Snooping employee

We have an employee that has been caught snooping around and in co-worker's desks. So far there has been nothing taken or destroyed, but those who have been targets are feeling very violated and are getting very angry. She has been caught going through personal e-mails (at our company, our e-mail policy allows for personal usage), going through desks and recently an employee accidentally left her personal cell phone at the office. When she came in the next day, she had missed calls and a voice mail on her phone but it wasn't giving her the "blinking red light" indicator that calls were missed; she feels this indicates that the snooper went through her phone (especially since this employee saw the snooper at her desk when she pulled into the parking lot.)

The employees who have been "snooped" have not reported it to their manager; under advice from our HR Director (my boss) that if this snooper hasn't taken or destroyed anything, there isn't really anything to report. I am friends with those who are being snooped, so I keep hearing about how, day after day, more work and personal items are disturbed on desks. 

Have any of you gone through this before, where there is nothing illegal happening but the snooping is violating privacy and creating tension in the office? I want to help in some way to keep peace in the office, but I don't want to go against what advice my HR Director has given and I don't want the snooped employees to feel like they have to put up with this daily for the next 3 months (the snooper has given notice and will be moving across the state in March, so everyone is trying to bite their tongues for now.)

 Any thoughts or words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated.


  • 6 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • I guess my first question would be if Snoopy is in a position of great need?  The reasoning behind this is the notice period.  If she is causing significant disruption within the workforce have you brought the idea of accepting her notice and ending the position?  That may be on the extreme scale but for someone who is likely no longer committed to your current employer, what is the actual loss by her departing the position early?  If you want to dial it down a bit, what sort of counseling has been performed on this employee?  Granted these are allegations with not much, if anything proven but you still reserve the right to question the employee's motives for being seen at these desks, going through personal items, etc.  I disagree with your HR Director as far as the "no harm, no foul" mentality it seems they are taking.  Bare minimum, this employee should be confronted with the allegations against them and made aware that this is a serious issue and they must cease this action immediately.
  • You say that there is nothing illegal going on... that you know of. 

     Please think about what you don't know. This person is a season veteran of snooping, peeking, seeking and gathering. Is it for the good of the company? Was this person hired to do these things? Is it in their job description? What message are you sending to the other employees who aren't doing this? Is this the culture and value system that you want at the company?

     I too disagree with your HR Director. These people who are being snooped upon are coming for help and guidance and their need is being ignored as "no harm, no foul". 

    At minimum there should be a discussion with this person.


  • I disagree with your HR Director and wonder if they would feel the same if this person went snooping through thier desk? There is still an expectation of some privacy for personal items by employees. Regardless of all the focus on Identity Theft and protecting personal information I'm always surprised at what employees will say, write down, send in e-mails, etc.. How would it look if one of your employees fell victim of identity theft by this individual? How hard do you think it would be for an attorney to argue your employer condoned it by knowing about the snooping and not addressing it.

    At the very least it seem obvious the employees actions are having a negative impact on the working environment and productivity and should be addressed.  

  • This all happened 30 years ago, but the solution worked, and I thought you all might enjoy hearing this true story.

    A supervisor would go through her direct reports desks after 5 pm.  They could tell because things were moved around. Nothing was every taken.

    One employee had a solution: Everyone wrote "Hi Barbara!" on pieces of paper and put them in all their drawers.

    The snooping stopped immediately, and, of course, nothing was ever said.

  • Bev: Priceless.


    Hopefully, your employees have only a very limited right to privacy.  As an employer, I would not strive to give them a sense of privacy or say that they have a right to it at all, leaving them only what is statutorily or court determined to be private.

    Surely this person is breaching your code of conduct or simply engaging in disruptive behavior?  If you don't have a code of conduct or a policy on disruptive behavior, I'd get busy with one.  An e-mail policy making it improper to view other employees' emails without their authorization (or HR authorization) couldn't hurt.  I don't agree with your director that there's nothing going on or that there's nothing to be done.

  • I second everything TXHRGuy stated...but I would also not give them any sense of privacy.  Everything at the office should be work-related and if it isn't, then the employee(s) need to understand that anyone could see/hear it at anytime.

     That said, I too would implement a code of conduct if you don't have one.

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