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Consider paying for ‘uniform-like’ clothing

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in Compensation and Benefits,Employment Law,Human Resources

Restaurants and retailers often have strict dress codes for employees; for example, black polo shirts and khaki pants. These aren’t uniforms—there aren’t any logos on the shirts—but the goal is to create a consistent look for employees.

These quasi-uniform dress codes can create problems because the law requires employers to pay for employee uniforms, but not for clothing that could reasonably be worn outside the workplace.

The best approach may be to pay for employees’ clothing rather than risk class-action litigation over who should be covering the cost. A lawsuit can be far more expensive than the clothing itself, especially since judges often refuse to dismiss cases and instead rely on juries to decide whether clothing is a uniform or street wear.

Recent case: Ricardo Copantitla and other waiters at a New York restaurant were required to wear suits, shirts and ties at work. These were procured from a specific retailer and all matched. Employees described them as “Liberace-like” and generally disliked them intensely. But the suits and other clothing items did not have the restaurant’s name or logo and could theoretically be worn off duty.

Waiters paid for and owned the clothing.

As part of a larger lawsuit over working conditions, the waiters added a claim for the outfits. They contended the restaurant violated New York labor laws that require employers to reimburse an employee for the cost of a required uniform no later than the next regular paycheck.

The restaurant argued the clothing wasn’t a uniform and therefore employees were responsible for payment.

The court, however, concluded that a jury could best decide whether the flashy suits were uniforms or could be worn socially. (Copantitla, et al., v. Fiskardo Estiatorio, et al., No. 09-CIV-1608, SD NY, 2011)

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