Why Apple’s Employee Relations Could Be Its Biggest Problem

Apple employees sell the new iPad Air at the Apple Store on November 1, 2013
Spencer Platt/ Getty Images

As has become customary, Apple is currently and continuously bombarding all of us with news of new products, features, and upgrades — some of which we’ve seen before, others that are setting fanboys’ proverbial pants on fire. New iPads, iPhones, Apple Watches, operating systems, and much more are all in the pipeline, and even new music and audio systems, as well as fitness tracking software. It’s all very exciting stuff, and a lot of consumers are looking forward to when all of these products hit stores.

Apple Store employees, on the other hand, are not. In addition to holding down the fort against an onslaught of customer questions and concerns, Apple Store employees are fighting another battle — one against their parent company.

Word has come down that Apple Store employees filed a federal lawsuit against their employer back in 2013, stating that they were treated like “criminals” because they were subjected to searches of their personal effects to ensure they weren’t stealing any products from the stores in which they worked. The kicker is that they weren’t just subjected to the searches, it’s that they weren’t compensated for the time they had to endure them. According to a report from CNN, an Apple Store employee even emailed CEO Tim Cook last year regarding the policy, saying that it was both “insulting” and “demeaning,” and that oftentimes such searches took places in front of customers, embarrassingly enough.

“These procedures imply that Apple doesn’t trust or respect their employees,” the person wrote. “Managers are required to treat ‘valued’ employees as criminals.”

There were a few other things the employees didn’t like as well, including policies barring discussion of Apple’s labor practices, and that some workers didn’t get breaks for meals after a certain amount of hours, in violation of the law. But at the heart of the matter is the fact that employees were forced to wait, off the clock, for a supervisor to go through their personal belongings. All of that time added up, and in some cases, summed up to more than $1,500 in unpaid wages.

You might be aware of what happened as a result of the lawsuit, which came in the wake of a similar suit filed by employees of Amazon. In a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, a group of Amazon sued their employer for pretty much the same exact reason that these Apple Store employees did: they were forced to wait in lines to be searched, off the clock.

The Supreme Court came down in favor of Amazon in that case, saying that those searches were not an “integral and indispensable” part of the workers’ jobs, and fell under what has been classified as “preliminary” and “postliminary” activities, per The New York Times. Basically, the Supreme Court said that if Amazon employees didn’t like spending up to 25 minutes waiting to be searched by their employer without pay, they could quit and not deal with it anymore.

Not much in terms of a fig leaf to the working class, and that ruling led to the dismissal of the Apple Store employees’ lawsuit shortly after.

That lawsuit may be in the past, but the fact still remains that Apple Store employees clearly aren’t happy with a lot of the things going on behind the scenes at their place of work, which comes in stark contrast to the company’s cool, hip, professional image. Yes, these are retail employees we’re talking about, but for a company that has slowly and methodically built itself into one of the world’s most valuable and prominent brands, seeing its workers’ frustrations boil up in public view is a little off-putting.

Apple’s had other PR issues in the past, including coming under some serious scrutiny for its use of contracted labor in Asia — the notorious Foxconn scandal, to be specific. The complaints of Apple Store employees are a far cry from those transgressions, in terms of seriousness, but it does add another crack to Apple’s facade. The company is making strides to get better, with executives reportedly saying certain policies were going through a review process.

But if there’s one thing that’s clear, it’s that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows in the land of Apple.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger

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