If you determined it necessary to search an individual on your employer’s premises what are some of the legal risks you should be concerned about (i.e. potential causes of action)?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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If you are going to search someone on your employer’s premises, you are probably doing so because you suspect them of having stolen something.  This is most likely to happen if you are working in a retail store.   The major legal issue (as opposed to issues of public relations and customer satisfaction) that you have to worry about is being sued for false arrest.  It is also possible that you will have to be careful not to be sued for acting negligently in detaining and searching the suspect.  Finally, you will have to conduct the search in the least intrusive manner possible.

If you are going to search someone involuntarily, you are going to need to have probable cause.  That is, you have to be able to lay out objective, factual evidence that would justify your belief that the person has stolen from your store.  It is best if you have seen the suspect actually take something and leave the store without paying for it.  You cannot simply stop and search someone because you think they look suspicious.  You may ask a suspicious-looking person to consent to a search, but if they do not, you may not detain them without probable cause.  So, the main thing that you have to do is to be sure that you have probable cause.

If you detain the suspect in order to search them, you have to be careful in how you handle them.  This is particularly true if they try to escape.  You have to be very careful that you do not use excessive force to stop them and hold them. 

Finally, you have to be careful with how you conduct the search.  If you suspect them of shoplifting something relatively large, you certainly cannot go beyond a simple visual examination of their bags and any clothing bulky enough to conceal the item.  You must be very careful not to conduct any search that involves touching of the suspect’s body beyond what is absolutely necessary to look for the item that you suspect they have stolen. 

It is important to pay attention to all of these issues if you are to search a person on your employer’s premises without bringing the danger of a law suit.

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