Opinions Can Differ on What’s a ‘Reasonable’ Cost for Work Shoes

My company is in the manufacturing industry, and due to the nature of the business, our employees are required to wear safety shoes at work. We provide our employees with shoes that meet all of the legal requirements, and that cost us approximately $80 per pair. One of my employees recently came to me and stated that his old shoes had worn out, and that he had gone out and purchased a new pair of safety shoes to use at work. He brought me the receipt, which showed he had spent $400 on a pair of safety shoes. We have a written company policy that requires employees to obtain advance approval before purchasing any equipment or products for use in the workplace. The employee is asking to be reimbursed for the shoes. Do I have to give him the $400 for the shoes?

There are a couple of sections in the California Labor Code that address this issue.

Labor Code Section 6401 states that every employer shall furnish and use safety devices and safeguards which are reasonably adequate to render employment safe and healthful.

Labor Code Section 2802 requires employers to indemnify their employees for all necessary expenditures incurred in direct consequences of the discharge of their duties. This section goes on to state “necessary expenditures” shall include all “reasonable costs.”

From your question, it seems as though your company provides shoes that are reasonably adequate to render a safe and healthful employment environment. Furthermore, the employee purchased the shoes without advance approval, in violation of company policy. In addition, a strong argument could be made that the cost of the shoes, in and of itself, is not “reasonable” within the meaning of the Labor Code.

As a result, there’s a strong likelihood that you could deny the employee’s request, and instead offer him a new pair of shoes from the company’s stock of safety shoes.

However, whenever the terms “reasonable” or “reasonably” are used in a legal statute, there can be differing opinions, and we recommend that you seek legal advice when you are trying to determine if you, as an employer, are acting reasonably.

Column based on questions asked by callers on the Labor Law Helpline, a service to California Chamber of Commerce preferred and executive members. For expert explanations of labor laws and Cal/OSHA regulations, not legal counsel for specific situations, call (800) 348-2262 or submit your question at www.hrcalifornia.com.

Staff Contact: David Leporiere