In the state of California, the dress-code laws are clear and designed to protect workers. Because employers tend to offload uniform costs onto the workers, there is a law requiring employers to pay for any uniforms that are not off-time-versatile. Likewise, dress codes where employees wear their own clothes and gear must be reasonable. Both uniforms and dress codes are required by law to be non-discriminatory.
That said, a lot has happened in the last year that has changed what could be considered a “reasonable” dress code or uniform requirement. The biggest change is PPE, or Personal Protection Equipment. PPI primarily refers to masks and gloves, though can include things like paper booties or even a clean suit if necessary for the job. Can your employer require you to wear PPE? Do they have to provide the PPE? Do employers have to pay for your PPE? We’re here to answer these questions and more to clarify the situation for California’s many now-mask-wearing employees.
Is PPE Dress-Code or Uniform?
By the traditional definition of dress-code vs uniform, you could say that PPE is more of a dress-code. After all, a mask and gloves are likely (and advisable) to be wearable both inside and outside of work. However, if your employee wants you to wear a specific branded PPE (example: mask with the company logo on it) then it enters the classification of a uniform.
However, in California, PPE has its own classification. Any equipment required for employee safety falls under the Personal Protection Equipment category. On one hand, employers are required to take responsibility for employee safety – including their protection equipment. On the other, PPE is considered necessary and therefore is far less flexible than dress-code or uniform choices.
Can Your Employer Require You to Wear Covid PPE?
In short, yes. Your employer can make PPE mandatory and most have in order to continue providing service or conducting business in a shared workplace. Just as your employer can legally require you to wear a cap or hairnet, they can also require you to wear a mask, gloves, and other types of PPE both for regular job safety and specifically for COVID safety.
Can Your Employer Make You Pay for COVID PPE?
No, absolutely not. Because COVID safety supplies like masks and gloves qualify as PPE and because PPE is a special type of employee equipment, your employer must pay for and/or provide it without cost.
Federal law requires employers to pay for PPE in most circumstances. California law, however, requires employers to pay for PPE 100% of the time. If the equipment is needed for employee safety, then your employer must cover the costs. If you purchase your own PPE, your employer may need to reimburse you, but if you choose to buy your own masks instead of using the provided masks, this is more likely to be legally out-of-pocket.
Does Your Employer Have to Provide Your PPE?
In most cases, yes. Legally your employer must make your Personal Protection Equipment available to you free of cost. However, employers have some options in how they do this. For example, an employer might have a stack of freshly washed masks and a new box of gloves available for everyone, or they might order personal equipment for each individual employee. They can also recommend where you buy your PPE and either reimburse your purchase or cover the cost with the seller.
Can I Bring My Own PPE and Be Reimbursed?
If you want to wear your own PPE instead of what your employer provides, you can ask for reimbursement for your personal expense. If there is already PPE available and this is a personal choice, your employer may decline to pay for your preferred self-bought PPE. However, if you need a unique PPE for a medical condition, your employer may be required to accommodate your needs and reimburse any specialty mask or glove purchase you make.
The new normal is adding another layer of safety and protocol to every out-of-home occupation. Here at Aiman-Smith and Marcy, we are dedicated to defending employee rights and helping you maintain your rights no matter what new normal may occur. Here in the age of PPE, always take care to protect yourself from viral spread and protect yourself from employer exploitation. If your employer is asking you to provide or pay for your own PPE or making unreasonable changes under the guise of personal protection, contact us today for a legal consultation.