Are Workers Entitled to Pay for Off-the-Clock Bag Searches?

BY:  TIMOTHY C. HAUGHEE

OCTOBER 23, 2013

Many employers (especially retailers) routinely search their employees’ bags, backpacks, and purses in an effort to ensure that the employees do not abscond with the employers’ valuable merchandise while leaving for a lunch break or for the end of the workday.  The unintended legal consequence for employers, however, is whether their non-exempt employees should be paid for the time it takes to conduct the bag searches while off-the-clock.

Apple, Inc., one of the world’s largest companies, may soon learn the answer to this important legal question.  As reported by various news outlets this summer, Apple employees are suing the company in a class action lawsuit alleging that they were subject to routine and frequent bag searches while employed at various Apple retail stores across the country.  In the lawsuit, the employees claim that the off-the-clock bag searches cost each of them 5 to 10 minutes of waiting to leave the stores every day, ultimately resulting in $1,500 per employee in unpaid overtime every year.

If the plaintiffs are successful, Apple may face steep liability.  The bag search policy is conducted company-wide.  Since Apple employs roughly 30,000 workers in its retail stores, the total liability could be upwards of $45 million.  Apple has responded to the lawsuit by denying that it has engaged in any illegal and improper wage practices.

We will continue to provide timely updates regarding this important case as it develops.

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