Getty Images

How Apple Got It Wrong by Not Paying Retail Employees for the Time They're Being Searched

The court weighed in on a bad policy and a worse defense.


There are undoubtedly times when Apple gets things right that other companies should follow suit on. But Apple's moves on employee searches is one it got wrong.

Earlier this week, the California Supreme Court ruled that Apple is required to pay employees for the time it spends searching retail workers before they clock out for the day.

"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,'" Chief Justice  Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote in the official order, according to The Verge.

According to some employees, they're forced to wait up to 45 minutes for security or a manager to search their devices before they can leave. Security or store managers search their personal bags to ensure they haven't stolen anything from the store. Employees also need to show the serial numbers on their phones, so they can prove they're bringing home their personal devices.

Of course, Apple's argument centers on the idea that employees could steal its products. But it goes further than that. The company isn't paying its employees during that time, even though they're stuck at the store waiting to have someone verify they're not stealing anything. That's a mistake. 

Worse is Apple's own argument for not paying the employees for the searching time. The company argues that employees decide for themselves if they want to bring personal belongings, including their own iPhones, to work with them. If they don't bring anything, Apple argues, they don't need to be searched.

To its credit, the court found that argument to be, in its own words, "far-fetched."

"The irony and inconsistency of Apple's argument must be noted," the court said. "Its characterization 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."

Indeed, Apple's move here is a clear example of what not to do. Yes, I can understand the desire to stop employee theft, but employees need to be paid for the time they're working. And they especially deserve to be paid for the time they're waiting to be searched to ensure they didn't break the law.

Sorry, Apple, but you got this one wrong. Here's hoping other companies see that and get it right.