Krista Townley was a server at BJ’s Restaurants, Inc. As a server, Townley was required to wear black, slip-resistant close-toed shoes pursuant to company policy. Townley purchased a pair of canvas shoes that complied with the policy. She was not reimbursed by BJ’s. What happened next? You guessed it: Townley filed a class and representative action under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (Lab. Code, § 2698 et seq.) which sought civil penalties on behalf of herself and other “aggrieved employees” for Labor Code violations.
In her lawsuit, Townley claimed that an employer is required to reimburse its employees for the cost of slip-resistant shoes as “necessary expenditures . . . incurred by the employee[s] in direct consequence of the discharge of [their] duties” under Labor Code section 2802. Townley further claimed that reimbursement was required under the California Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1973 (Lab. Code §§ 6401 and 6403), which states that employers must provide safety equipment free of charge. Not surprisingly, BJ’s denied Townley’s claims and filed a motion for summary judgment seeking judgment in its favor. The trial court granted BJ’s summary judgment motion, ruling that California law does not require an employer to pay for non-specialty shoes that offer some slip-resistant characteristics, but are otherwise ordinary clothing in nature. Townley appealed from the judgment.
On appeal, the California Court of Appeal considered whether the purchase of black, slip-resistant shoes was a “necessary expenditure” which would require reimbursement under the Labor Code. The court concluded reimbursement was not required. In so doing, the court held that because the slip-resistant shoes Townley was required to purchase were not part of a uniform and were the type generally usable in the restaurant occupation, Labor Code section 2802 did not require reimbursement. Put differently, the indemnification provision in Labor Code section 2802 does not require an employer to reimburse an employee for basic, non-uniform wardrobe items, such as slip-resistant shoes.
The decision in Townley v. BJ’s Restaurants, Inc. is a good result for employers and serves as reminder that employers are not required to pay for clothing that is usual and generally usable in the employee’s occupation. However, requiring the wearing of a uniform or items of a specific design or color which are not usual or generally usable in the occupation would likely reach a different result.
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