Are your employees required to wear uniforms? If so, whether you're required
to foot the bill for the uniforms will depend on whether you're a public
or private sector employer. According to a new California appeals court decision
(In re Work Uniform Cases, Calif. Court of Appeal (Dist. 1) No. A107130
(2005)), public sector employers are generally off the hook when it comes to
paying for their workers' uniforms. We'll review the case and explain
how the rules are different for private employers.
Governments Don't Have to Pay
The new case arose when several employee groupsfirefighters, sheriffs,
police officers, guards, and forest rangersfiled class action suits against
their public sector employers in California, charging that they weren't
fully compensated for the costs of purchasing, re-placing, cleaning, and maintaining
required work uniforms, in violation of Labor Code Section 2802. This provision
requires an employer to reimburse employees for all necessary expenditures or
losses they incur as a consequence of performing their job duties.
The appeals court concluded that Section 2802 doesn't require public entities
to pay for the entire cost of purchasing and maintaining required work uniforms.
But the court's reasoning differed depending on the type of government
- Local governments. City and county governments are not subject to
Section 2802 because they have constitutional powers to manage their own affairs
and set employee compensation. Compensation includes payment for uniform expenses,
said the court, so setting payment for these expenses is within the local
- State of California. The Government Code specifies that state employees
are responsible for purchasing uniforms that are required for employment and
that the state must provide an annual allowance for uniform replacement.
- University of California. The Regents of the University of Cali-fornia
have constitutional powers to manage their own internal affairs, which include
determining employee compensation and benefits.
Private Employer Obligations
As this new decision shows, public sector employers are not on the hook for
all costs associated with employee uniforms. However, the law in California
does require private employers to pay for a required uniform and costs of maintenance.
The definition of "uniform" is quite broad, encompassing apparel
or accessories that are distinctive in design or color and that are not "generally
usable" in an occupation. For example, an employer wouldn't have to
pay for a nurse's white uniform because nurses could probably wear the
same item of clothing wherever they worked. But if a housekeeper is required
to wear a nurse-type white uniform, the employer would have to pay for it. That's
because the housekeeper wouldn't be expected to generally wear that uniform
at other jobs.
Also, note that you can insist that basic wardrobe items be worn at work, such
as black pants, black shoes, and a white shirt, without being forced to pay
for them. But if you require a shirt with a specific design, such as a floral
tropical shirt, you'd have to foot the bill.