There is nothing in South African law that prevents an employer from adopting a workplace policy that requires employees to allow themselves and their belongings to be searched.
However, employees do have a right to privacy – section 14 of the Constitution:
“Everyone has the right to privacy, which includes the right not to have –
- their person or home searched
- their property searched
- their possessions seized; or
- the privacy of their communications infringed.”
At the same time, employers have rights too. Including the right to protect their property. One of the ways to protect their property, especially from theft, is to conduct searches of a person, their belongings (bags, etc.) and/or vehicle/s. However, you run the risk of infringing your employees’ basic human rights if you don’t have the proper measure in place.
Searching belongings without the consent of your employee is in violation of their privacy. Employers should therefore include a clause in the employment contract that clearly states that searches can be conducted.
The only way to do a legal search at a place of work is if:
- the company implements a policy that employees are aware of (and include notices in the employment contract);
- the policy implemented by the company ensures that employees acknowledge the necessity for searches (consent);
- the consequences; refusal to be searched could result in disciplinary action or dismissal;
- the searches aren’t done in public;
- the person doing the search has to be female if the person being searched is female and the person doing the search has to be male if the person being searched is male.
Be sure to specify that searches should not prejudice or target any one individual. Clearly state in the policy that all baggage, vehicles or any of an employee’s movable property that is brought onto the property/premises of the employer can be searched. Also make it absolutely clear that those who don’t want their belongings searched, should not bring certain belongings to their workplace.