Apple may have to pay its employees extra for time it spends rifling through their personal belongings at work, if it loses a long-running lawsuit that is now in front of the Californian Supreme Court.
The American state’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is kicking the thorny question of whether employees are entitled to pay while they stand around waiting for the firm’s bag-fondlers – defined as shop managers and security staff – to poke around in their belongings.
According to the appeals court’s latest ruling, handed down yesterday, the key question that the state supremes must answer is this:
Is time spent on the employer’s premises waiting for, and undergoing, required exit searches of packages or bags voluntarily brought to work purely for personal convenience by employees compensable as “hours worked” within the meaning of California Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Order No. 7?
Apple employees have long complained about Cupertino’s policy of rummaging through their belongings each and every time they leave the firm’s shops. In 2013 hacked-off shop floor workers Amanda Friekin, Taylor Kalin, Aaron Gregoroff, Seth Downling and Debra Speicher filed the class action suit against Apple, complaining that Tim Cook’s firm’s treatment of them was “embarrassing”, “demeaning” and “disturbing”.
Shop staff were required to clock off before finding a manager or a security guard to go through their belongings in the hope of discovering stolen iStuff. The policy is intended to reduce “shrinkage”, the well-known phenomenon where commodity goods are stolen by staff in the supply and distribution chain.
“Employees receive no compensation for the time spent waiting for and undergoing exit searches, because they must clock out before undergoing a search. Employees who fail to comply with the Policy are subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination,” noted the appeals court, which explained: “California law provides no clear answer to the certified question.”
Apple concedes that its staff are under its “control” in the time between clocking off and letting their bosses poke through their handbags and so on but says this does not amount to “hours worked” for employment law purposes. It also says that the search is not compulsory “because the employees may avoid a search by declining to bring a bag or package to work”.
The case is due to be certified in the California Supreme Court within the next week. As Californian appeal judges Susan Graber, Michelle Friedland, and Consuelo Marshall said in their judgement, “the consequences of any interpretation of the Wage Order will have significant legal, economic, and practical consequences for employers and employees throughout the state of California.” ®