By Dave Kravets of Arstechnica
Dispute has widespread ramifications about pay for time spent in security checks.
Should Apple retail workers in California be paid for time spent having their purses, backpacks and other belongings checked to make sure they didn’t steal any of Cupertino’s goods—after they have punched out?
Ruling in a class-action lawsuit brought by Apple retail workers, a federal judge answered “no”—California law doesn’t require Apple to pay for that time, even though it’s mandatory that employees who bring purses or other bags to work get them searched while they’re off the clock.
The worker-wage dispute with one of the world’s richest companies didn’t end there. Lawyers for the class-action lawsuit representing thousands of Apple retail workers in California appealed that 2015 decision to the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals. On Wednesday, the appeals court said it couldn’t come to any conclusion in a dispute that the court said had widespread ramifications for California workers who go through security checks at companies like Marshalls, Nordstrom, Federal Express, Best Buy, and other workplaces. The federal appeals court said the answer to whether California wage laws apply to time spent on security checks should be decided by the California Supreme Court.
So the appeals court on Wednesday asked the state Supreme Court to weigh in. It’s a rare practice for the nation’s appeals courts to request—in what is known as a certified question—that the top courts in states interpret controversial issues involving state law.
“The consequences of any interpretation,” the appeals court wrote
the California Supreme Court, (PDF) “will have significant legal, economic, and practical consequences for employers and employees throughout the state of California.”
In short, the suit claims that Apple retail employees spend as much as 20 minutes off the clock having their bags searched to combat employee theft every time they leave work. Apple claims that the searches only take seconds and that they are not “required” for workers who don’t bring purses, backpacks, briefcases, or other bags to work. Apple retail workers, in a 2012 letter to Apple chief Tim Cook, said the policy amounted to treating employees like “criminals.”
The appeals court said the issue was a close call and best left to the California Supreme Court.
The case at issue involves only those employees who voluntarily brought bags to work purely for personal convenience. It is thus certainly feasible for a person to avoid the search by leaving bags at home. But, as a practical matter, many persons routinely carry bags, purses, and satchels to work, for all sorts of reasons. Although not “required” in a strict, formal sense, many employees may feel that they have little true choice when it comes to the search policy, especially given that the policy applies day in and day out. Because we have little guidance on determining where to draw the line between purely voluntary actions and strictly mandatory actions, we are uncertain on which side of the line Plaintiffs’ claim falls.
Workers in California enjoy more employee-friendly regulations than those of the federal government or many other states. The US Supreme Court, for example,ruled in 2014 that warehouse workers for Amazon.com in Nevada could be forced to spend as much as 25 minutes off the clock to undergo security screenings at the end of their shift.
The wage dispute is on hold pending an answer from California’s top court.