One of the most misunderstood parts of the workplace is the classification of an employee’s uniform, as the variance from one place of work to the next can make for a messy application of laws. What actually constitutes a work uniform? When does an employer need to pay for expenses? That depends on a variety of factors and employers have frequently utilized the grey area to push the envelope when it comes to avoiding paying for work uniforms. Whether you’re an employee or employer in California, knowing your rights and obligations is essential to maintaining a lawful work site and avoiding any potential legal headaches down the road. Here’s a look at some of the most important things to know:

Just because it doesn’t look like a uniform doesn’t mean it’s not.

A basic dividing line for the legal status of a possible work uniform is whether clothes are of a distinguishing design and color or are exclusive to a company, which is why the classification wouldn’t cover work suits or most business attire. If you can walk out of your office or place of work and wear your clothes to a job with a different company, you’re probably not in a work uniform, although the correct classification still largely depends on the context and dress code instructions. For example, if you’re a valet who is instructed to wear dark pants and a white shirt, this would not constitute a work uniform, as these would be considered parts of a basic wardrobe. However, if you work at a valet that requires you to wear a Hawaiian shirt and a flower lei, this would have to be provided or you would deserve reimbursement. Additionally, if your employer requires a distinctive style and color of shirt or pants (e.g. a bright red collared polo), it is likely that the correct classification is a work uniform.

You cannot be pressured into purchasing a company’s clothes.

Employers have every right to avoid paying for a work uniform by forming dress standards based on non-exclusivity, but there are also stark limitations. If you work at a clothes retailer, it is concretely illegal to be forced into purchasing the company’s clothes or to be treated unfairly if you choose not to wear them. Despite the law, however, it has been a commonplace feature of working for many clothing retailers, which opened the door to major lawsuits in California against retailing giants like Abercrombie and Fitch and Gap. Abercrombie in particular has been under fire, including a successful lawsuit brought by Aiman-Smith & Marcy in 2015 that found that managers had habitually pressured employees to purchase Abercrombie attire for work. While A&F’s written uniform policy appeared above-board, evidence was given that showed executives were tracking purchases and instructing management to prod employees to buy Abercrombie and Fitch.

If an employer is in violation, there could be severe fines dating back years.

In California, an employer not paying for a work uniform is considered to be in violation of an employee’s right to timely compensation, which can be a costly mistake for a business owner. Not only might an employer have to dish out 30 days of wages to each employee in the company it applies to but it could open a can of worms that brings years of expenses borne by the employee into question. In a famous case against Polo Ralph Lauren, an employee’s legal team was able to successfully argue that she had spent more than $30,000 in order to remain employed with the San Francisco store over the course of nearly a decade. Ultimately, it was settled for $1.5 million in compensation. Since that case, which was brought in 2006, a wave of additional lawsuits against retailers has increased scrutiny when it comes to complying with legal standards surrounding work uniforms.

Have more questions about work uniform classification?

Because of the significant complexity of a topic that superficially appears straight-forward, learning the basics of California law regarding work uniforms is crucial if you think your employer might be in violation. Additionally, keeping track of receipts for any expenses that could be considered part of a work uniform is also important to help protect yourself and your rights as an employee in California. For answers to any questions, a fast and easy consultation with the labor law experts of Aiman-Smith & Marcy can bring you up to speed and let you know how to proceed.

Lisseth Bayona


Education and Background

I am a Los Angeles native and daughter of Salvadorian immigrants. From an early age, my parents instilled the value of hard work and education in me and my two siblings. Their perseverance enabled each of us to graduate from college and earn professional degrees.

My interest and commitment to workers’ rights have roots in my parents’ experiences as undocumented workers in Los Angeles. Witnessing the challenges they faced inspired me to pursue a career where I can help individuals confronted with similar struggles. To help someone in those moments is very satisfying. I love connecting with people and learning about their stories. I believe that dignity in the workplace is a right of all workers, not a convenience or privilege reserved for employees of a certain race, gender, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Legal Experience

I received my J.D. from the University of Southern California (USC) Gould School of Law. While there, I served as a judicial extern to the Honorable Patrick J. Walsh of the United States District Court for the Central District of California, where I drafted a criminal judicial opinion. Also, while at Gould, I served as an extern for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. As a Criminal Division Extern, I had the opportunity to work closely with a trial team of Assistant U.S. Attorneys on a money laundering case which further sparked my interest in litigation.

Personal Interests

In my free time, I enjoy urban vegetable gardening, traveling, and spending time with my nephew and niece. I also love to spend time at San Onofre Beach learning to surf, although admittedly, I am not very good.



Hallie L. Von Rock

Attorney (SBN 233152)

Education and Background

I moved to the Bay Area from Washington after graduating high school. I had been accepted to UC Berkeley through a program where I could defer for two years while getting my California residency and attending community college, which was significant since I was paying for college on my own. I began working for Randall Aiman-Smith and Reed Marcy in 1996 as an office manager while taking night classes. My first foray into the legal world was soon after starting at the firm when I was ready to transfer to UC Berkeley. Rather than accepting my resident status, the Board of Regents took the position that California residency required a student to be in California “two calendar years.” Randall and Reed took up my case with the same verve as they helped their actual clients and I got the chance to comb through the UC Berkeley library to read their codes and regulations to support my position. In that experience, I learned what is was like to feel helpless against a big organization and then to have dedicated attorneys in my corner to take up my cause.

After a break to pursue my major in art history, I went to UC Hastings College of Law and continued working with Randall and Reed. Having worked together now for over 25 years, we have a unique ability to work collaboratively and finish each other’s sentences. I have strived throughout my career to make a difference in the lives of our clients. At the end of the day, if I am helping someone to get compensation for losses they suffered, then I know that all the work put into a case has been worth it.

Legal Experience

I have extensive experience in civil litigation and class action cases, including conducting discovery and depositions, calculating damages analysis, preparing motions for certification, writing appellate documents, and overseeing claims administration. We have handled several class actions against retailers where plaintiffs claimed they were forced to purchase clothing to wear to work and were not compensated for these purchases, including against Abercrombie & Fitch, Hugo Boss, Armani Exchange, Uniqlo, Dollar Tree, and Ross. Recently, I was trial counsel in a defamation claim against Bank of America on behalf of a former employee who claimed the Bank blacklisted her with future employers. The jury found Bank of America liable, including for punitive damages.

Personal Interests

Aiman-Smith & Marcy has sponsored me in the Boston Marathon and New York Marathon. When I race, I often wear a “Rockstar Ronan” shirt to support research for childhood cancer through The Ronan Thompson Foundation.


University of California, Berkeley, B.A., 1999

Hastings College of the Law, University of California, J.D., 2004

Randall Aiman-Smith

Abogado (SBN 124599)

Aiman-Smith & Marcy. Oakland consumer fraud attorneys.

Educación y antecedentes

Fui afortunado. A pesar de no haber terminado la escuela secundaria o la universidad, pude -aunque con mucho trabajo- ser admitido y sobresalir en una de las mejores escuelas de derecho del país: La Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de Berkeley. Mientras estuve allí, tuve el privilegio de ser editor de la California Law Review y miembro del Moot Court Board, asesorando en la redacción de escritos y en la defensa de apelaciones a otros estudiantes. Después de salir de la escuela de derecho, en mis primeros años de práctica, enseñé la escritura legal y la defensa de apelación en la Universidad de California, Hastings College of the Law. También, a lo largo de los años, he sido presentador en eventos de educación legal continua.

Experiencia legal

He sido abogado durante 35 años. He dedicado mi práctica exclusivamente a representar a empleados, consumidores e inversores en los tribunales estatales y federales de primera instancia y en los tribunales de apelación. Me gusta ir a los tribunales por mis clientes y he llevado muchos casos con jurado en los tribunales estatales y federales.

¿Ejemplos? En 2010, fui la abogada principal, junto con los otros abogados del bufete, en el caso Williams v. Union Pacific Railroad donde, después de cuatro años de preparación, el bufete obtuvo un veredicto del jurado de 1.670.000 dólares para una empleada afroamericana. En Rivero v. Surdyka, fui el abogado principal en el juicio y la apelación de un caso de derechos civiles que duró 15 años, incluyendo un juicio completo y tres apelaciones al Noveno Circuito, concluyendo finalmente con una sentencia para los demandantes de más de 2.300.000 dólares. Estos casos ilustran el lema del bufete: compromiso – resultados. Hay que comprometerse con un caso, a veces durante mucho tiempo, para obtener el resultado que el cliente merece.

No siempre ganamos en el juicio. Cuando eso ocurre, el compromiso significa llevar el caso al siguiente nivel y recurrirlo. En el caso Rivero, antes mencionado, eso fue lo que ocurrió: el tribunal desestimó el caso -habíamos perdido- pero apelamos y conseguimos una victoria para nuestros clientes que mantuvimos a través de dos apelaciones más. Desde entonces, el bufete ha conseguido muchas victorias en apelación que reivindican los derechos de los empleados y los consumidores.

A lo largo de los años he sido abogado de los demandantes en numerosos casos individuales y acciones colectivas. Puede sonar cursi, o difícil de creer, pero después de todo este tiempo, y después de todas las grandes experiencias que he tenido, mi parte favorita de ser abogado es cuando consigo dar un cheque a mi cliente.



Facultad de Derecho, Universidad de California, Berkeley, J.D., 1986