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Home | Got a Minute | Bad bosses | No. 148 – My company wants to check my bag as I leave work. Is that even legal?

No. 148 – My company wants to check my bag as I leave work. Is that even legal?

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27 March 2024

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week: a confronting bag-check policy, a competitive manager and a life put on hold while waiting for a job offer.

I work the evening shift at a retail store. Recently, the company introduced a policy requiring managers to inspect employees’ bags before we leave at the end of our shift. This only applies to employees who finish after the store has closed. This feels like a massive invasion of our privacy and unfairly targeting evening shift workers. The right to search bags is not stated in our contract and, when asked, my manager said I could refuse to have my bag inspected but that he would report my refusal to higher authorities. Is this legal?

I understand why you may be concerned if this policy has come out of the blue and only appears to target some workers. There is no general right at law for an employer to search your property. Any right to do so will typically be included in your contract of employment or a clear workplace policy. It is your right not to agree for your bag to be searched, not to sign any changes to your contract, and not to sign an opt-in sheet.

However, you should be aware there will undoubtedly be consequences that follow from your refusal. It may even provide your employer with grounds for disciplinary proceedings, so you need to be clear about what may happen if you decide to take this approach. If you belong to a union, you can ask them for advice on your next steps.

I had a casual sales position for over three years. I enjoy it, have developed great relationships with our clients and my sales figures are good – I am often congratulated by the owners of the company. However, my manager repeatedly criticises my work and can often be rude to me in front of clients for no apparent reason. I have tried to calmly raise my concerns with her, but the conversation never goes well. I have even contacted the business owner to discuss the issue but nothing has been done about it. The only explanation I have is she feels threatened by me. As a casual employee, I know I can leave at any time, but I really enjoy my job. Help?

It sounds like you have done all you can to manage this situation and good on you for raising this behaviour with your manager and with the business owners. Given nothing changes, it seems the business owners are prepared to lose valuable sales staff instead of a difficult manager. That decision probably tells you all you need to know about whether this is a place you want to continue to work. I would leave when the right opportunity comes along and go somewhere that values your talents and helps you thrive. Life is too short.

For two years I have been upskilling with courses and work experience to get back into a technology role after a career break. Last year, I applied for a flagship federal government digital traineeship program, which appears squarely aimed at people like me (a woman aged over 45 re-entering the workforce). I progressed through various interview stages but now, more than 12 months later, I haven’t received an outcome. The last contact was in December saying someone would be in touch. I feel like an idiot since this was my dream role and I have put off holidays with my family and not applied for other jobs to stay available for this role. What do I do?

Letters like yours cause me to feel so frustrated and annoyed. I know the wheels of government can move slowly, but sadly all too often process and bureaucracy win out over empathy and common sense. You are definitely not the idiot in this scenario since we need more women in STEM and you sound enthusiastic, motivated, and eager to get started.

It is hard to know whether you might ever hear an outcome for your current application, so I would put that to one side (and if you hear positive news down the track, great) but start looking for other options. I would get in touch with fabulous organisations like Women in Technology or Women in Digital and ask them about resources and pathways for women such as yourself. They will be aware of other traineeships you might like to apply for and possibly also know how to navigate the bureaucratic processes you have encountered. All the very best and good luck!

To submit a question about work, careers or leadership, visit (you will not be asked to provide your name or any identifying information. Letters may be edited).

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