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THE QUESTION

I work at a demanding company and often work weekends. My typical routine is to come into the office on Saturdays and leave Sundays for family time. My boss would often be in on both Saturdays and Sundays.

One weekend, I had family commitments on Saturday, so I came in on Sunday. To my surprise, I found my boss was rummaging through my office, which had been locked when I left on Friday.

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I asked whether I could help and my boss claimed to be looking for a binder that I did not have. Is this appropriate behaviour? I felt that my boss should have at least phoned or e-mailed me before going through my office files. This person has the keys to all the offices, just in case someone is away.

How should I approach the matter? Should I get human resources involved?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Doug Nathanson

Chief human resources officer, Canadian Tire, Toronto

In my opinion, your boss's behaviour is not inappropriate, although I can appreciate that you would have preferred a courtesy call or e-mail first.

It is important to remember that your workplace, including your office, belongs to your employer and you do not have the same privacy rights as you do at home. Your boss is entitled to enter your office for appropriate purposes, including looking for material necessary to complete work in off-hours. The same holds true in terms of access with respect to your company-assigned technological devices and any other corporate property.

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Although we all want a secure work environment, we cannot expect to preclude reasonable access by our superiors or others with legitimate reasons for entry. The answer may have been different if you had seen your boss going through personal items in your desk.

Having said that, given that the situation made you feel uncomfortable, consider politely and professionally reminding your boss that you are always available to help, even if it's after-hours or on a day off, and that you don't mind being contacted for assistance when you are not in the office.

Your boss may simply not have wanted to bother you on the weekend, and I would not want this event to interfere with your good working relationship.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Greg Chung-Yan

Associate professor of industrial/ organizational psychology,

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University of Windsor

Technically, because you are using the your company's resources and equipment, your boss may be entitled to have access to your office. This can include reading your e-mail and monitoring your Internet activity. It is difficult to give a definitive answer about your rights because it depends on various things, such as whether you work in a federal government institution, what your company policies are, and the existing collective agreement negotiated by your union. As such, it is not a bad idea to go to human resources or your union to find out what the policies are governing your workplace privacy. However, making an official complaint may not be the most effective first approach.

Irrespective of laws and policies, it is generally not good management practice to go rooting around employees' offices without prior warning or a compelling and urgent business reason to do so. Most people understandably have an expectation of privacy and the actions you describe can feel like a violation to many employees, affecting trust, motivation, company image, job performance, and basic collegiality.

Try informally talking to your boss. Simply pointing out the discomfort you felt when you found your boss there unexpectedly is often enough to get a reasonable person to respect your boundaries. If your boss dismisses your concerns, then you can make an official complaint to HR or your union.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com.

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