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Washington: Employers May Not Search Employees’ Personal Vehicles

11 Jul


Update applicable to:

All employers operating in Washington state

What happened?

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:

  1. The employer owns or leases the vehicle.
  2. It’s a lawful search by a law enforcement officer.
  3. 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.)
  4. A reasonable person would believe that accessing the vehicle is necessary to prevent immediate threat to human health, life, or safety.
  5. 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.
  6. It’s a security inspection of vehicles on a state or federal military installation or facility.
  7. The vehicle is on the premises of a state correctional institution.
  8. 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:

Official Bill Page

Bill: HB 1491


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.

Need help understanding how changes to employment laws will affect your business?

Learn more about how Vensure's Washington PEO services can help you navigate complex employment laws and keep your business compliant.

This communication is intended solely for the purpose of conveying information. The present post might incorporate hyperlinks directing readers to websites managed by third-party entities. The inclusion of any links within this communication is meant to serve as points of reference and could encompass opinion articles from various law firms, articles from HR associations, official websites, news releases, and documents of government agencies, and other relevant third-party sources. Vensure has no authority over these external websites and bears no responsibility for their content. Furthermore, Vensure does not endorse the materials present on these websites. The contents of this communication should not be interpreted as legal advice or as a legal standpoint concerning specific facts or scenarios. Nor should it be deemed an exhaustive compilation of facts potentially pertinent to federal, state, or local laws. It is strongly advised that employers solicit legal guidance from an employment attorney when undertaking actions in response to any legal updates provided. This is due to the possibility of future alterations occurring in federal, state, and local laws, regulations, as well as the directives and guidelines issued by governing agencies. These changes may transpire at any given time, potentially rendering certain portions of the content within this update void or inaccurate.

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