Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Page 1


Public Entities Not Obligated to Pay for Employee Uniform Costs, First District Court of Appeal Rules


By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts


A public entity that mandates its employees wear uniforms need not pay for the acquisition, replacement, repair and cleaning of the outfits, the First District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.

In a coordinated proceeding that joined seven lawsuits against the state, the University of California, four counties, and a one city, Div. One rejected the employees’ contention that a statute requiring an employer to “indemnify his or her employee for all necessary direct consequence of the discharge of his or her duties” includes a duty to pay for uniforms.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer, who sustained demurrers by all defendants, concluded that all of the employing entities had the legal authority to mandate that employees pay for their own uniforms.

The cities and counties were entitled to do so as a matter of home rule, Kramer explained, while a Government Code section expressly provides that state employees must purchase their own uniforms. The statute is silent with regard to the cleaning and maintenance of the uniforms, Kramer noted, but the judge reasoned that the state acted within its constitutional authority in negotiating wage conditions. 

As for the UC, the judge ruled, the autonomy granted by the state Constitution allows it to require employees to pay for their own uniforms.

Presiding Justice James Marchiano, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the trial judge was correct.

California cities and counties, the jurist noted, have the right to provide for the “number, compensation, tenure, and appointment of employees.” All of the cities and counties that are defendants in the case, Marchiano pointed out, have negotiated uniform allowances with the unions representing employees who must wear them.

The presiding justice rejected the argument that the responsibility of paying for uniforms is separate from compensation issues. The Court of Appeal has held otherwise in cases involving the private sector, Marchiano noted, saying he saw no reason why the public sector should be treated differently.

Marchiano distinguished cases holding that public employers must, under the indemnification statute, which is Labor Code Sec. 2802, bear the cost of litigation against employees resulting from their work, as well as costs for lost property and safety equipment.

“[P]laintiffs are straying far from the provisions of section 2802 which merely pertain to indemnification for ‘necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee in direct consequence of the discharge of his or her duties,’” the jurist wrote. There is nothing in the history of the statute, which dates back to 1872, which suggests that it applies to the ordinary costs associated with employment, the presiding justice said.

In Machinists Automotive Trades Dist. Lodge v. Utility Trailers Sales Co. (1983) 141 Cal.App.3d 80, Marchiano acknowledged, the Court of Appeal held that a worker was entitled to reimbursement of the cost of replacing heavy tools that were stolen in a burglary of the job premises.

But Machinists, Marchiano explained, involved an unusual situation in which the employee was required to, and did, secure the tools on the premises. The jurist cited Earll v. McCoy (1953) 116 Cal.App.2d 44, which held that employees were not entitled to indemnity for the cost of replacing tools lost in a fire on the employer’s premises.

“Neither Earll nor Machinists  applied section 2802 to require employers to pay for purchase and maintenance of the tools,” the presiding justice wrote. “To the contrary, both cases recognized that the employees customarily paid for the tools.”

The case is In re Work Uniform Cases, A107130.


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