California law requires Apple Inc. to pay its workers for being searched before they leave retail stores, the California Supreme Court decided unanimously Thursday.

A group of Apple workers filed a class-action lawsuit against the tech giant, charging they were required to submit to searches before leaving the stores but were not compensated for the time those searches required. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where the case is now pending, asked the California Supreme Court to clarify whether state law requires compensation.

In a decision written by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the court said an industrial wage order defines hours worked as “the time during which an employee is subject to the control of an employer, and includes all the time the employee is suffered or permitted to work, whether or not required to do so.”

Apple, which has 52 retail stores in California, requires its workers to submit to exit searches of their bags, packages, purses, backpacks, brief cases and personal Apple devices, such as iPhones, to deter theft. Failure to comply with the search policy can lead to termination.

Employees are supposed to find a manager or security officer to do the searches after they clock out. Employees estimate that waiting for and undergoing the searches can take five to 20 minutes, or, on busiest days, up to 45 minutes.

Apple argued that workers could avoid such searches by choosing not to bring a bag, package, or personal Apple technology device to work.

A federal district court judge ruled in favor of Apple, deciding that workers had to prove they not only were restrained from leaving but that there was no way to avoid having personal items searched.

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Apple said it could prohibit employees from bringing any bags or personal Apple devices into its stores altogether but gave them that benefit. The California Supreme Court said a ban on any personal items would be “draconian.”

“Under the circumstances of this case and the realities of ordinary, 21st century life, we find farfetched and untenable Apple’s claim that its bag-search policy can be justified as providing a benefit to its employees,” the court said.

The court noted that workers may need a bag to hold ordinary, everyday items, including wallets, keys, cellphones, eye glasses and water bottles.

“Apple’s proposed rule conditioning compensability on whether an employee can theoretically avoid bringing a bag, purse, or iPhone to work does not offer a workable standard, and certainly not an employee protective one,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote.

The court’s decision is retroactive. The case will now return to the 9th Circuit, where the federal judges will apply Thursday’s interpretation of state law.



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