Calif. workers sue Nike: Who pays the cost of work uniforms?
Omran Hamid worked at a Nike store in San Clemente for 15 months. He filed a class action case against Nike, claiming, among other things, that Nike required its minimum-wage employees to buy and pay for Nike-branded clothes as a condition of employment. Hamid alleged that they had to wear Nike attire during working hours. Because they were required to maintain “an up-to-date apparel of each seasons’ product line,” they had to buy Nike clothes at least 4 times a year. Employees are not provided an allowance or are reimbursed for these purchases. Hamid claims this policy violates California law.
Although the case is currently pending, it provides some food for thought to employees who are required to wear and spend for a uniform or a “dress code” at work.
The term “uniform” is defined to include wearing clothing and accessories of distinctive design and color. When uniforms are required as a condition of employment, an issue may arise on who pays for the costs. Under California law, employers may prescribe the color, quality, or style of uniforms worn by their employees. However, employers who require uniforms must provide or pay for their costs.
For example, if a restaurant requires its wait staff to wear a jacket that has the restaurant’s color and logo on it, then the restaurant must pay for the jacket. If the restaurant simply requires wait staff to wear white shirts and dark pants of unspecified style or quality, this does not constitute a uniform. Thus, the cost of prescribing such an attire does not have to be paid by the employer.
Who should pay for the costs of maintenance of the uniforms? In California, employers must pay these costs if the uniform requires special laundering due to heavy usage, or if the uniform requires dry-cleaning or repairs. If the uniforms are of a wash and wear material, then maintenance costs are not paid by the employer.
Whether it be for uniforms, tools, or work cell phones, if employees incur necessary expenditures as a result of doing their job, the employer is required to reimburse the employee for these business expenses. Other expenses reimbursable to employees include:
(1) transportation, living, mileage and other travel expenses;
(2) purchasing supplies, tools, materials, or equipment;
(3) for “supper money” to cover the costs of supper when an employee is requested to work during the evening hours; and
(4) excess home-to-work travel expenses incurred by the employee due to extraordinary circumstances.
An employer is allowed to pay employees a lump-sum amount sufficient to provide full reimbursement for actual expenses necessarily incurred. However, if an employee shows that the reimbursement amount is less than the actual expenses incurred, the employer must pay the difference. Employees must note that expense reimbursement is not taxable.
There are other methods allowed by law for employers to reimburse employees for business expenses. If employees have questions regarding this issue, they would be smart to consult with an experienced employment attorney.
The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no-cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.com or our Facebook page Joe Sayas Law. [C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. is an experienced trial attorney who has successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, consistently selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, and is the recipient of PABA’s Community Champion Award for 2016.]
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