Update applicable to:
All employers operating in Washington state
Starting July 23, 2023, employers in Washington are prohibited from searching employees’ privately owned vehicles without meeting at least one of the eight exceptions specified in the law.
What are the details?
These exceptions include the following:
- The employer owns or leases the vehicle.
- It’s a lawful search by a law enforcement officer.
- The employee uses the vehicle for work-related activities and the employer needs to inspect it to ensure that it’s suitable for those activities. (This looks like an easy excuse for inspection in many cases, but employers should only use this—or any reason—in good faith.)
- A reasonable person would believe that accessing the vehicle is necessary to prevent immediate threat to human health, life, or safety.
- An employee consents to the search based on probable cause that they unlawfully possess the employer’s property or a controlled substance in violation of federal law and the employer’s written policy on drug use. This type of search can only be done by the business owner, owner’s agent, or a licensed private security guard. The employer cannot make consent to the search a condition of employment.
- It’s a security inspection of vehicles on a state or federal military installation or facility.
- The vehicle is on the premises of a state correctional institution.
- The vehicle is in a specific employer area subject to search under state or federal law.
Employees must be allowed to keep their personal belongings in their vehicles as long as they are legally possessed.
Employers are prohibited from taking any adverse action against an employee for exercising any right under this new statute, including not any of the following adverse actions:
- Withholding wages or any other amounts owed to the employee.
- Reducing the employee’s rate of pay.
- Terminating, suspending, demoting, or denying a promotion.
- Reducing the number of work hours for which the employee is scheduled or altering the employee’s preexisting work schedule.
- Threatening to take or taking any action based upon the immigration status of an employee or the employee’s family member.
For more information, please see the links below:
What do employers need to do?
Employers who currently have policies that reserve the right to search the private vehicles of their employees should revise those policies and corresponding practices to be consistent with these new employee rights. Additionally, all necessary personnel should be educated on these limitations. Employers who do not currently have any policy regarding searching employee vehicles might want to consider whether to adopt such a policy that is consistent with these new requirements.
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