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February 2020

California Supreme Court Says Employers Must Pay Employees for Off-the-Clock Bag Searches

In an employment class action on behalf of Apple, Inc.’s retail workers dating back to 2013, the California Supreme Court ruled that Apple, and by extension all employers, must pay its employees for time spent undergoing mandatory bag searches after work. The Court concluded “time spent on the employer’s premises waiting for, and undergoing, required exit searches of packages, bags, or personal technology devices” is compensable “hours worked.”

California law requires employers to pay for “all hours worked” by their employees. The Court concluded that during the exit process, Apple employees “are clearly under Apple’s control while awaiting, and during, the exit searches.” The Court explained the exit searches placed a burden on employees by preventing them from leaving the premises with their personal belongings until they completed Apple’s exit search. Employees claimed that they were typically delayed between five and twenty minutes because of the after-work bag checks. Some employees testified that the delay was as long as forty-five minutes. 

The Court explicitly stated its opinion applies retroactively, potentially exposing California employers to significant liability for unpaid wages, penalties and attorneys’ fees dating back several years. While the Court did not provide a bright-line test for determining what constitutes compensable time, it did provide several factors to help determine whether "onsite employer-controlled activities" are compensable, including:

  • The mandatory nature of the activity.
  • The location of the activity.
  • The degree of the employer's control.
  • Whether the activity primarily benefits the employee or employer.
  • Whether the activity is enforced through disciplinary measures.

The Court’s ruling likely extends well beyond exit searches and employers should work with counsel to audit their activities and develop compliant policies and practices in light of the Court’s opinion.

To read the full California Supreme Court ruling, please click here

Employment Law

Brandon D. Saxon

Employment Law