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Protecting your whistleblower documents from workplace searches

Your home is your castle -- but your cubicle may not be. Many Californians do not realize that their personal work space can be subject to searches from their employers, and that includes your computer. Although whistleblower protection laws exist to protect those who have identified and stored information about an employer's unethical or illegal conduct, you might not have as many workplace privacy rights as you think.

So, what is considered fair game in a property search conducted by your company? Courts have ruled that workers should not have an expectation of privacy when it comes to their lockers, desks, computers, cubicles and electronic communications devices that have been issued by the firm. That means that your company can review your e-mails, text messages and phone calls. In California, the firm must inform you that the call is being monitored, which provides an added degree of protection for workers in the state. Employers are not permitted to search personal vehicles, even if the car is on company property. If the company is concerned that you might have something dangerous on the premises in your personal vehicle, they must call law enforcement to handle the matter.

Other employer rights include searching workers at the end of the day, particularly in high-risk security situations. If the employer is singling out specific individuals for searches at the end of the day, the actions may be illegal. Additional physical "searches," including drug tests, have been confirmed as legal and constitutional by U.S. courts.

Whistleblower lawsuits are often founded upon information that is secretly stored away from supervisors and other decision-makers. Blowing the whistle with the intent of stopping fraud or other illegal activity is noble and often appropriate, but it is important to realize that your employer ultimately "owns" the information in your work space and on your electronic devices. An attorney can provide you with information about properly storing whistleblower-related materials to prevent their destruction during a workplace search.

Source: FindLaw, "Privacy at Work: What Are Your Rights?," accessed Nov. 02, 2015

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