Unlike private sector employees, public employees are protected by the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures by their employer. The Supreme Court has recognized that the Fourth Amendment permits public employers to conduct searches that might not be permitted outside the employment context. If the Fourth Amendment applies, a search by a public employer will be upheld if it is based on a reasonable suspicion that the search will uncover evidence of employee misconduct. The requirements for a "reasonable search" vary depending on the circumstances. For example, the courts will give closer scrutiny to searches of a public employee’s personal property (such as a briefcase or purse) as opposed to the public employer’s property (such as an unlocked desk or file cabinet).
Taft attorneys routinely provide public employers with practical advice to address work related privacy issues. Privacy issues arise in a variety of contexts including the maintenance of employee records and files (including medical information) and employee investigations. Public employers must consider the Fourth Amendment and other employee privacy issues in managing the workforce.