We previously reported on an employer’s obligations with respect to providing and maintaining employee uniforms. In that article, we noted that shoes with slip-resistant soles are generally not considered a “uniform” under the law, and employers may require them without having to provide or maintain them. However, until recently, there was no published California case law directly on point finding that slip-resistant shoes need not be reimbursed under California’s Labor Code requirements.
This changed in the case of Townley v. BJ’s Restaurants, in which an employee claimed that her employer was required to reimburse her and other employees for wearing the required black, slip-resistant, close-toed shoes. In that case, the employees were not required to purchase a certain brand, style, or design of shoes, nor were they prohibited from wearing their shoes outside of work. The employee argued that Labor Code §2802 imposes an independent duty on an employer to reimburse employees’ business expenses. The Court noted that the employee had not argued that the slip-resistant shoes she was required to purchase were part of a uniform or were not usual and generally usable in the restaurant occupation. Thus, the court concluded that the cost of the slip-resistant shoes did not qualify as a “necessary expenditure” within the meaning of Labor Code § 2802.
Although this decision is welcome reinforcement of our previous understanding regarding employer rules requiring slip-resistant shoes, there are still variables that employers should consider when determining whether to reimburse employees for their required clothing. For instance, the court could have reached a different conclusion if the employer had required the employee to purchase a specific brand of shoe or if the employer prohibited the employees from wearing their shoes outside of work. Thus, employers should still proceed with caution when creating policies regarding employee uniform requirements and dress codes.