Apple Inc.’s practice of requiring hourly employees to wait (off the clock) in order to undergo “personal package and bag checks” prior to meal breaks and at the end of shifts is the subject of a purported wage-hour collective action.
According to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, these security checks take approximately 50 minutes to 1.5 hours per week of uncompensated time to search for “possible store items or merchandise taken without permission and/or contraband.”
The lawsuit seeks to certify a nationwide collective action class under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as classes in California and New York class for alleged violations of those states' labor laws.
Bag check requirements are relatively common in the retail environment, and a similar lawsuit against Polo Ralph Lauren settled for $4,000,000.
Preliminary and Postliminary Activities
An analysis of the time spent waiting for security checks at the end of the workday is similar to the analysis in “donning and doffing” cases dealing with the compensability of “preliminary” or “postliminary” activities such as putting on uniforms or safety equipment before a shift begins.
The FLSA, as amended by the Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947, generally precludes compensation for activities that are “preliminary” or “postliminary” to the “principal activity or activities” of the employee. 29 U.S.C. § 254(a). But preliminary and postliminary activities are compensable if they are “integral and indispensable” to an employee’s principal duties. In IBP v. Alvarez, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an activity is “integral and indispensable” if it is (1) “necessary to the principal work performed” and (2) “done for the benefit of the employer.”
The Impact of Busk v. Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc.
The compensability of time spent clearing security was recently addressed in Busk v. Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc., and the Ninth Circuit created a distinction that may spur a new wave of litigation.
In Busk, the District Court found time going through security checks to be non-compensable, and relied on Second Circuit and Eleventh Circuit precedent involving employees at a nuclear power plant and an airport construction project, respectively.
However, the Ninth Circuit reversed, concluding that those security screenings were not in place because of the nature of the employee's work, and indeed were applicable to employees and non-employees. Accordingly, those screening were not integral to the principal activities of the employees.
Conversely, the Ninth Circuit held that requiring “screening to prevent employee theft … stems from the nature of the employees' work (specifically, their access to merchandise),” and therefore may be compensable work time.
Perhaps with an eye towards this distinction, the complaint against Apple notes that its bag check policy applies to all employees, but not to customers.
De Minimis Time
To the extent that time spent on bag checks is not preliminary or postliminary, the time is likely to be compensable unless it is de minimis. 29 CFR 785.47 provides that “insubstantial or insignificant periods of time beyond the scheduled working hours … may be disregarded.” While there is no definitive maximum, periods of ten minutes or less will typically be regarded as de minimis.
The de minimis rule “applies only where there are uncertain and indefinite periods of time involved of a few seconds or minutes duration, and where the failure to count such time is due to considerations justified by industrial realities.” Furthermore, not all states recognize the de minimis principle.
Accordingly, employers with security check requirements should review those policies to determine whether the time involved is preliminary/postliminary, de minimis or compensable.