What-Your-California-Employer-Cant-Make-You-Pay-For.jpg (2149×1159)Some employers are insidious. They will find a way to pinch a penny out of anything, including the employees. If you’ve ever had a boss that liked to deduct things from your paycheck or make you pay for little damages, you know exactly what we are talking about. There are a number of things employers can make you pay for. Coffee in the break room, for one. But there are also more than a few things they can’t make you pay for.

Here in the state of California, labor laws define that an employer cannot require a team member to take on expenses that are an integral part of the job. This is because, in its way, that is a certain type of fraud to lie about the true compensation in wages, because the employer plans to take back some of those wages as fees.

So where are you safe? What can’t your California employer charge you for? The laws are pretty specific.


First, your employer can’t make you pay for a mandatory can’t-wear-it-elsewhere uniform. Just know the difference between a uniform (employer pays) and a dress-code outfit (you pay).

A dress-code outfit is something you could wear on the street, out shopping, or to another job. It’s not obviously a uniform and it’s made of normal clothes you could buy in a normal department store.

A uniform, however, is something you couldn’t wear to another job and/or you had to buy from a specific brand or place. For example, if you can only purchase your work outfit from your employer, it’s a uniform. If you couldn’t wear it casually into an IHOP, it’s a uniform. If it’s branded or custom and you couldn’t wear it to another job, it’s a uniform and your employer pays. 


Gratuities are when you “comp” something for a customer. We most commonly see gratuities in restaurants, like when a waiter gives you a free dessert as an apology for spilling your water. That waiter then can’t be charged for the dessert, because gratuities are an employer responsibility. Those are considered a cost of doing business and any business that can “comp” items should have a budget for that. Employees cannot legally be charged for gratuities in California.


This one is an odd specialty just for Cali: If your employer requires you to bring in a photograph, they have to pay for the print. This relates to jobs that require headshots or media portfolios as part of their job. Because photo printing can run up in dollars (and used to be much more expensive), employers are required to take on the cost of photo printing by law. 

Skilled Labor Bonds

Skilled laborers like roofers and technicians often need to be bonded to insure their work to the customers. Service employers may require bonding, a certification-like process that costs money to acquire, before a technician can be hired or work for the team. Because bonds cost money and employers can require them, California employers are also required to cover the costs to keep their skilled employees bonded.

Business Expenses

Business expenses relate to any spending that goes toward the business. For example, your employer can ask you to pay for your own lunch ordered to the office. But they can’t make you personally pay for a catering order for the office. In fact, no business expense can be taken out of an employee’s pocket legally, even if it seems more convenient at the time.

Your employer must reimburse you if you pick up a box of paperclips or cover your own travel expenses as long as the spending is required for business operations. 

Medical or Physical Exams

Lastly, your employer cannot make you pay for medical tests or physical exams. If your employer wants everyone to have a physical checkup for the employee health program, they can’t make you pay for your appointment. If your employee wants to drug test, they can’t make employees pay the cost.

Is your employer making you or others you know pay for things they shouldn’t? Some employers just don’t know better, some are deliberately breaking the law to put their own costs on the shoulders of employees. This is a form of wages fraud, planning to take employee’s wages back after compensating them for the work done. Don’t let that stand. 

Here at Aiman-Smith and Marcy, we are dedicated to helping employees stand up for their rights and stop abusive employer practices. Contact us today to learn how you can stop your employer from illegally making employees pay for their own business expenses.

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