Walgreens Sued By California Employees For Allegedly Forcing Them To Work Off-The-Clock

A class action suit against Walgreens was just filed by California employees alleging that the company forced them to work off-the-clock without paying them their wages and overtime due. This suit, Hodach et al. v. Walgreen Co., exposes Walgreens to up to tens of millions of dollars in liability for not paying wages and overtime for off-the-clock work for its tens of thousands of workers in its 270 California stores. The case, which has employees alleging that Walgreens forced its workers to have their bags checked at the end of their shifts after they had already punched out, is almost identical to the January 2012 class-action suit against California Forever 21 stores and demonstrates that this issue is an increasingly important one for employees across the state.
Hodach et al. v. Walgreen Co. was filed last month in Sacramento Superior Court and the complaint alleges a number of violations by Walgreens of California labor and business laws. The suit was filed on behalf of all of Walgreens’ hourly workers across the state, although it is not clear if the court will allow class action certification of such a large number of potential plaintiffs. The plaintiffs allege that Walgreens required its employees to undergo security bag checks at the end of each shift, undertaken in order to deter theft of merchandise by the workers. The workers allege that these bag checks took place after they had already punched out, adding 10 and more minutes to their shift that was not paid. The plaintiffs allege that all workers at all Walgreen’s stores across the state were subjected to the same kinds of end-of-shift bag checks and were all similarly wronged by not being paid for the time they spent waiting and having their belongings inspected. Additionally, as most workers had their bags inspected after a full 8 hour shift or had a 40 hour weekly work schedule, the additional time they spent having their bags checked also needed to be paid at the overtime rate of time and a half.
This suit by Walgreens plaintiffs is the second major class-action suit in California this year alleging that workers were not paid for time their belongings were being inspected, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. In January, employees at a Forever 21 store in San Francisco brought a similar class action complaint against the company on behalf of all its thousands of employees across the state who were not paid for the time spent having their bags checked after they had already clocked out. These employees also allege that their bags had to be checked before meal breaks, which added an additional 10 minutes to their shift and also violated California’s laws regarding meal and rest breaks.
Both suits in California against Walgreens and Forever 21 are based on the issue of “control” in California labor law in determining what time must be compensated as work time or not. Each of the suits allege that the time that the employees spent having their bags checked was compensable as “work” because the employees were still under the control of their employers. This means that because the employees were required to be at the workplace and were unable to leave without their employer’s consent, they should be paid for that time just as any other time they spent working. Both suits allege that the failure to pay for this time was a violation of the California Unfair Competition Law, Business and Professional Code §17200 et seq., against defrauding employees by not paying them for their time, California Labor Code §510(a) which requires paying any non-exempt employees for hours worked over 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week and Labor Code §226(a) which requires the accurate recording and payment of all hours worked, among other laws.
For most employees facing similar situations of having to wait to have their belongings checked after they have already punched out, the definitive question as such are whether they are within their employer’s control at that time, that is whether the search is completely voluntary, which it usually is not. The second question is whether the time spent waiting and having their bags checked is de minimis or substantial enough to provide a cause of action under the law. With both these cases, workers allege that they spent more than 10 minutes a day waiting and having their bags routinely checked, and in the case of the Forever 21 workers, almost 30 minutes a day. While the courts in the Walgreens case may not ultimately find that the 10 unpaid minutes per day were sufficient, the Forever 21 employees will probably succeed in their suit for payment of the 30 plus minutes per day lost. Whatever the courts do find, however, both of these recent massive suits certainly send a message to employers across the nation that not paying workers for all of the time spent is wage theft, and may cost them. As more and more employees become informed of their rights under the law, employers may think twice before unlawfully refusing to pay their employees for all their time worked.

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