As of July 23, 2023, employers in Washington are prohibited from searching employees’ privately owned vehicles (even when on or near the employers’ premises) unless at least one of the eight exceptions in the law applies. The exceptions are when:
- 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.
Additionally, employees must be allowed to keep their personal belongings in their vehicle, as long as they’re legal to possess. As is the case with most laws that provide employee protections, employers can’t take adverse action against an employee who exercises their rights under the law.