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To start, I am a software engineer. I had been interviewing with a company recently and I finally got an offer letter which I signed and sent back to them, and then they sent me a list of rules/regulations of the company (which I must sign / accept before officially joining the company).

Here are three of the strangest rules that they have:

  • An employee must not use their cell phone during work hours, or a "disciplinary action" will be imposed, such as taking the "cell phone privilege" away, or termination.

  • An employee must not have any expectation of privacy with respect to company property (laptop and phone).

  • An employee "submit" to "workplace searches", this includes desk search, cabinet search, and even personal possessions such as backpack, briefcase or the employee's personal car, and refusing to comply with this will result in termination.

To me, these rules are very strange. I have worked in three other companies before and I have never seen anything like it. I would like to know your opinion, especially if you're also in the software engineering field. To be clear, this is a retail company.

This is an office job, not in a store. I am a software engineer, so obviously I will not be dealing with their physical products ever, only enhancing and maintaining their online software.

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You mention this is a retail company. These rules make perfect sense for retail workers (though I personally consider them a bit onerous in any case - but certainly more reasonable in that light).

An employee must NOT use their cell phone during work hours

They don't want retail staff to be using their phone unless the employee is on a break because it looks bad to the customers.

An employee must not have any expectation of privacy with respect to company property (laptop, phone).

Most employees will be using the communal company laptop/phone in a fleeting manner, organizing sales, etc, not spending their whole day on it, where you would be more inclined to use it for personal reasons.

An employee "submit" to "workplace searches", this includes desk search, cabinet search, and even personal possessions such as backpack, briefcase or the employee's personal CAR

They are trying to counteract theft of merchandise.

It looks to me they have a single set of policies that apply to all workers, even if some of those policies don't make real sense for a subsection of workers.

I personally would ask about the policies, and indicate that they are more onerous than what I am used to. I would ask why I am asked to agree to such terms. Given my personal situation, I would not sign such things, but your personal situation may be different.

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    Well said. it makes ZERO sense for a software engineer (which I would say works in the backoffice of the company, either backend system or online sales) but looks like a "let's fit everyone into the same policy". As such it would be blatantly illegal in some jurisdictions - the search at least needs a reason and while you CAN argue for that in physical shops of certain king, not for software engineers. – TomTom Mar 27 at 12:39
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    It makes zero sense in retail besides keeping us down and because the people in charge enjoy it. – Studoku Mar 27 at 13:40
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    @TomTom That depends on the industry. If people have access to sensitive information that would be of value to other organisations, or other countries, then those sorts of policies would be totally normal. – Simon B Mar 27 at 17:03
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    Agree, if you talk about security sensitive stuff. I remember my time at the german military (doing some small contracting there IT wise) and how for that particular area I had to get searched. No USB, Laptop had to get preregistered with serial numbers, phone deposited at the entrance (not allowed). Heck, they needed my car plates first because security. REALLY depends whom you deal with, you are right. – TomTom Mar 27 at 17:33
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    It's also possible they don't have a choice. I was annoyed when my employer implemented random drug testing--hey, I use a keyboard, I never have anything to do with the big tools. Turns out their workmen's comp insurance gave them a big discount for doing the drug testing and they would be in legal trouble if they applied the policy to only certain workers. – Loren Pechtel Mar 28 at 1:36
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I worked at a company that had almost exactly those clauses. They come from the fact that there is some place where employees have access that has small, valuable goods compared to cheap labor. So a high chance of theft.

The companies have a "common" part of the working contracts that grants them those rights, because for example, the software engineers are allowed into that part of the building that holds the valuables to access the machines there in case of failure or in case you need to train a new person what to do in case of failure.

However, on regular workdays, the software engineers worked in the office building, half an hour by car away from the storage facility with the valuables. Nobody bothered at that office location. There wasn't even security at all, other than the lone guy coming by to unlock the building in the morning and making sure everybody is out before locking it down in the evening.

But yes, on the days when I travelled to the storage facility, my bags were searched when I left. Suspicious guy that the security could not remember. Dressed too smart to fit in with the worker crowd. Doesn't seem to know anyone from the regular shift. Unfamiliar face. I get it. I did not mind. Part of the job at that location.


On second glance, the one thing that would raise a parade with a marching band of red flags is the personal car search. If the car is parked on company property and I have access to it before being searched when leaving the property, I get that. What good is searching my bag, when I could just put the stuff in my trunk in the lunch break. Makes sense. But when I park on the curb outside of company property, that is completely unacceptable.

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    "But when I park on the curb outside of company property, that is completely unacceptable." And possibly illegal in many jurisdictions, I would assume (IANAL). – Jan Nash Mar 28 at 12:05
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    Presumably, they would only search your car when entering/leaving company property, not literally anywhere on the street. It's the same with your backpack really, you don't expect that to mean they'll knock on your door in your off-day to randomly search your bag while watching TV on your couch. – AmiralPatate Mar 29 at 7:04
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Consider a somewhat related set of conditions (not a retail company, but bear with me). In the UK, the national rail operating company (British Rail, as it was then) decided to make drinking while on duty a terminal disciplinary offence for all drivers and guards on their trains - this is absolutely fair enough and no reasonable person would object to that. Drivers and guards were randomly tested for compliance as well as being tested following any incidents. However, no-one likes being treated especially harshly and the employees concerned (via their union(s)) raised the issue of fairness - surely it should also apply to those operating the signals or working in the control rooms? Surely if they were to be expected to be sober at all times too, why shouldn't office staff and managers? Why should some be singled out and not others?

In the end it was agreed that all employees, whether front-line, train-operating staff or not, would be subject to the same rules.

You may be in something of a similar situation - it may just be that in the interests of fairness and not singling people out for especially negative expectations ("well, only counter staff would ever steal!"), the organization has simply applied the full conditions to everyone. Whether or not that's fair is a matter of opinion and there's no objectively right answer to that, but it would at least be understandable.

Whether the conditions are reasonable in and of themselves is another matter entirely - jurisdictions vary, as do expectations of privacy, so that's not something I'd want to comment on, apart from point 2. No expectation of privacy on company equipment is absolutely standard everywhere I've worked (I've been in IT for well over 35 years now) and I wouldn't expect anything else.

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    When I was working for London Underground as a temporary typist I had the same restrictions: regulations prohibited me from having a pint with lunch at the pub. I was not exactly in a position to cause any harm: not only did I never get near a train while on the job, but every word I typed was written by and afterwards carefully proofread by lawers. (I was typing contracts for the Jubilee Line Extension, mostly involving things like exactly how soap dishes were to be bolted to walls in the toilets.) – cjs Mar 29 at 11:04
  • That answer provides great context! – user2705196 Mar 29 at 12:20
  • I can only imagine, @cjs, how many man-hours were wasted on writing, typing, arguing about and reviewing documents specifying exactly how soap dishes were to be bolted to the walls... – FreeMan Mar 29 at 17:42
  • @FreeMan Well, I wouldn't say wasted. You'd be pretty annoyed if soap dispensers were constantly falling off the walls every time you tried to use them. So say a hearty thanks to the engineers who spend their days working out the best way to keep them attached and writing the contracts that specify what parts to use and exactly how the construction workers must attach everything together! – cjs Mar 30 at 9:27
  • Your points about firm attaching are quite valid, @cjs, however, one good engineer could probably resolve it in 15 minutes or less. The lawyers create the time waste. ;) – FreeMan Mar 30 at 12:44
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This is common in some industries. Jewelry is highly portable and expensive enough that sometimes staff will collude with each other to steal it. These agreements act as a deterrent, and allow time to be saved when investigating an issue, the main concern is resolving it before people can leave the premises.

These rules exist and are universal not so you will search everybody every day, but so you can search anybody on any day. They're rarely enforced, most people forget they exist, but the option exists, which is the point. It's part deterrent, part useful. Like security cameras, you can review footage when needed, but not necessarily analyse everything all the time.

If you take such a job, don't steal, be careful what you have in your bag or car and do your work with nothing to worry about.

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Lesson learned:

In the future, request to see the final contract, plus any employee manual or any rules and regulations you'll have to abide by, before you're willing to sign anything or make any kind of commitment. There is a reason they waited this long before telling you about this.

And don't expect for this nonsense to stop, even if you do sign this paperwork. If they've hidden this from you, they've hidden other things.

An employee must NOT use their cell phone during work hours, or a "disciplinary action" will be imposed, such as taking the "cell phone privilege" away, or termination.

Note the wording used in this clause. It sounds like they're talking to a petulant child.

It's not that I love cell phones at work either. I don't.

But if you're going to create such a policy and hope to hire anyone semi-competent who's not a teenager or who's not desperate for a job. You'll need to craft such a policy more respectfully, and also mention that you reserve a room for making personal calls or for posting on Facebook during breaks or lunch.

I would like to know your opinion, especially if you're also in the software engineering field. To be clear, this is a retail company.

I understand companies need to take precautions and I'm completely on board with that. As software developers, we actually have a lot of power. Also, I understand that as a retail establishment, you want the same rules to apply to all employees, not just low-level workers. There may also be legal reasons. And there may be issues of IP theft or issues of very high-value items going missing. I understand all of that.

With that said, this is absolute nonsense written by a person with authority who has the emotional maturity of a 10-year-old.

And it's not that these kinds of individuals don't exist in companies. Those kinds of people are everywhere. What scares me, in this case, is that no one else in this company has been able to convince this person that they could still achieve the same objectives without needing to talk down to the new people they're hiring.

After all, having good employees is a "privilege" too. If they don't treat their employees with respect, that "privilege" can be taken away from them also.

And with that said, please post some snippets of that paperwork on glassdoor. Other job-hunters need to know what they're getting themselves into before they invest too much time interviewing for such a company.

It's not that I believe everything I read on Glassdoor, but if I were to read such a thing on Glassdoor about a company I'm interviewing with. This would be the first question I ask during my phone screen.

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    It sounds like they're talking to a petulant child Yes, many retail workers are high school kids 15-17 glued to their phones, even at work. – AbraCadaver Mar 29 at 15:02
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    @AbraCadaver my thought exactly when reading this answer -- "yes, that is a good descriptor for many of the people they hire" – eps Mar 29 at 16:38
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    @AbraCadaver, Good point. I've amended my answer. – Stephan Branczyk Mar 30 at 3:12
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I have been offered software jobs with similarly onerous conditions.

One such job was at a sketchy investment fund - I believe they feared employees would copy all the trading strategies and take them to other jobs. So all personal property like cell phones had to be kept in lockers outside the office. They had their own internal e-mail system disconnected from the public internet. All notes had to be made in special company-provided notebooks. There were even metal detectors with guards, to stop people bringing things in or out.

I didn't take the job, because I thought all the restrictions would really get in the way of my productivity.

Another possibility is they need the rules for employees in different roles, and apply them universally to promote a sense of fairness and equality. For example, if you run a trucking company you gotta tell your drivers they can't have a beer at lunch time. If the bosses and office workers acted like that was an unreasonable rule, or that following it was beneath them, what would the drivers think?

If that's the case, they might never enforce this rule on you - although personally I wouldn't bet on that.

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  • "For example, if you run a trucking company you gotta tell your drivers they can't have a beer at lunch time." - I don't see that analogy. If office workers have a beer at lunch, they can still work safely, maybe even productively. If a driver has a beer at lunch, they may not be able to work safely anymore (even if the driver is below local legal limits, it still increases the odds of accidents, and insurance might not pay, etc). – marcelm Mar 28 at 17:16
  • @marcelm Actually I have worked in places where in the past people were allowed to drink beer all day at work. They could get it out of vending machines! When it was banned for machinists (for obvious reasons) it was still allowed for office people, which was a real pain for those of us who had to work with alcoholics. In the end the union fussed and it was banned for everybody, except in the visitor canteen (this is Europe) where you can get a glass of wine with your food. Me, I stick with water. – RedSonja Mar 29 at 7:25
  • @marcelm you enumerate several reasons why it would cost a business to allow some people to have a beer at lunch while pretending not to understand the analogy? How about that you'd have created an environment where regardless of whether the rule made sense, you'd alienate one critical part of your workforce against everyone else. In some ways, this can be more of a an issue from your business than learning lessons from an accident or denied insurance claim. – iheanyi Mar 29 at 15:11
  • @iheanyi No I didn't; I argued why an alcohol ban makes sense for drivers, but not necessarily for certain other employees. – marcelm Mar 30 at 17:13
  • @marcelm and in the process, you enumerate several reasons why it would cost a business to allow some employees to have a beer at lunch - an office worker may not be able to work safely, it increases the odds of accidents, insurance may not pay for a work related injury that happened due to intoxication. – iheanyi Mar 31 at 17:48
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At small companies where all but 1-2 employees are developers and the developers work right along side non developers (eg. they're not quarantined off from non-developers) the restrictions imposed on the regular employees are also often imposed on the developers as well.

Some of this is pragmatic. The regular employees could see you getting all these perks and then get entitled, thinking that they deserve all the same perks as you, etc, which could make managing them that much more difficult.

Outside of scenarios like that (and ones where, like Gregory Currie mentioned, are in the defense industry or whatever) it's quite rare to find an employer that'd restrict cell phone usage and do random bag searches like that.

If the perks the job offers aren't enough to outweigh the drawbacks then I'd say don't take the job!

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    Even if only a few employees at the company are software developers, some of these policies also seem odd as applied to, say, employees in marketing, legal, HR, merchandising, and other office jobs where incidental cell phone usage during the workday is not usually uncommon if it doesn't interfere with work. – Zach Lipton Mar 27 at 22:16
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The following comes from a few decades of experience in the IT business in the U.S.; if you are somewhere else, it may not apply. Most of my experience has been in private companies supporting governmental clients (usually at the government's site).

To start, I have seen the latter two requirements (no expectation of privacy, must submit to searches when asked) quite often. Also, it has been commonplace to only be shown the rules after the joining the company - even when I asked for them beforehand.

The fact is that if you are working at your employer's site and using their equipment then you are going to be subject to these sorts of rules anyway, as most items in question are theirs. Your personal stuff may be exempt from an unwarranted inspection, but the owner of the property will have the right to do with their stuff what they want, including examining the files on a computer's drive. Also, that exemption for personal stuff likely doesn't apply as you enter the premises: while they can't legally force you to submit to the inspection, they can legally give you the choice of submitting or being terminated; after all you might be bringing a weapon to work with the intent of killing a dozen people. Putting things in writing like this just spells it out for you and makes their lawyers happy - this way someone can't claim "The employer has no right to look at my personal files on the equipment they let me do my work on" if they are fired for surfing porn sites.

As for the cell phone restrictions, that is unusual in my experience. The first question would be: Do they provide you a telephone so that you can be contacted by family in case of emergency, make calls you can't make after hours (e.g. for doctor's appointments), and so forth? If so, there is the argument that you don't need to use your cell phone, you can just use the company's telephone. Also, as others have said, this is likely a "one size fits all" policy established to keep customer facing employees off their cell phones while working. Something you may want to find out: If you need the privacy of having a conversation on you own phone, can you go off the clock and leave the premises to use it?

Finally, a lot of policies like this only come into play when there is a problem. For example: Employee X seems to be goofing off and not getting their work done. Inspecting their work area, computer drives, etc. may find evidence that allows the company to fire X. If not, it sends the message that X is being watched and should be on their best behavior going forward. So, if you keep your nose clean and get your work done, then you should be fine.

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You may want to consider a number of things:

  1. They may have a company-wide policy that is derived from the rules applying to a majority of the workforce (e.g. employees in stores or other public-facing jobs, or on factory floors). And in a spirit of equality, they apply to everyone, even if that does not seem to make sense for your specific job.

  2. Beyond the rules related to theft prevention as mentioned by others, some of the rules may be there for the protection of trade secrets. Apple and their many subcontractors for instance are known for quite extensive searches of many employees, and they're definitely not the only ones.

  • An employee must NOT use their cell phone during work hours, or a "disciplinary action" will be imposed, such as taking the "cell phone privilege" away, or termination.

For many employees, this could be related to #2. For others, this may be related to #1 above.

  • An employee must not have any expectation of privacy with respect to company property (laptop, phone).

This is quite standard in any large organization, really. It's company property, nothing but company business should happen there. They want to manage it, to secure it, to make sure they know what's running on it, that there's no malware. It could even be a regulatory obligation for them. The consequence is that they have access to everything, so they're warning you that nothing is private. It's both in your interest and theirs that you keep your private stuff separate.

Note however that the collateral issue in many companies is that software developers may be hindered in their work by not being able to have admin privileges on their computer and not being able to run all the tools they need (especially in large corporations with few developers, or if you are isolated from the rest of the developers). Make sure you address this before signing on. Not being able to run whatever you need to do your job is a big issue.

  • An employee "submit" to "workplace searches", this includes desk search, cabinet search, and even personal possessions such as backpack, briefcase or the employee's personal CAR, and refusing to comply with this will result in termination.

Most of this is common in companies where either outright theft (of physical goods) or secrecy (trade secrets) are issues. Searching the employee's car seems to go a bit too far though. Things should stop at the door.

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Even if those were normal requirement all depend on how comfortable you feel with those. I think those are too broad, so I will require a detail information on what specific mean each one of them.

I would have so many questions, specially how they enforce those searches.

  1. If they want to search my desk, can they do it while I'm not in the desk or will wait for me to be there.
  2. If I'm not on the desk and some valuable items get missing will be a video recording of the search.
  3. If they want to inspect the company phone, and I'm not on the office will they call me to bring the phone or send someone to my home to get the phone.
  • What happen if im vacations or outside the city or is late at night.
  1. If I drive a friend car to the office or a wife/friend give me a ride can they search that car too.
  • similar to the phone case what happen if my car isn't at the office. Will ask me to bring the car or send someone to inspect the car at my home. If you go to my home will they also be able to inspect my wife car or my home.
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    -1, doesn't answer the question. The question asks "are these [rules] normal?". – Jon Bentley Mar 29 at 9:19
  • I will tell you the answer to #2 is a policy telling employees not to bring valuables to work/leave them unattended at their desks. And if there are valuables that are actually required for the work, it's the employees job to secure them properly in a controlled access container whenever the employee isn't there. And #3 is called "remote access"--it can be done over the network. – user3067860 Mar 30 at 12:26

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