Crime, Law and Social Change

, Volume 70, Issue 5, pp 583–602 | Cite as

Policing labor: the power of private security guards to search workers in Brazil

  • Cleber da Silva LopesEmail author


The losses caused by worker theft is one of the most concerning security problems for corporations. Private policing of the workplace is central to cutting down on such losses and keeping up profits. One of the most frequently used methods in such policing is searching workers. Despite the importance of searches and their potential for intrusion into individuals’ right to privacy, the normative bases for and limits to the use of this power have so far been little studied. The aim of this paper is to analyze the legal foundations and limits imposed by the Brazilian State so that private security guards can conduct searches in the workplace. The analysis is based on a qualitative study of Brazilian labor law and a qualitative/quantitative study of 376 judicial decisions on searches collected randomly in two Brazilian states between 2010 and 2013. The data shows that searches can be conducted in the workplace based on the employer’s right to manage production and protect their property. It also indicates the existence of relatively flexible limits to searches. Only a minority of the courts impose restrictions on searches similar to those set for police officers. Most judges allow more extensive searches than those permitted within the scope of public justice systems. The consequences of these findings are discussed.



I would like to thank the members of the Laboratory of Studies on Security Governance of the State University of Londrina (Laboratório de Estudos sobre Governança da Segurança da Universidade Estadual de Londrina; LEGS-UEL), especially Fabrício Silva Lima, for their assistance in assembling the database of this research and for the comments made to a preliminary version of this article.


This research received financial support from the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq-MCTIC) of Brazil (Grant no. 459514/2014–8).


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social SciencesState University of LondrinaLondrinaBrazil

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