A class of non-exempt, hourly warehouse workers have reached a settlement in a case that claimed Amazon (and the temp staffing agency it used) violated California labor laws when it failed to pay them for mandatory security searches lasting up to 30 minutes after they clocked out. The workers also alleged Amazon failed to provide accurate wage statements and did not pay all wages owed when workers left the company.

This is another of a growing number of multi-million dollar settlements for workers who should have been paid for time spent during mandatory security and bag searches under California wage laws. These claims are the result of California’s wage laws that, in many instances, provide greater rights and protections for workers than do federal wage and hour law. While small amounts of time spent on tasks such as clocking in/out or undergoing security and bag checks may not be required to count as time worked under federal law, this is not so under California state law – all time counts.

Numerous other large employers have settled class action lawsuits based on unpaid time spent by employees to undergo various types of security checks.  These cases include:

    • $2.9 million by Dick’s Sporting Goods – off-the-clock security checks
    • $7 million by Big Lots Stores – post-shift waiting time for unpaid security checks
    • $1.75 million by Ulta – off-the-clock security checks

And, a new class action case was recently filed against Rite Aid and Thrifty PayLess seeking to recover unpaid wages for drugstore employees in California for time spent submitting to mandatory security inspections while they were clocked out during meal breaks and after their shifts ended.

California’s Supreme Court has held that state law requires compensation when employees are subject to an employer’s control, and the time employees spend waiting for and undergoing security checks is for the employer’s benefit, not the employees’, and “clearly” qualifies as compensable time.

The Lawsuit – Amazon’s Security Clearance Check

This case involved a security clearance policy that was enforced at all Amazon locations throughout the United States.  Under the policy, Plaintiffs and all  other  hourly  paid,  non-exempt  employees  were  required  to  “undergo  a  daily  security clearance check at the end of each shift to discover and/or deter employee theft of the employer’s property and to reduce inventory ‘shrinkage.’”

The policy worked like this: “At the end of their  respective  shifts,  hundreds,  if  not  thousands,  of  warehouse  employees  would  walk  to  the timekeeping system to clock out and were then required to wait in line in order to be searched for possible warehouse items taken without permission and/or other contraband.” The workers claimed that “Defendants’ policy of requiring hourly warehouse employees to undergo a thorough security clearance before being released from work and permitted to leave the employer’s property was solely for the benefit of the employers and their customers.”  The employees also claimed that this screening process took approximately 25 minutes each day, and that they were also required to undergo the same security clearance prior to taking their lunch breaks, thereby reducing the full thirty-minute break they were supposed to receive. Because employees were required to “clock out” before undergoing the security screening, they were not compensated for their time spent waiting in line for and then undergoing the screenings.

While no claim exists under federal law for the time spent undergoing screenings, this is not always the case under state labor law. For example, claims have been allowed under both Nevada and Arizona state labor law for the time spent undergoing the anti-theft security screenings – meaning the time spent undergoing security screenings is “work” under Nevada and Arizona law.

Decision in Apple Security Screening Case

The California court of appeals recently followed suit in a similar case against Apple, ruling that it must pay over 12,000 retail employees in California for time spent in mandatory off-the-clock security screenings.  The court interpreted the language and history of “hours worked” under California labor law and concluded that employees are entitled to pay for time in which they are subject to company control.

In the Apple case, similar to many scenarios where employees are claiming unpaid wages and overtime for security bag checks, the company required employees to clock out, then all bags, packages and Apple brand devices belonging to employees were searched before they were allowed to leave company property for any reason, including breaks and the end of shifts. Time spent waiting for and submitting to searches typically took 5 to 20 minutes, and on busy days, it was claimed to take up to 45 minutes.  This off the clock time adds up quickly – and can easily amount to 1.5 to 2 hours of unpaid overtime every week, that’s 78 to 100+ hours per year. At an overtime rate of $40/hour, a worker is being shorted $3-4,000 per year. Multiply that times 12,000 workers and you quickly see the reason companies try to avoid paying for this time.

What to Do If You Have Not Been Paid for Time Spent Undergoing Security Checks

If you have been working “off the clock” while waiting for and undergoing security screenings, there is a good chance that you and your coworkers could be missing out on significant regular and/or overtime wages. The first thing you should do is begin keeping your own accurate record of all time actually spent waiting for and undergoing security screenings. The next step should be to contact a lawyer who handles overtime pay and wage and hour cases to review your situation. If you have questions or believe that you have been the victim of wage theft contact us for a free and confidential review of your situation