Can My Employer Investigate Me for Information on My Cell Phone?

My employer can’t access and investigate me for information on my personal cell phone, right? Wrong! Information on your personal cell phone can be seized by your employer in some circumstances, and you can be investigated and disciplined as a result. Let me explain.

I’m Muna Busailah, managing partner in the police defense law firm of Stone Busailah, and for over 25 years, I have represented public safety employees in misconduct investigations, including those involving the content of personal cell phones.

How far does the right to privacy go?

While personal cell phones revolutionized how we communicate and access information, their use in the workplace creates several risks to officers. While many officers believe the content on their cell phones is private and beyond the reach of their employer without a valid search warrant, the right to privacy is not absolute.

Your phone may be searched

Federal courts have long held that an enforcement agency may search an employee’s personal possessions like the desk, locker, even cell phone, where there’s reasonable suspicion to believe the phone may contain evidence of employee misconduct.

For public safety employees, this standard also applies to off duty conduct. So how do you reduce the chances that your employer will get access to your cell phone information?

Reduce the chances that your employer will get access

Number one, avoid using your personal cell phone for work-related purposes, especially to take photos of co-workers or emergency scenes.

Number two, don’t text co-workers about work-related topics or use messaging applications like Whatsapp, Snapchat or Instagram. Content that may be harmless and entertaining to your small group of co-workers and friends can be interpreted as offensive by others and at worst, could be deemed hate speech.

Number three, do not save images that are intimate or offensive on your cell phone.

For further tips on things to remember during an administrative investigation, please see our free guide, “Ten things to remember during an administrative investigation.” And stay safe.

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest