Company Uniforms: Who Pays?

by Laura Pokrzywa

For your employees with direct customer contact, an easily recognized company uniform may be the best way to establish their identity, make a good first impression and gain customer trust. Depending on your business, company uniforms may also help you address safety or dress code concerns.

uniforms 3If uniforms are going to be a part of your workplace, you will need to consider more than just shirt styles or colors. You will need to decide if they will be required or voluntary, who is going to pay for the uniforms and how will they be maintained. According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), employers may require employees to bear the cost of mandated uniforms, but only under certain circumstances.

What does federal law require? According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), uniforms are considered to be for the benefit or convenience of the employer and the cost of uniforms may not be included as wages. In other words, an employer may require employees to bear the cost of uniforms, but only if that payment does not lead to a violation of wages due by law. UniformsFor example, if an employee is earning minimum wage the week the uniform purchase would be made, the company may not require the employee to pay for the uniform. If they are earning more than minimum wage, the company is allowed to prorate deductions for uniform costs over a period of paydays but ONLY if those deductions will not reduce the employee’s wages below the current required minimum wage or interfere with federal overtime requirements for any given workweek. These deductions can include the cost of laundering if you use a uniform service.

The DOL also cautions against creative financing. Employers may not avoid federal minimum wage and overtime requirements by having the employee reimburse the company in cash rather than deducting the cost from the employee’s wages. For additional information, click here to see the DOL’s fact sheet about deducting uniform costs from wages.

Consider OSHA requirements for your company. If your company is required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to provide flame resistant uniforms 4clothing, that would be classified as personal protective equipment and the cost of the clothing would be the company’s responsibility (unless specifically exempted by federal law).

If you are still trying to decide how to approach the uniform requirements, you might consider contacting a uniform service. In addition to providing clean uniforms each week, these services can reduce your costs by eliminating the need to purchase the uniforms up front. They also include mending and alterations as needed. And your employees will probably appreciate the convenience of less laundry at home!

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