California Court Clarifies Rule Regarding Reimbursing Employees for Slip-Resistant Shoes

When is a California employer required to reimburse its employees for the cost of slip-resistant shoes?  On June 4, 2019, the Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District answered this question in the case of Townley v. BJ’s Restaurants, Inc. (Case No. C086672). 

The defendant in Townley operates 63 restaurants in California.  In order to avoid slip and fall accidents, it had a policy that required all hourly employees to wear slip-resistant shoes while at work.  These shoes also had to be black and have a closed toe.  The defendant did not require any particular type of design or brand of shoe.

The Court of Appeal held that the defendant was not required to pay for the cost of its employees’ slip-resistant shoes.  The Court noted first that California employers are required to pay for work clothing when the clothing is a “uniform” or qualifies as protective apparel regulated by CAL/OSHA or OSHA.  See 8 Cal. Code. Regs. Tit. 8, § 11050(9)(A).

However, the Court also noted that the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) had authored an opinion letter stating that employers are allowed to specify that employees must wear basic wardrobe items such as black shoes without having to pay for them.  See Opinion Letter No. 1990.09.18 (1990).  The question is whether the item required is “usual and generally usable in the occupation.”

Turning to the facts of the case, the Court concluded that the slip-resistant shoes at issue did not qualify as a “reasonable expenditure” under Section 2802.  The plaintiff had not argued that the shoes were part of a uniform.  Nor could she prove that such shoes were not usual and generally usable in the restaurant industry.  Finally, the Court found no support for the argument that the defendant had to reimburse its employees for basic non-uniform items.

If you have questions about your rights in the workplace, including whether or not your employer is required to reimburse you for the cost of certain things that you have purchased for work, please feel free to contact the attorneys at Hunter Pyle Law for a free and confidential intake process.  We can be reached at inquire@hunterpylelaw or at (510) 444-4400.