APPLE OUTSMARTED « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


Company Must Pay Workers for Bag and Device Check Time

Like many companies, Apple has a practice of checking retail workers’ bags and personal electronic devices after they clock out as a theft prevention measure. In a February 2020 ruling, the California Supreme Court directed that Apple must compensate such employees for that time, including retroactive payment of amounts owed.

California’s Wage Orders require worker compensation for all hours worked, including all time an individual is under the employer’s control.

Apple argued the time employees waited for and then went through the process should not count as these workers supposedly had the choice to avoid the check by not bringing any bags or devices to the job. The court disagreed, finding Apple exerted control by requiring workers to remain on premises for a typical five to 20 minutes off-the-clock for a manager or security guard to open every bag, briefcase, backpack, and the like, unzip closed compartments, move or remove items, and review any personal devices. The court also observed employees could be disciplined if they did not comply and concluded the checks were clearly for Apple’s benefit.

On Apple’s “the checks are optional” contention, Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye wrote: “The irony and inconsistency of Apple’s argument must be noted. Its characterization of the iPhone as unnecessary for its own employees is directly at odds with its description of the iPhone as an ‘integrated and integral’ part of the lives of everyone else. As [one of the briefs supporting the workers] aptly observes, ‘Apple’s position everywhere except in defending against this lawsuit is that use of Apple’s products for personal convenience is an important and essential part of participating fully in modern life.’ Given the importance of smartphones in modern society, plaintiffs have little true choice in deciding whether to bring their own smartphones to work (and we may safely assume that many Apple employees own Apple products, such as an iPhone).

The court contrasted Apple’s practice with pre- and post-work procedures where workers have a real option of not being under the employer’s control, such as not being required to wait for and riding a company-sponsored shuttle bus to and from the front gates of Disneyland.

Employers should take care not to require workers to do any tasks either before or after being on the clock. Best practices include consulting with employment counsel on such issues.

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For more information, please contact Tim Bowles, Cindy Bamforth or Helena Kobrin.

Helena Kobrin

Tim Bowles

March 12, 2020