In a recent case, Townley v. BJ’s Restaurants, Inc., the California Court of Appeal held that the employer did not have to reimburse its employees for requiring them to buy and wear slip-resistant shoes. To avoid slip-and-fall accidents, BJ’s adopted a safety policy that required employees to wear black, slip-resistant, closed-toed shoes. The policy did not require employees to purchase a specific brand, style, or design of shoe. The policy also did not prohibit employees from wearing their shoes outside of work.
Because the employees were not reimbursed for the cost of purchasing these shoes, a class action lawsuit was filed in 2014, seeking reimbursement for such costs under California Labor Code section 2802.
California Labor Code section 2802(a) provides that “An employer shall indemnify his or her employee for all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee in direct consequence of the discharge of his or her duties, or of his or her obedience to the directions of the employer ….”
The trial court dismissed the case, finding that reimbursement was not required for the cost of non-specialty shoes that offer some slip-resistant characteristics, but which are otherwise ordinary clothing in nature. In July 2019, the California Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court, holding that the slip-resistant shoes do not qualify as a “necessary expenditure” within the meaning of the California Labor Code section 2802. The Court also pointed out that the plaintiff did not make any argument that the shoes were part of a “uniform”, or that they were not “usual and generally usable” in the restaurant occupation. The implication being that if such arguments were raised, the outcome may have been different.
In making its decision, the Court cited to a 2015 decision by the Court of Appeals of the United States for the Ninth Circuit which found that Denny’s did not have to reimburse its employees for similar shoes under the California Labor Code section 2802. The Ninth Circuit found that the shoes did not qualify as a “uniform,” but instead, “basic wardrobe items which are usual and generally usable in the occupation, such as white shirts, dark pants and black shoes and belts” which an employer is permitted to require its employees to furnish themselves.