Many employees wear uniforms. Some uniforms can pass as street clothes, whereas some have the unique colors and markings of a company’s brand. Employers often face some confusion as to whether they can deduct the cost of providing employee uniforms.
Minimum wage/FLSA considerations for uniforms
According to federal Department of Labor Fact Sheet #16, if an employee is required to wear a uniform by 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 of $7.25 per hour. Nor may that cost cut into overtime compensation required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
The DOL provides this example: if an employee who is subject to the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is paid an hourly wage of $7.25, the employer may not make any deduction from the employee’s wages for the cost of the uniform. The employer also may not require the employee to purchase the uniform on his or her own. However, if the employee were paid $7.75 per hour and worked 30 hours in the workweek, the maximum amount the employer could legally deduct from the employee’s wages would be $15.00 ($.50 X 30 hours).
Prorating the cost of uniforms
To avoid dropping an employee’s pay below minimum wage, an employer may prorate deductions for the cost of the uniform over a period of paydays. The prorated deductions may not reduce the employee’s wages below minimum wage or overtime compensation owed in any workweek.
When are street clothes considered uniforms?
Sometimes an employer, instead of requiring that employees wear a uniform, instructs employees to wear dark or khaki colored pants or skirts and dark colored shoes. The DOL states that these situations must be decided on the basis of all the particular facts to determine whether the outfit would be considered a uniform. However, certain general guidelines apply. If an employer merely requires a general type of ordinary basic street clothing to be worn while working and permits variations in the details of the clothing, the clothing chosen by the employees would not be considered to be uniforms.
For example, where an employer’s only instructions to employees regarding their attire are that they wear dark colored trousers or skirts and dark colored shoes, the clothing would not constitute a uniform. On the other hand, where the employer does require a specific type and style of clothing to be worn at work, (for example where a restaurant or hotel requires a tuxedo or skirt and blouse or jacket of a specific or distinctive style, color, and quality) the clothing would be considered a uniform. Any clothing which can be associated with a specific employer by an emblem, logo, or distinctive color scheme, would be considered a uniform.
Employee Uniforms Resources
Susan E. Prince, J.D., is a Legal Editor for BLR’s human resources and employment law publications. Ms. Prince has over 10 years of experience as an attorney and writer in the field of human resources and has published numerous articles on a variety of human resources and employment topics, including compensation, benefits, workers’ compensation, discrimination, work/life issues, termination, and military leave. Ms. Prince also served as an expert on several audio conferences discussing the 2004 changes to the federal regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Before starting her career in publishing, Ms. Prince practiced law for several years in the insurance industry and served as president of a retail sales business. Ms. Prince received her law degree from Vermont Law School.
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