Feb. 14, 2020 California Supreme Court Rules Employees Must Be Paid for Time Spent in Post-Shift Bag Checks

Yesterday, in a unanimous opinion, the California Supreme Court held that the time employees spend on an employer’s premises waiting for and undergoing required exit searches of their bags and other personal items that they bring to work purely for their own personal convenience, constitutes “hours worked” for which the employees must be paid.

Discussion

Apple Inc. requires its retail store employees to undergo mandatory searches of their bags, packages, purses, backpacks, briefcases, and personal Apple technology devices (e.g., iPhones), before leaving the store for any reason, including after completing their work shift and clocking out. In 2013, several employees sued Apple in federal district court to recover wages for the time spent undergoing these security checks. They brought their claims under both California law and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The employees estimated that the time spent waiting for and undergoing the exit searches typically ranged from five to 20 minutes, but could take up to 45 minutes on the busiest days.

The district court dismissed the FLSA claims after the United States Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, which held that time spent undergoing mandatory security screenings is not compensable “hours worked” under the FLSA. The district court later dismissed the plaintiffs’ California law claims, holding that exit search time was not “hours worked” because the employees could avoid the searches by not bringing bags or personal items to work. The employees appealed.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals then asked the California Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue. In yesterday’s opinion, the Supreme Court hinged its decision on the significant differences between the FLSA and California law in defining "hours worked.” In 1947, the FLSA was amended to narrow the definition of “hours worked,” excluding activities that occur before or after employees perform the “principle activity” that they are engaged to perform. As a result, under the FLSA, some pre-shift and post-shift activities are not compensable, even when required by an employer. In contrast, California’s wage orders, generally define “hours worked” much more broadly, to include all the time an employee is “subject to the control” of an employer, and all the time an employee is “suffered or permitted to work, whether or not required to do so.”

Applying this definition, the California Supreme Court concluded the employees were “subject to [Apple’s] control” when they waited for and underwent security checks, because these checks were required for Apple’s benefit. The court rejected the district court’s conclusion that the security checks were essentially voluntary because employees could avoid them by not bringing personal items to work, explaining that the realities of 21st-century life mean employees have little choice but to bring mobile devices and other personal items to work.

What This Means

This decision illustrates two realities for all California employers. First, California employees must be compensated for time engaged in pre-shift and post-shift activities that might not be compensable elsewhere.

Second, California employers should ensure employees are compensated for required activities that involve even very small amounts of time. In 2018, the California Supreme Court held that the federal de minimis rule, under which small amounts of time need not be compensated under certain circumstances, does not apply to wage claims brought under California law. As a result, claims for unpaid wages brought under California law are more difficult to defend. Employers should therefore be vigilant about capturing and compensating employees for all time spent under the employer’s control, including security checks and other activities that might begin and end very quickly.

This E-Update was authored by Aaron Buckley. For more information or for assistance with employee privacy policies, please contact Mr. Buckley, or any other Paul, Plevin attorney, by calling (619) 237-5200.