Is California Setting a Precedent For Labor Laws in Regards to Apple's Policies?
We all know Apple for their products that millions of people use everyday. In fact, there is a good chance that you are reading this on an Apple product right now, just as I am typing it on one. The daily usage and reliance on their products may just be what has put them on the losing end of a lawsuit in California.
A number of Apple Store employees in California filed a class-action lawsuit against the tech company in regards to hours worked and the labor laws in California. More specifically, this is in reference to the time allotted for employees to have their bags and personal items searched and verified before leaving the store after a shift.
Why Are Employees Searched?
With the high-value items that Apple sells, it is no surprise that employees are searched before leaving the store. It would be too easy for an employee to sneak off with some product and sell it online to make some extra money if this wasn't the case. Of course, many Apple employees already own Apple products, therefore they have to verify that the iPhone in their pocket is the employee's personal device, and not part of the store's inventory. Or if an employee were to bring in a personal MacBook for repair, it has to be verified that it was their device that was repaired, and not a broken one brought in and a new one that left in its place. The serial numbers on these devices allow for such measures to be taken to avoid unnecessary losses to the company.
What is the Issue With the Searches?
The primary issue with these searches is whether or not the employees should be paid for the time that they spend being searched and waiting to be searched. If the store is busy, and the manager is occupied with customers, then this may take as long as an hour for the employees ending their shift to be attended to and searched before being allowed to leave. Apple says that employees can avoid these searches by leaving bags and personal Apple products at home as they are "optional" and not necessary for their duties at work.
Would you consider your phone an "optional" accessory to your everyday life? Most people wouldn't. What if your child has an emergency and needs to contact you? What if a family member is rushed to a hospital? These scenarios have been argued many times, often in regards to kids being allowed to have cellphones in school. Is there a better justification that can be held up in court?
What the California Supreme Court Says
The Supreme Court of California put things into perspective for Apple by referencing their own product description. The Supreme Court wrote: "The irony and inconsistency of Apple's argument must be noted. 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." Apple also argued that the policy "benefited" the employees that are searched. By benefited, do they mean avoiding accusations of theft, whether true or false? It is tough to tell, but the court deemed that this argument is "far-fetched."
This statement of the California Supreme Court does not put an end to this lawsuit though. This merely provided an interpretation to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the case was originally appealed. It is now up to the Ninth Circuit to use this interpretation to determine a verdict in the case.
What Does This Mean for Apple?
This lawsuit could have a number of implications for Apple. For starters, they are likely to have to pay out a decent size settlement to their employees in California if this is ruled in the employee's favor. This could also open them up to a number of other lawsuits. Since this is currently a state issue, class action cases may be brought in other states with similar labor laws, or even on a federal level if it is a big enough issue.
This also means that Apple may be looking to change their policies in regards to the Apple stores and employees. This could include changing the handling of product, such as employees "checking out" product like a library book, that must either be sold in the computer system, or returned by the end of their shift. They could also implement a manager only system where the manager handles all of the transactions and the employees only assist customer to the buying process. This way the employees never touch physical product.
Apple is not the first company to be hit with class action lawsuits in regards to labor laws. In 2014, Ruby Tuesday settled a lawsuit for having employees perform "pre-shift" and "post-shift" work off of the clock. Outback Steakhouse had a similar lawsuit brought against them as well.
These are the times of large companies having a far reach across the country. One of the biggest variable expenses for a company is labor costs. From the top of the food chain (Corporate headquarters) all the way down, this message is passed, "reduce the labor hours". But how are companies suppose to cut these costs and still get the job complete? It is a fine balance in business management, and one that can prove costly if a company tries to cut the corners.