SACRAMENTO - The California Supreme Court decided last month that Apple stores are responsible for the time their employees’ personal belongings are subject to search for stolen goods even after they have clocked out.
"This is another solid ruling by a tribunal which has distinguished itself in the field of labor and employment law," said William B. Gould IV, an attorney, professor of law at Stanford Law School and author of the book A Primer on American Labor Law (6th edition. 2019).
The underlying class action alleged that the unpaid time workers spent waiting and undergoing an exit search ranged from five to 45 minutes depending on the availability of a manager or security guard, according to a press release.
“We conclude that plaintiffs’ time spent on Apple’s premises waiting for, and undergoing, mandatory exit searches of bags, packages, or personal Apple technology devices, such as iPhones, voluntarily brought to work purely for personal convenience is compensable as hours worked,” wrote Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye in the February 13 opinion.
The decision is expected to have far-reaching effects on other businesses but only in California, according to media reports, because there is no right of compensation under federal law.
"This is yet another sign that California employers need to be especially careful in self-auditing to avoid wage and hour lawsuits," said Luke A. Wake, senior staff attorney with the National Federation of Independent Busines (NFIB) Small Business Legal Center. "In the wake of this decision they should be asking, is there anything I’m asking my employees to do before they clock-in or after? Even if it's just a quick and minor task, if it's recurrent you are going to need to compensate for that time to avoid trouble."
The court's decision in favor of employees is retroactive, applicable to all employees of 52 stores in California from July 25, 2009, if they were subject to the bag-search policy.
“Workers absolutely deserve to be paid their wages for hours worked in accordance with the law," said Kyla Christoffersen Powell, president and CEO of Civil Justice Association of California (CJAC).
However, creation of excessive wage obligations for employers, particularly retroactive ones, creates openings for unnecessary litigation, according to Powell.
"To avoid litigation, companies regrettably end up having to place limits on employee conveniences, such as bringing personal bags and devices to work," Powell told the Northern California Record.