My Boss Questioned Me About Personal Texts

by Evil HR Lady on June 11, 2015

I work at a pharmacy. Every day at shift end we’re not allowed to leave the building until the manager on duty searches our bags. I typically have my purse and a lunch bag. I don’t like that that the manager can go through my purse. I’m an employee in good standing who’s never stolen, yet every night I have people pawing through my purse and dirty lunch dishes, touching my personal belongings. Is this legal?

Earlier this week the store manager called me to the office to tell me she had received a call from a store manager 1.5 hours away. That store manager “caught one of their employees texting on the sales floor”, and when questioned the employee stated they were sending me a text, and that the text subject was to talk trash about my manager. I am friends with this employee, and we stay in touch via calls and texts. I told my manager that 1) I keep my phone turned off and locked my locker during work hours, 2) if this person was texting on the clock it was their policy violation, not mine, and 3) I did not text anything negative about the manager or any coworkers (and that’s the truth). This is my personal cell phone and plan with US Cellular, and I pay the bill – my phone has nothing to do with work. Despite that my manager questioned me in the office for half an hour about the content of my conversations and texts with this person. After leaving work that night I called my friend to ask her what in the world happened in her store. She told me that her manager asked her, while she was on unpaid lunch in the break room, who she was texting. She replied that she was texting me. After she returned from lunch her manager hauled her into the office and questioned her for an hour, asking how often we talk, text, see each other, and her manager demanded to know what we discussed. Keep in mind that our texts and calls happen outside of work. So these two store managers, who are both nasty, shady women, concocted a story and are trying to make something out of nothing. Does this meet the legal definition of workplace harassment or a hostile work environment?

I am friends with this employee, and we stay in touch via calls and texts. I told my manager that 1) I keep my phone turned off and locked my locker during work hours, 2) if this person was texting on the clock it was their policy violation, not mine, and 3) I did not text anything negative about the manager or any coworkers (and that’s the truth). This is my personal cell phone and I pay the bill – my phone has nothing to do with work.Despite that my manager questioned me in the office for half an hour about the content of my conversations and texts with this person. After leaving work that night I called my friend to ask her what in the world happened in her store. She told me that her manager asked her, while she was on unpaid lunch in the break room, who she was texting. She replied that she was texting me. After she returned from lunch her manager hauled her into the office and questioned her for an hour, asking how often we talk, text, see each other, and her manager demanded to know what we discussed. Keep in mind that our texts and calls happen outside of work. So these two store managers, who are both nasty, shady women, concocted a story and are trying to make something out of nothing. Does this meet the legal definition of workplace harassment or a hostile work environment?

Despite that my manager questioned me in the office for half an hour about the content of my conversations and texts with this person. After leaving work that night I called my friend to ask her what in the world happened in her store. She told me that her manager asked her, while she was on unpaid lunch in the break room, who she was texting. She replied that she was texting me. After she returned from lunch her manager hauled her into the office and questioned her for an hour, asking how often we talk, text, see each other, and her manager demanded to know what we discussed. Keep in mind that our texts and calls happen outside of work. So these two store managers, who are both nasty, shady women, concocted a story and are trying to make something out of nothing. Does this meet the legal definition of workplace harassment or a hostile work environment?

First question: Is it legal for your employer to check your bags? Yes, and they don’t even have to pay you for the time it takes. Frankly, in a pharmacy, it’s probably good policy. Even if you’re a front end cashier and have no real access to medication, your co-workers have access and some of that stuff is super valuable and super dangerous. It makes sense. Now, if I were subject to that, I’d probably keep my purse locked in my glove compartment and bring in my keys and my lunch. But, that’s up to you. I totally agree that it’s icky to have someone go through your purse, but it’s not personal.

Second question: Does this meet the legal definition of workplace harassment or a hostile work environment? No. Those things require there to be an underlying illegal reason for being jerks–like you’re singled out because of your race or religion or something like that. HOWEVER, what happened there is, probably, illegal.

Here’s the thing. One of the things the law allows you to do is talk about working conditions with you co-workers. This is such a sacred right that the National Labor Relations Board said the following Facebook message was allowed. (Edited to maintain the PG rating of this blog):

Bob is such a NASTY MOTHER [Squidlipper] don’t know how to talk to people!!!!!! [Squidlip] his mother and his entire [squidlipping] family!!!! What a LOSER!!!!  “Vote YES for the UNION!!!!!!!”

Now, granted, his “Vote YES for the Union!!!!!!” probably helped with that. But, the reality is, you’re specifically allowed to discuss working conditions. So, the fact that your boss and your friend’s boss thought that you were discussing working conditions means that they were actively violating the law. Let’s add into the fact that you have zero control over who texts you during the day and your phone was turned off and in your locker and your boss looks like a loon. We’re going to deal with your boss and let your friend handle her boss.

First, since you keep your phone off during work, I’d keep it in your car for the next few days. (Note to would-be thieves: Please don’t break into her car, where I’ve just told her to store her purse and phone.) I’d take lunch someplace other than the building just so your boss can’t be a weenie about what you’re doing over lunch. It’s summer. It’s nice out. Go sit outside.

Note: This is not necessary in the legal sense of the word, but your boss is a horrible person and we’re trying to reduce run ins.

Second, if your boss asks you about it again, repeat the following phrase: “I’m sorry, I don’t have my phone with me today.”  Now, since you go through a bag check every day, this is easily provable–you don’t have your phone on you. If your manager pushes you can add, “Federal law protects my right to talk with my co-workers, even at different stores. Is there something you’d like me to be doing?”

If your manager continues to be a jerk about the whole issue, escalate this to your HR department. Emphasize the legal aspects of the whole thing, rather than the jerk thing.

One interesting aspect is that if they accused you and your co-worker of talking about television shows, you wouldn’t have legal protection. But, since the accusation is that you were discussing workplace conditions, that falls under the National Labor Relations Act.

 

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Bunny June 11, 2015 at 3:38 pm

Time to get a new job….

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Evil HR Lady June 11, 2015 at 3:40 pm

Well, that too! But in a pharmacy, there is usually a opportunity to transfer to a different store where the manager isn’t horrible.

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grannybunny June 11, 2015 at 3:41 pm

Sounds like we’re talking about 2 stores with horrible managers in this case.

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Evil HR Lady June 11, 2015 at 3:52 pm

Well, and if there are 2 bad ones in the same region, I’m willing to bet there’s a rotten District Manager as well.

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Alana June 11, 2015 at 5:51 pm

Just wanted to let you know that the third paragraph of the letter is a duplicate of part of the second paragraph; must have been an error with copy & paste.

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Jeanne June 11, 2015 at 8:39 pm

I thought I was just going crazy.

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Anonymous June 13, 2015 at 12:16 am

Me too!

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NorthernHR June 11, 2015 at 7:21 pm

Sounds like they are trying to escalate to demanding to see the texts so that they can try to discipline these women for what they are saying. Taking things a bit too personally maybe? If they aren’t aware of the law now, they soon will be! One piece of advice I was given long ago when I became a Department Head where I used to work is “becoming a Supervisor/Manager now means you are everyone’s main topic of dinner conversation, You have control over whether they talk good or bad by how you behave/act treat them”. These Pharmacy Managers should have been given the same advice before they got the positions!

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Brandy June 18, 2015 at 9:49 pm

I was once written up for an email a co-worker sent me. She was complaining that the lead was picking on her and sent to me and another co-worker. We both immediately knew to delete from outlook and delete from the delete folder, and went to speak in person but another co-worker showed the lead the email and we were all hauled in and written up. They said we received the emails for a reason. The lead was just thin skinned and this was an overall bad environment.

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Daniel Burnick June 11, 2015 at 8:37 pm

Interesting fact situation and good advice. My only comment would be that she should report it to HR immediately so there is a record of it. If she is in an at-will state, she can be terminated tomorrow without a reason. If there is a record of her report to HR, it could be a violation of the NLRA and/or retaliation. Always best for both employer and employee to document things.

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Jeanne June 11, 2015 at 8:44 pm

Both managers have some serious personal issues. At dept stores you’re often required to carry a clear purse everyone can see through. I would probably get a small makeup bag or something to use as a purse at work. Tissues, tampons, a little cash, that sort of thing. Put your real purse in your trunk (mine is WAY too big for the glove compartment). If you put it in the trunk at home, you’re less likely to be robbed since no one knows it’s there.

Definitely call HR. Then I think you have to assume you’re going to be fired and start looking. I’m so sorry. Having a crazy boss can really mess with your head.

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Kelly June 16, 2015 at 2:45 am

Part of the reasoning for department stores requiring employees to carry a clear purse is for loss prevention. Internal shortage did happen at the store I worked at and it was one department that had most of the internal theft – makeup and cosmetics. Most items in that area are small enough to conceal in your hand or a pocket. That’s also the single most concentrated area of high value merchandise and most of it has to be rung up in that area for that reason.

Retail theft is a big problem in the US. It’s my experience that much of common Loss Prevention practice doesn’t work. Racial profiling is very common and can backfire badly. The most effective shoplifter, in my experience, is a woman or group of women with children and strollers, usually white and look like they are middle class. The children can cause a mess to distract the store employees while the moms stuff clothing and other loot in the strollers. That was the reason that the children’s department at the store I worked at had the highest shortage rate of any department.

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Duncan from Vetter June 12, 2015 at 3:46 pm

It is sad to see how managers forget about their role in the company and simply want to display their power. Unfortunately, these are the situations that make highly-professional employees leave the organizations. It is hard to ignore such unfortunate events, but I also agree that the best thing to do is to report the situation to the HR department and point out the legal background.

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Shandree June 12, 2015 at 10:22 pm

I agree that if it’s company policy you have to allow them to check your purse when you leave work. I do suggest leaving your purse at home and bringing a small purse for personal items you may need at work.
I think you should be able to bring your phone to work and talk to whoever you like to as long as you’re on your break or lunch and not on company paid time. (they are not paying the bill, you are) Be mindful of what you talk about (not related to work) so others can hear and share with others. You have broken no law by not sharing what’s on your phone and they shouldn’t have asked.
I would report them to their manager first, then if he doesn’t resolve, report to HR immediately.

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Slippy June 15, 2015 at 5:30 pm

If you do need to bring your phone in to work for whatever reason make sure you have a screen-lock set. This will prevent any curious management from taking your phone during the bag searches and looking through your texts.

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Rebecca June 16, 2015 at 12:14 pm

Did anyone notice the manager questioned the employee for over an hour, all about an incident that must have taken up literal seconds of the employee’s break time? And just because someone sends you a text doesn’t mean you read it right away, especially if your phone is locked and in another location.

File this one away in the stupid management bin. Not only did they waste a lot of the company’s time over a small matter, I’ll bet they’ll be training new people at this location as soon as the interrogated employees can find new jobs.

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grace June 18, 2015 at 9:28 pm

I think I’d leave everything in your car, except your keys to drive home. put it in your trunk in a lock box that takes your fingerprint. as stated before, put a lock screen on your phone. Definitely advise him that you are aware of your rights and contact the store manager as well as the district manager

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Liz T July 2, 2015 at 6:44 am

Is there anything to indicate that the OP has a car? This could well be in a city with public transportation.

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Melissa July 2, 2015 at 10:37 am

That was my thought too, Liz.

Same thing with eating outside – I can think of a lot of pharmacies where there is nowhere to eat outside.

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Shackleford Hurtmore July 17, 2015 at 6:20 am

These stories remind me how lucky I have been with my bosses over the years.

Vaguely on topic and hopefully helpful to someone who has to run a bag search policy:

I worked in retail in UK in the 1990s. We had a bag of snooker (like billiards) balls by the exit for when staff left. You had to pull a ball out before leaving, and depending on the colour you got, depended on whether you got searched at all, and how rigorously (pocket/bag/both)

Benefits:
– everyone knew the system was random, and that they could get caught if they were to steal. There was no way to control which ball you were going to pull out.
– if management really wanted to search someone based on a tip, they could rig the bag so everyone was more likely/certain to get fully searched.
– management didn’t have to search everyone to be seen to be fair, meaning we could all go home earlier.

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Anonymous July 6, 2016 at 10:01 pm

So many type-o’s for a blogger.

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