California Apple stores must pay staffers for time-consuming bag searches: Top court

Apple's search process can take up to 45 minutes on the busiest days

California Apple stores must pay their store workers for the off-the-clock time spent going through required searches and bag checks, the state's top court ruled.

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All retail employees of the Steve Jobs-founded tech giant are required to have their bags, Apple products and any other property searched to ensure they are not taking anything from the stores or facilities.

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“[P]laintiffs’ 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,'" the court said.

Each worker is required to register his or her Apple devices with the store managers, and a search is required at the end of the work shift or even for an employee to leave the store during a break.

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The searches “are imposed primarily for Apple’s benefit, and are enforced through threat of discipline,” wrote Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye in the unanimous ruling. “Thus, according to the ‘hours worked’ control clause, plaintiffs ‘must be paid.’”

An Apple Store in Santa Monica, California, the largest Apple Store on the West Coast. (iStock)

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The process can take from five to 20 minutes to complete, and up to 45 minutes on the busiest days, according to court documents. Failing to comply can get employees fired.

The company argued that it is still permissive, in that employees have the option of not bringing purses or other bags to work. It said it could simply bar employees from bringing any personal possessions into the store, including their personal electronic devices.

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But the justices were not convinced, finding Apple’s claims “farfetched and untenable.” The class-action ruling is retroactive and covers all Apple California rank-and-file employees who were subject to the bag-search policy from July 25, 2009, to the present.

Apple has 52 stores in California but didn’t immediately comment or say how much the ruling might cost one of the world’s wealthiest tech companies. Attorneys for the company and affected workers also did not comment.

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The Associated Press contributed to the reporting for this story.