Apple must pay store employees for bag-search time, court rules

Court dismisses argument that employees don't need to bring bags and purses to work.

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Apple store employees deserve to be paid for time spent waiting for mandatory bag searches at the end of their shifts, the California Supreme Court rules.

James Martin/CNET

Apple must pay its retail store employees for the time they spend waiting for mandatory bag searches at the end of their shifts, the California Supreme Court ruled Thursday. The decision is retroactive, but it wasn't immediately clear how much Apple would have to pay.

The decision stems from a class-action lawsuit filed in 2013 by two former workers from Apple stores in New York and Los Angeles that alleged employees at physical locations were required to stand in lines up to 30 minutes long every day for store managers to check their bags to ensure they weren't smuggling home stolen goods. Failure to comply could lead to the employee's termination, the suit said.

The lawsuit was dismissed in 2015 by US District Court Judge William Alsup, who ruled in favor of Apple's argument that employees were free to not bring a bag to work, thus avoiding the search process. Plaintiffs appealed the case to the state Supreme Court later that year.

"Under the circumstances of this case and the realities of ordinary, 21st century life, we find farfetched and untenable Apple's claim that its bag-search policy can be justified as providing a benefit to its employees," Supreme Court Judge Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote in the decision (PDF).

The court specifically took issue with Apple's contention that employees didn't need to bring bags to work and said an Apple restriction on employee bags at work would be "draconian."

"Given that Apple requires its employees to wear Apple-branded apparel while working but directs them to remove or cover up such attire while outside the Apple store, it is reasonable to assume that some employees will carry their work uniform or a change of clothes in a bag in order to comply with Apple's compulsory dress code policy," she wrote.  

The court found that because Apple requires the employee searches, the law requires the employees to be paid for their time.

"Apple may tailor its bag-search policy as narrowly or broadly as it desires and may minimize the time required for exit searches," Cantil-Sakauye wrote. "But it must compensate those employees to whom the policy applies for the time spent waiting for and undergoing these searches."

Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.