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Ask an HR Expert: Can We Prohibit Backpacks and Other Bags at Work?

In light of safety concerns, clear-bag policies are becoming more common—but they often aren't a practical solution.

​Yes. With increasing safety concerns over workplace and school shootings, clear-bag or no-bag policies are trending. But these rules come with challenges and may not be practical for many businesses.

For one thing, exceptions will likely be necessary. While you can set rules about which items are subject to surveillance, employees are entitled to a reasonable degree of privacy within the workplace, such as in restrooms and changing areas, and shouldn’t be subject to a search unless absolutely necessary.

So, if you adopt a clear-bag or no-bag rule, workers will need a way to protect the privacy of their prescription labels, for example. One way to address this is to specify that containers for medications must be kept in opaque pouches of a certain size, while bags large enough for storing a weapon are not permitted.

In the less common scenario that a person has to bring a medical device to work, you can ask for documentation from a health care provider affirming that need, but the note should not include a diagnosis, which could run afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act. You’ll also need to make exceptions for nursing mothers who must use breast pumps. 

Finally, consider people’s privacy expectations regarding other items, including feminine hygiene products, contraceptives or state welfare cards. Employees should be allowed to carry these things in a discreet manner.

It might seem less complicated to have a no-personal-belongings policy rather than a clear-bag requirement with a long list of exceptions. But an outright ban isn’t likely to sit well with people who don’t want to put their lip balm, car keys, money and breath mints in their pockets.

That option may work best in workspaces that have a secured area—perhaps a locker room or break room—where workers can store their possessions and access them during breaks. 

—Regan Gross, SHRM-SCP, is an HR Knowledge Advisor for SHRM


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