Apple Must Pay Workers for Time Spent on Mandatory Inspections, California Supreme Court Unanimously Rules

March 24, 2020

If your employer required you to wait around your workplace for up to 45 minutes after the end of your shift before letting you go home, you would likely want to be paid for that “off the clock” time. If you work in California, your state’s highest court agrees with you.

In a unanimous February ruling, the California Supreme Court held that Apple violated state wage and hour laws when it refused to pay its retail workers for the time they spent waiting for and undergoing mandatory exit searches before leaving for the day. While the decision is based on California, not federal, wage and hour law, and only applies to California employees, it highlights a common issue for a wide range of workers throughout the country: Am I “on the clock” or “off the clock” when I am not working, but engaged in required work-related activities immediately before or after my shift?

Inspections Could Take Up to 45 Unpaid Minutes

At issue in Frlekin v. Apple, Inc. was Apple’s practice of requiring workers at its 52 California retail stores to submit to exit searches of their bags, packages, purses, backpacks, briefcases, and personal Apple devices after they clock out in order to deter employee theft. Apple did not pay its workers for this time, which employees alleged could take up to 45 minutes. Non-compliance with the search policy could lead to termination.

After a federal district court ruled in Apple’s favor, the employees appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which then asked the California Supreme Court to clarify what California law requires.

In California, Industrial Welfare Commission wage order No. 7-2001 (Wage Order 7) requires employers to pay their employees a minimum wage for all “hours worked,” defined as “the time during which an employee is subject to the control of an employer, and includes all the time the employee is suffered or permitted to work, whether or not required to do so.”

The California Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the time Apple employees spent waiting for and undergoing mandatory exit searches constituted “hours worked,” thus requiring Apple to pay workers for that time.

“Apple employees are clearly under Apple’s control while awaiting, and during, the exit searches,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote for the court. As such, “We conclude that plaintiffs’ 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.’”

California Law More Worker-Friendly Than Federal Law

The California Supreme Court’s decision was based on California law, not the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) or other federal law. This is just one example of how California law generally provides workers more robust protections and more expansive rights than federal law, a fact that the California Supreme Court acknowledged in its decision: “Our departure from the federal authority is entirely consistent with the recognized principle that state law may provide employees greater protection than the FLSA.”

Nevertheless, workers in other states often face similar issues, such as whether their employer needs to pay them for activities like “donning and doffing” protective clothing or safety gear, logging on and off computers at the beginning and end of the day, or attending team meetings before or after the workday. If you have questions about whether you should receive compensation for activities your employer requires, please contact one of Outten & Golden’s experienced wage and overtime attorneys to discuss your concerns.

(*Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.)