Some employers search their employees’ clothing, purses, or desks at the workplace. Whether that’s legal depends on whether their state has laws prohibiting them from conducting searches. Although there is usually no precise rule, whether a search is legal, it might depend in large part on (1) whether the job poses special dangers of violence or theft (2) whether the employer has specific information justifying a search (e.g., office equipment is missing), and (3) whether the employer has given workers prior notice that searches are to be expected.
If the employer violates state law, he might be sued for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. This can result in not only economic damages, general damages, but if aggregious enough, also punitive damages.
Can the employer watch or photograph their employees?
It depends on whether your state has laws prohibiting surveillance of workers.
Even if there are laws that protect workers from some surveillance, it’s probably legal for you to monitor employees for work purposes, as long as you tell the employees ahead of time and the surveillance is not unreasonably intrusive on the employees’ personal privacy. For example, putting a visible camera in your work area is probably OK. On the other hand, it is probably illegal for you to put a camera in a bathroom or a changing room unless there was some compelling reason to do so – such as a report that drug sales were occurring in the bathroom.
This is a complicated area, so you should check with a lawyer to see if your state has strong privacy protections for workers.
Can the Employer listen to the employees’ phone calls at work?
If you have a good reason to listen to you employees’ calls (e.g., to find out how they treat your customers over the phone), you can probably monitor the phone calls as long as you notify the employees ahead of time. On the other hand, it might be an invasion of privacy if you listen to phone calls without a business reason to do so.
If the phone call involves customer contact, then you probably have to get the customer’s consent as well. That’s why you hear those phone recordings that say something like “This call may be monitored or recorded for quality control purposes.” That’s your way of notifying employees and customers that the call will be monitored.