San Francisco, CA asked in Employment Law, Antitrust and Sexual Harassment for California

Q: Laws regarding personal privacy at the workplace.

I work at a liquor store which is most certainly not proffecionally operated but that's beside the point. I put my PERSONAL NON WORK RELATED CELLULAR PHONE on the counter at the register on my side of the counter and went to the restroom when I came out my boss/manager he doesn't own the store but is the cousin to the owner anyway when I came out he was going through my phone and started questioning me about conversations I had with a regular customer who is my friend but he knows her from being a customer because he works at the store can he do that just pick up my phone and go thru it I feel that's absolutely unprofessional and then to question me about my conversations is that legal can he do that just because he has sonority and I'm scared to get fired so I don't say anything but it really angered mee how dare he, anyway anything you can inform me on about this and what general steps or measures to take fallowing his actions? In kelseyville CA

1 Lawyer Answer
Ian Pike
Ian Pike
  • Consumer Law Lawyer
  • San Diego, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: Overall, the answer is probably "no, your boss cannot go through your cell phone when you aren't looking," but whether his actions violated specific laws would require more information from you.

The California constitution actually protects the right to personal privacy, and your boss may have invaded yours by going through your personal cell phone without your consent. Whether your rights were violated would depend in large part on whether your expectation of privacy was reasonable under the circumstances, which requires knowing a little bit more about your workplace and your personal behavior with respect to your cell phone.

California has other laws on the books that protect employee privacy in the workplace, and personal privacy online and in your computers and other devices. Your boss' actions might violate some or all of these laws, but determining whether these and other laws have been violated always depends on the exact facts and circumstances. If you want to learn more, you should contact an attorney who is knowledgable in privacy laws, and provide more detail so the attorney can advise you on what you might do.

You are also worried about your boss taking action against you if you say something. Because California is an at-will employment state, you would only be protected from retaliation if there is a law that provides specific protection. Otherwise, your employer can fire you for any reason or no reason at all. A privacy lawyer could advise you on whether there is a specific anti-retaliation law that would protect you if you said or did anything to oppose your boss' behavior.

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