Good news for California employers this week as the California Court of Appeals, Third District, published an opinion resolving a common question for employers on employee reimbursement: do employers that require no-slip shoes (in kitchens and production spaces, for example) have to reimburse employees for the cost of those shoes? Fortunately, for California employers, the answer appears to be a clear "no."
Labor Code section 2802 requires employers to reimburse employees for "all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee in direct consequence of the discharge of his or her duties." Previous decisions had made it clear that reimbursement was mandatory for purchases of required uniforms or specialized attire, but had not addressed reimbursement for more common clothing items that are often required for work, i.e. black pants, neckties, or specific footwear.
In Krista Townley v. Bj's Restaurants, Inc., (Cal. Ct. App., June 4, 2019, No. C086672) 2019 WL 2913303 (official citation forthcoming), restaurant policy required employees to wear slip resistant shoes. Plaintiff bought a pair of canvas shoes to comply with the rule and subsequently brought a class action seeking reimbursement for all employees who purchased similar slip-resistant shoes. The Third District upheld a trial court order granting summary judgment to the restaurant, stating that the reimbursement requirement is "sufficiently flexible to allow the employer to specify basic wardrobe items which are usual and generally usable in the occupation, such as white shirts, dark pants and black shoes and belts, all of unspecified design, without requiring the employer to furnish such items." In rendering its decision, the court echoed language from both a California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement letter and an unpublished 9th Circuit Court of Appeal opinion addressing the identical question. Lemus v. Denny's Inc. (9th Cir. 2015) 617 Fed.Appx. 701.
Two takeaways for California employers:
1) There is no reimbursement requirement for common wardrobe items that are required for a job, so long as they are "commonly usable" in the job. The decision is written to cover not just slip-resistant shoes, but also other common wardrobe items that are sometimes required for certain professions.
2) The decision reflects an apparent consensus on this question. The published opinion cites a federal opinion, which quoted directly from a DLSE opinion letter. The subtext seems to be that this particular question is a settled matter.