which an employee is led to believe that he or she is not free to leave. An employee has legitimate basis for filing a lawsuit.
The extent of implementing a workplace investigation lies on the reasonable judgment of the employer and the management concerning limitations.