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Two former Apple Store employees are suing the tech giant for subjecting them to daily bag searches to discourage theft -- time that allegedly was not included in their hourly pay.
While the suit is based in federal court in San Francisco, the two plaintiffs have worked in stores across the country. They're seeking class-action status to sue on behalf of the nation's Apple employees for being denied compensation due to this alleged "customary practice" in Apple's showrooms, reports Reuters.
Bag searches for theft prevention are by no means limited to Apple, and this suit may have lasting changes for businesses nationwide.
As part of their lawsuit filed in late July, former employees Amanda Frlekin and Dean Pelle allege that Apple requires its hourly employees to undergo two bag searches per day: one when they leave for their meal breaks and one "after they have clocked out at the end of their shifts."
There is nothing generally illegal about screening employees to prevent theft, and employers can legally search employee workspaces, lockers, computers, and emails without violating privacy laws.
However, if the search is done at the company's request and is solely for the company's benefit, employers who don't compensate their employees for this time may be in violation of state and federal minimum wage and overtime laws.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that employees be compensated with at least a minimum wage for "hours worked," which typically includes all time that an employee must be on duty and/or on the employer's premises.
The Apple suit plaintiffs allege that Apple never compensated them (or any other hourly employee for that matter) for time that was spent conducting bag screenings and waiting in line for bag screenings after clocking out -- approximately 15 to 25 minutes' worth of uncompensated time.
For hourly employees like Frlekin and Pelle, it is asserted that these searches pushed many employees past 40 hours in a given week. If true, Apple would be liable under the FLSA to pay them at least 1.5 times their normal hourly rate for any overtime.
While 5 to 10 minutes for a security screening might seem negligible, courts have forced employers to pay workers under the FLSA for requiring them to get dressed at work prior to clocking in, no matter how little time it took.
Apple faces a tough legal battle in proving that, in light of both state and FLSA requirements, its employees were still on the clock during the bag search or that the search is somehow exempt from wage and overtime requirements.
If you have questions about whether your employee bag search policy is legal, it may be wise to consult an experienced employment lawyer who's familiar with your state's labor laws.
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