It’s “What’s Up? Wednesday”. Time to answer your question about COMPANY UNIFORMS . . .

You asked: “Our company is considering requiring ‘uniforms’ (polo shirts with company logo) for all our employees. Can you tell me if we can deduct the cost of uniforms from employee paychecks, or does the company have to pay for them? And who’s responsible for cleaning? 

The answer:

According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Wage and Hour Division, employers may require employees to bear the cost of mandated uniforms, but only under certain circumstances.

Federal Law: First and foremost, if an employee is earning minimum wage the week the 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 minimum wage ($7.25/hour as of 2012) 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. In other words, 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.

OSHA: This answer would not be complete without adding a note about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). If your company is required by OSHA to provide flame resistant clothing, that would be classified as personal protective equipment and would be the company’s responsibility (unless specifically exempted by federal law).

State Law: Though Pennsylvania and Ohio’s laws are in line with federal statutes, some states have stricter laws for employers. For example, North Carolina and Virginia require employers to obtain written authorization from the employee stating the reason for the deduction and the actual dollar amount. New Jersey prohibits employers from requiring employees to buy a uniform that has a company logo or can’t be used as street wear. New York adds that an employer must also either launder required uniforms or provide employees with an allowance to cover the cost of laundering uniforms.

Other considerations: If you are still trying to decide how to approach the uniform requirements, you might consider using 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!

For additional information, visit the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division website: http://www.wagehour.dol.gov and click on “deductions” under the “Wage” menu.

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