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No Requirement to Reimburse for Slip-Resistant Shoes: Not “Necessary Expenditure”

The California Court of Appeals recently affirmed a trial court ruling that a restaurant did not have to reimburse employees for slip-resistant shoes. The court held that the slip-resistant shoes were not a “necessary expenditure” in the sense of being part of a unique uniform mandated by the restaurant employer. See Townley v. BJ’s Restaurants, Inc., Case No. C086672 (Cal. App. 3rd Dist. June 4, 2019).

In general, the California Labor Code, § 2802, requires that employers reimburse employees for necessary expenses. Further, the California Industrial Welfare Commission (“ICW”) has established rules with respect to uniforms. The applicable ICW’s Wage Order requires employers to provide uniforms — or reimburse for the cost of the uniforms — if and when uniforms are required by the employer to be worn by the employee as a condition of employment. See Wage Order 5-2001. Similarly, employers who require certain types of safety clothing and protective garments are required to provide said garments — or reimburse for any costs paid by the employee. However, the ICW has provided some guidance and, in general, has said that an employer is allowed to specify basic wardrobe items without having to make reimbursements. Examples would be requiring white shirts, dark pants or black belts. Furthermore, no reimbursement is needed for garments which are “usual and generally usable in the occupation.”

In the Townley case, the plaintiff — Krista Townley — worked at BJ’s Restaurant (“BJ’s”). BJ’s is a California-based restaurant chain with about 63 restaurants here in the Golden State. Townley was a server. Like many restaurants, BJ’s had company policy that required all servers — like Townley — and other staff to wear slip-resistant shoes. BJ’s adopted this policy as a safety measure. In the lawsuit, Townley argued that BJ’s should have reimbursed her for her slip-resistant shoes either because the shoes were part of the BJ’s uniform or were mandated safety equipment.

The trial court rejected the first argument. The shoes were not part of BJ’s uniform. The relevant considerations were these:

  • BJ’s did not require employees to purchase a specific brand, style, or design of shoes — the only requirement was that the shoe be black
  • The shoes were not specific to BJ’s with any sort of logo or any stylings linked to BJ’s
  • The shoe were usable outside of work
  • The shoes could be used at other restaurants
  • Slip resistant shoes were customary in the restaurant industry — that is, “usual and generally usable” in the industry

As for the question of “safety apparel,” the court held that slip-resistant shoes did not qualify as “protective apparel” as defined by California statutes and regulations.

Contact San Diego Corporate Law

For more information, call Michael Leonard, Esq., of San Diego Corporate Law. Mr. Leonard focuses his practice on business law, transactional, and corporate matters, and he proudly provides legal services to business owners in San Diego and the surrounding communities. Call Mr. Leonard at (858) 483-9200 or contact him via email. Like us on Facebook.

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