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My employer (in New South Wales, Australia) conducts frequent office inspections. Although they used to only look at fire and electrical hazards, the health and safety team (made of employees that volunteer for this task) have recently started inspecting the content of the drawers and cabinets located under and above our desks.

Here are my questions:

Is an employer allowed to inspect drawers and cabinets without the employee's consent?

If yes, can the employee request this to be done only when the employee is present?

Is it different if the cabinets are locked or can be locked with a key (even if the employer has a general key to open all draws)?

This link suggests that an employer is not allowed to do so, but they don't provide any reference: http://workplaceinfo.com.au/hr-management/hr-policies/q-a/can-you-search-employees-bags-and-lockers

"If a locker is granted for an employee’s use, to the exclusion of all other persons, an employer has no unqualified right to open the locker."

  • What do you mean they don't provide a reference? They link to the relevant case law. – Dale M Apr 8 '19 at 4:01
  • The link is about bags (personal items) I think drawers may be different. – Nakx Apr 8 '19 at 4:36
  • I have now included the quote that appeared to me as not referenced. – Nakx Apr 8 '19 at 4:50
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The article you link has a link to Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, Tasmanian Branch (T10377 of 2002) and Incat Tasmania Pty Ltd concerning whether Incat were allowed to search employee's bags as they left the premises. TL;DR Yes, they are.

This was a case about searching employee's bags: you are asking if they can search the employer's drawers and cabinets: almost certainly, yes. Even if they have no good reason for doing so because the drawers and cabinets belong to them.

If these were private lockers provided to individual employees for personal items then they would need a legitimate reason. Prima facie, WHS is a legitimate reason but they would need to articulate how searching personal lockers achieves the legitimate WHS outcomes.

Is an employer allowed to inspect drawers and cabinets without the employee's consent?

If they are the employer's drawers and cabinets: yes. If they are the employee's: yes if they have a legitimate reason and the inspection is carried out in accordance with an agreed policy.

If yes, can the employee request this to be done only when the employee is present?

They employee can request anything they like. Elephant ear on bun anyone?

If they are the employer's drawers and cabinets: the employer can refuse the request. If they are the employee's: they must do it in accordance with the agreed policy.

Is it different if the cabinets are locked or can be locked with a key (even if the employer has a general key to open all draws)?

No

  • I have edited my question to include the quote. I think the Incat case is not relevant (case of theft, personal bags, Tasmania is another state). – Nakx Apr 8 '19 at 4:52
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    Corporations are covered by Federal law – Dale M Apr 8 '19 at 5:15

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