The California Supreme Court sided with Apple Store employees in a ruling yesterday, stating that unpaid mandatory bag or iPhone searches at the end of retail workers’ shifts are a violation of U.S. state law. The class-action suit in question represents over 12,000 workers employed at the company’s retail locations from mid-2009 onward.
Because Apple workers are not free to leave before completing such searches—which can take between five and 20 minutes each—and the primary beneficiary of this policy is Apple itself, the court ruled unanimously in favour of the workers. Given the size of the class as well as the breadth of time, Apple is looking at a potentially hefty sum it must fork over for unpaid time—though it was not within the Supreme Court’s purview to decide on those specifics.
Apple attempted a number of legal defences to avert this scenario, including claiming that searches were actually in the interest of the employees. The company also claimed that employees had the option of just, well, not bringing a bag or iPhone to work. (Bags and iPhones are, you might remember, two categories of products sold at every Apple store.) The court saw Apple’s gambits as “farfetched and untenable,” according to the ruling.
The court balked most strongly at the idea that workers should merely leave their phones at home if they were unwilling to submit to unpaid searches. “The irony and inconsistency of Apple’s argument must be noted,” Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye wrote. “Its characterisation 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.” This is about as close as courts tend to get to telling a multinational corporation to go to hell.
These sorts of invasive and unpaid searches have been the subject of a few similar suits, the closest analogue of which involves Amazon workers and has been circling the courts for a decade.
Currently, it’s on the to-do list of the U.S. federal Supreme Court, which has not yet ruled on it. And much like that interminable case, even with this unambiguous nudge from California’s highest court, the battle is far from over for these Apple workers, Bloomberg Law notes, with this case headed back to the Ninth Circuit for another round of probing.