Millions of workers are required to wear a uniform at work. This is particularly true in food service, retail, medical and other public-facing industries. While employees may not like it, a uniform helps the company establish its brand while also making it simple for customers to identify them. Think of the bright orange Home Depot smock.
But here is the million dollar question: should employers require that workers spend their own money to purchase uniforms?
Generally speaking, employers can require employees to purchase their uniforms. That being said, many companies are against this, for one reason or the next, and supply every employee with the outfit they need to meet company standards.
We can learn more about this subject from the U.S. Department of Labor fact sheet entitled, “Deductions From Wages for Uninforms and Other Facilities Under the Fair Labor Standards Act.”
Let’s start with this excerpt from the fact sheet:
“The FLSA does not require that employees wear uniforms. However, if the wearing of a uniform is required by some other law, the nature of a business, or by an employer, the cost and maintenance of the uniform is considered to be a business expense of the employer. If the employer requires the employee to bear the cost, it may not reduce the employee’s wage below the minimum wage.”
All of this can be very confusing. What it really comes down to is how much the employee earns. For anybody earning more than minimum wage, it is likely that the employer can require the employee to pay for the uniform.
If an employee earns less than minimum wage (not including tips), and is required to pay for his own uniform, then the employer would be in direct violation of the FLSA.
As you can see, there is a lot of “gray area” regarding who is responsible for paying for employee uniforms. Before you make a decision on policy, it is best to know the laws and how it impacts your company, based on salary and industry.