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Does My Employer Have to Pay for My Work Uniform? Understanding California’s Labor Laws Regarding Employee Reimbursements

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Section 2802 of the California Labor Code requires employers to reimburse employees for “all necessary expenditures” incurred “in direct consequence of” of the employee’s duties. For example, if an employer requires employees to wear a particular uniform, the employer must reimburse the employee for the cost of purchasing that uniform. Similarly, if an employee needs to buy a particular tool or piece of equipment to perform their job, they are also entitled to reimbursement from the employer.

Court: Slip-Resistant Shoes are “Non-Uniform Work Clothing,” Not Reimbursable

But there are some limitations to Section 2802’s reimbursement requirement. In a recent published decision from the California Third District Court of Appeal, Townley v. BJ’s Restaurants, Inc., that court held a restaurant was “not required, as a matter of law, to reimburse its employees for the cost of slip-resistant shoes.” Citing a previous federal court decision on a similar issue, the California judges said reimbursement is not required for “basic, non-uniform wardrobe items.”

By way of background, the plaintiff worked as a server for BJ’s, a chain restaurant. BJ’s adopted a company-wide safety policy that “required all hourly restaurant employees to wear black, slip-resistant, close-toed shoes.” This policy did not specify a particular brand or style of shoe, aside from the aforementioned conditions. Nor were employees restricted from wearing their chosen shoes outside of the workplace.

The plaintiff nevertheless alleged BJ’s was required to reimburse her under Section 2802 for the cost of a pair of shoes she purchased to comply with the company’s safety policy. BJ’s asked a trial court to grant it summary judgment–i.e., dismiss the plaintiff’s lawsuit–because it maintained the shoes were not a covered expense under Section 2802. And even if they were, the plaintiff’s claims were preempted by federal law, which says employers are not required to purchase slip-resistant shoes for employees.

The trial court agreed with BJ’s and granted its motion for summary judgment. The Third District affirmed. The court noted the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals–the federal court with appellate jurisdiction over California–previously “decided the identical issue” in favor of the employer. In the Ninth Circuit case, Lemus v. Denny’s Inc., the Court held that slip-resistant shoes were “non-uniform work clothing.” California law only required employers to pay for clothing considered part of the actual employee uniform. In fact, California’s own regulations state an employer does not need to pay for “basic wardrobe items which are usual and generally usable in the occupation.”

The Third District said it agreed with and adopted the Ninth Circuit’s reasoning in the Lemus case. Here, the plaintiff’s slip-resistant shoes were non-uniform work clothing that was “generally usable in the occupation.” It was therefore not a reimbursable expense under Section 2802.

Speak with a California Labor Lawyer If You Have Further Questions

It is important to understand that even basic wardrobe items may still be reimbursable expenses if the employer mandates the employee purchase a particular style or brand. In both the Lemus and Townley cases, there were no such mandates. So if you find yourself in a similar situation and would like to know if you have a potential claim for a Labor Code violation, contact a qualified California employment law attorney right away.

Sources:

scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=15556472500998617039

https://www.employmentrightscalifornia.com/ignorance-is-not-a-defense-california-employers-are-liable-for-the-discriminatory-acts-of-their-supervisory-employees/

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